What the Polish election means

It has major implications for conservatism and left-liberalism in Europe

Artillery Row

For years by now, we have been in the habit of stylising every single election, even local ones, as “fateful” decisions. The future of our whole democracy (not to mention the world climate) depends on them. Should the evil “right-wing” win (the terms “right-wing”, “extreme right-wing”, “alt-right”, “populist”, “conservative”, “nationalist” and “traditionalist” have become interchangeable), the world will end — at the very least.

It could mean the death of Polish conservatism for at least a decade

Actually, it is the other way round. Whilst the left-wing parties enjoy the best conditions for retaining or gaining power at any time due to their overwhelming worldwide support from the media, NGOs, kindred political parties, the administration and the education system, it is just the contrary for right-wing parties. Apart from some occasional support by obscure sponsors or niche media outlets, they are completely on their own. They know that, sooner or later, EU sanctions, court cases and foreign policy ostracism will follow any electoral victory. This is true to such an extent that the next electoral defeat usually implies the disintegration of their political party. In contrast to the left, the right is indeed constantly fighting for its survival.

The upcoming Polish elections are a good example of this. The current unstable coalition government’s policy could be understood as “Christian-social”. It is so threatened from within as well as from without, that its long-term survival is actually a miracle in itself and due solely to the strategic genius of its leadership. Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Washington, Moscow, Beijing — not to mention the overwhelming majority of the Polish media and elites themselves — all are keen (albeit for different reasons) to bring down the conservative government in Warsaw. Should this succeed, it would probably mean the death of Polish conservatism for at least a decade. It would also transform such a left-liberal dominated Poland into something of a satellite of Germany.

At the moment, the future perspectives for the government look rather mixed. The ruling party federation “PiS” has not only had to govern against huge external and internal pressures, it is also being caught up by numerous mistakes of its own. First of all, there is the conflict with the EU. PiS’ endeavour to democratise the legal system, which was still largely dominated by post-communist lobbies turned left-liberal, made a clash with Brussels inevitable. The current full-scale escalation was not entirely without alternative, however. Then there is the scandal over the tightening of abortion laws: until then, abortion had been largely forbidden anyway except for very few medical conditions. To have outlawed even most of these exceptions has provoked unprecedented public scorn from female voters. Finally, there is Poland’s alienation from Hungary. It was to be expected that Poland could not welcome her Hungarian brother’s noncommittal behaviour in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but the current cooling has caused the virtual disintegration of the very backbone of the Visegrad alliance. It is not unlikely that Poland has gambled too much in sacrificing Hungary, her best ally, in order to upgrade her quasi-hegemonic position within the Visegrad-system into a leadership of the entire Trimarium region.

Even outside of her loosening ties to Hungary, Poland has become politically isolated. This is not only due to the ever stronger tensions with Germany, around the Polish claims for war reparations and the permanent German meddling with Polish internal political affairs. It is also because the government has failed (unlike Hungary) to solicit support from other European conservative parties, media or elites. Orban has become a pan-European beacon of hope for the political right, but PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński is considered by most European conservatives as a largely unknown, purely internal Polish figure whose support offers no real added value to any outsider.

The situation is similar when it comes to communicating the concerns of the ruling party to the younger generations. The PiS electorate is essentially situated in the +60 age group, whilst young women tend to vote for left-wing parties and young men for the nationalist-libertarian “Konfederacja”. PiS-voters are literally dying out.

The Polish government has achieved great things in the face of massive resistance

So, the Polish government, despite its numerous political successes, hardly receives the recognition it should enjoy. Amongst its accomplishments, there is the support for the traditional family, the reform of the school system, the generous military aid for Ukraine, the establishment of a strong social welfare, the refusal to accept Muslim mass migration despite pressure from Brussels, the dismantling of the “wild” ultra-liberalisation of the economy, the exemplary integration into NATO, the buy-back of many media outlets largely dominated by German investors, the successful hosting of millions of Ukrainian refugees, the management of the covid crisis without excessive social trauma, the exponential economic boom, the courageous fight against the excesses of gender ideology, the switch from coal to nuclear energy, and the unprecedented strengthening of the Polish army. During these last few years, the Polish government has achieved great things in the face of massive resistance.

Without appropriate internal and external communication, however, this success remains fruitless in terms of electoral tactics. Although it still looks as if the PiS will remain the strongest political party in the Polish Parliament, popular support does not seem to be strong enough to gain it a governing majority. Since an all-party coalition against PiS under the leadership of Donald Tusk and his “Koalicja” is also rather unlikely, the country will probably have to brace itself for a long and difficult period of government formation, the outcome of which will largely depend on whether “Konfederacja” will collaborate with PiS.

Who knows what electoral surprises the next few weeks will bring, though. There is already Zelensky’s surprising public turning away from Poland and towards Germany (though the latter, since the beginning of the war, has hindered rather than encouraged the supply of weapons and other support to Ukraine) — a move that can hardly be explained in any other way than by Kiev’s desire to please Berlin (and Brussels) by publicly disavowing the Polish government at a crucial moment of the electoral campaign. As the war seems to be approaching a ceasefire, Germany and her strong financial means are probably more interesting to Zelensky in view of the reconstruction of Ukraine than Poland — a situation gleefully exploited by all enemies of the current Polish government, who are accusing it of political naivety.

The situation is similar to the alleged “visa scandal”, which was probably just a tempest in a teapot. Its (erroneous) claim that the Polish authorities had irregularly sold 200,000 visas to migrants, who then entered Germany via Poland, caused considerable harm to the government, too.

Finally, there is the latest scandal: an unsavoury alleged sex orgy amongst some Catholic clergymen. It is now being instrumentalised as the occasion for a general offensive against the importance of Christianity as the principal vector of Polish political and cultural identity — and as a strong supporter of the ruling party.

The government began a powerful counter-attack when it announced that the elections would be coupled with a referendum on whether the citizens support key issues such as the refusal of EU migration politics, the lowering of the pension age, the construction of an anti-migrant fence against Belarus, or the re-Polonisation of key industries privatised under the previous, liberal government. This referendum will probably help increase voter mobilisation in favour of the government. Even in case of an electoral defeat of PiS, it will pose a serious legitimacy problem to any liberal successor government. It is expected a majority of those participating in the referendum will vote in favour of the actual politics (though perhaps not of the ruling party coalition itself).

The coming weeks will doubtlessly be very exciting for any foreign analysts — but they could also be decisive for the future of conservatism in Europe. This comes at a time when the EU is preparing to launch a fundamental transformation of the whole European society through the migration pact, the abolition of the political unanimity principle, the rejection of fossil fuels, wide-ranging censorship laws and, of course, the ominous “Green Deal”. Without a strong Polish veto, it is to be feared that the EU will only accelerate its evolution into something wholly at odds with most of the values and ideals it once pretended to stand for.

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