Europe’s East and the West are drifting further and further apart — or so we often hear in the media. Migration policy, European integration, the separation of powers, the image of the family, cultural policy — in all these areas, there are ever-deeper divisions between Western and Eastern Europe, and especially with Poland: the European Union’s current “enfant terrible”.
From a superficial point of view, the division could be the result of a time lag between the two halves of Europe; it is not a fundamental dichotomy, but rather testifies to a certain “need to catch up”. This view would be confirmed by the decline of the Christian churches (for many centuries, a bastion of traditional and conservative identity) which are in crisis not only in Hungary, but also in the traditionally deeply Catholic Poland. The number of newly called priests is gradually declining, and everyday religious practice among young people has reached an all time low. Whilst older people still show much more religious commitment, only a total of 41 per cent of the 55-64 year-olds have either moderate or strong commitment, 27 per cent of those aged 45-54, 22 per cent aged 35-44 and only 18 per cent of those between 16 and 25 years.
Little distinguishes young Polish people from their counterparts in Berlin or Brussels
The situation is similar when it comes to the Americanisation and globalisation of Polish culture, which is increasingly giving up its traditional character as it moves towards the average cultural framework of the Western world. Especially in the big cities such as Warsaw or Poznań, the degree of Westernisation among young people is most obvious: little distinguishes young Polish people from their counterparts in Berlin or Brussels. This is also true of material culture: from the big shopping centres through the industrial zones to the general aesthetics of fashion and buildings — regional and even national differences are disappearing everywhere and are replaced by a new, apparently “global” style.
Is it really the case that the apparent Polish “Sonderweg” is a historical atavism that will be shelved of its own accord in the foreseeable future through the Westernisation of Polish youth? That would be making historical generalisations too early.
After all, it is also a phenomenon of contemporary Polish history that a significant part of the youth, knowing fully well what the ultimate consequences of the current tendencies will be, has consciously turned away from the West and tried to find its way back to faith, tradition and patriotism. When in 2020, the “Strajk Kobiet” activists not only paralysed entire city centres by demonstrating against the restrictions on abortion rights, but also attacked national monuments and even defiled churches, large numbers of young people came together surprisingly quickly in order to guard those monuments and places of worship day and night. They were prepared, if necessary, to defend them against the vandals with their own bodies and fists — something that would hardly be conceivable in Western Europe.
Nearly half of young Poles preferred clearly conservative parties to leftist-liberal
The governing party PiS, with its classical Christian-social approach to politics, is losing followers among young people who see their own problems insufficiently reflected by the worldview of PiS-politicians, most of whom still come from the Solidarność generation. On the other hand, the right-wing liberal party “Konfederacja” is gaining astonishing popularity among young people, proving that cultural Marxism is anything but the inevitable fate of Polish youth. During the 2019 parliamentary elections, “Konfederacja” was particularly popular among young voters. While, elsewhere in Europe, people aged 18 to 29 tend to vote for leftist-liberal parties, in Poland, 20 per cent of voters under 30 voted “Konfederacja” against only 1 per cent of those over 60. For PiS, we see the inverse tendency: 55.8 per cent of those over 60 voted for PiS, while among those under 30, we find “only” 26.2 per cent. This shows an interesting demographic trend that could foreshadow future political shifts. Nearly half of young Poles preferred clearly conservative (some Western media would even claim, “right-winged”) parties to leftist-liberal: an encouraging sign for the future of Polish conservatism.
Admittedly, the “Konfederacja” is characterised by an unstable ideological profile, uniting both traditionalist Catholic believers and those who are extremely critical of the Christian Church, while defending a libertarian economic ideal which contrasts strongly with the Christian-social convictions of the current PiS government. Nevertheless, both parties are predestined partners in the attempt to preserve Poland’s identity and to learn from the mistakes of the West, even if this implies a conscious parting of the ways — not an easy thing in a country whose cultural “raison d’être” has been for generations — even centuries — the wish to escape the Russian hegemony and be an integral part of the West. To what extent they will succeed in the long run remains to be seen. At any rate, the current acceleration of the leftist self-radicalisation and the decline of Western Europe should provide all the arguments needed to give not only their diagnosis but also their political programme the necessary credibility.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe