Our Polish correspondent Green Infidel sends this overview of the relentless pressure on Poland to adopt a progressive stance on issues such as immigration, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.
Poland, PiS and the Liberal West
by Green Infidel
In the Autumn of 2015, the Polish party PiS (“Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc”, or “Law and Justice”) won a historic election victory — becoming the first party to win an election outright since the downfall of Communism in 1989. Such a victory came on the back of the presidential election five months earlier, which was also won by the PiS candidate Andrzej Duda. Both victories would have been hard to predict a year earlier, and in both cases a strong factor was disillusionment with the pro-EU government of the PO party (“Platforma Obywatelska” or “Civic Platform”) led by Donald Tusk, who left the post of Prime Minister at the end of 2014 to become President of the European Council in Brussels (thanks to which, he was famously described by Nigel Farage as the “newest Polish émigré”). After Tusk’s departure, the PO party became weaker, and the new prime minister Ewa Kopacz faced accusations about her government’s becoming out of touch.
This feeling increased after the events of Summer 2015, when her government voted in favour of an EU mechanism to redistribute migrants among member states, after promising many times to reject it. This decision proved very unpopular with the Polish public, fearful of the possibility of large-scale migration from Islamic countries, partly out of prejudice, but also in large part because of the experiences of Polish émigrés in countries such as the UK (among whom the most popular party in the October 2015 elections was the even more anti-immigration Kukiz ’15 party, and the pro-immigration PO party only took fourth place). The feeling among Poles against Islamic immigration was so intense and so unanimous, especially on the internet, that in September 2015 the leading liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza took the decision to close its comments on articles related to the migration crisis.
The leader of PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has always been one of the most polarising figures in Polish politics, perceived as desirous of power at any cost, and drawing the ire of the urban elite with numerous statements perceived as insulting, rude or arrogant. Before the October 2015 election, however, he drew himself apart from leaders in the Polish political mainstream by condemning the PO government for agreeing to the “refugee” quotas, and for saying PiS would reject them. Perhaps this became the catalyst for his party’s subsequent historic election victory.
Since that time, the Polish government has united with the governments of the other Visegrad countries (Hungary, Czechia and Slovakia) on the subject of migration, and often drew the ire of Brussels in rejecting the “refugee” quotas.
This was, however, only part of the story. By 2016 the Polish economy was booming, and for the first time ever employers were struggling to find new employees. This resulted in a record number of immigrants, and by 2017, Poland issued the highest number of first-residence permits in the whole of the EU, 683,000). In reality, a large majority of the newcomers came from Ukraine, perhaps due to the terrible economic situation of that country, while the second-largest number of immigrants came from Belarus. Many Poles find it fortunate that the immigrants are mostly from these countries which border Poland and, despite some historic animosities, share a very similar culture with Poles.
Nonetheless, many immigrants have also been drawn from further afield, especially from India. So much so that in 2018, long queues for visas were reported in front of the Polish consulate in New Delhi. And the results can be seen on the streets of big cities such as Warsaw, where chains like Uber Eats employ delivery drivers, seemingly exclusively from the Indian subcontinent. At the same time, universities were putting more effort into “urgently” searching for more foreign students, with the Ministry of Further Education allowing students to apply for more grants, to attempt to entice them.
While the government desires such immigration for economic reasons, the pro-EU centrist and leftist opposition have, predictably, been keen to lobby for immigration-friendly policies. In June 2017, the mayors of the 12 Polish biggest cities signed a declaration on migration, to “declare their openness and desire to cooperate with the government, NGOs and faith groups”. The declaration stated, that “Polish cities have, for many years, been open to migration processes and the diversity of their residents.” As the basis of the integration of migrants, the mayors highlight “friendly treatment in government offices, securing of an apartment, ability to gain employment, access to education and healthcare, and learning the Polish language and culture.” It is not specified whether the newcomers would be allowed to jump the queue for government apartments, as happens in other countries such as Britain (though one can hazard a guess)…
Later, in the local elections of Autumn 2018, the new liberal mayor of Warsaw Rafal Trzaskowski won the election on a platform of “Warsaw for everyone”, although presumably this doesn’t include the far-right ONR (“National-Radical Camp”), which he declared should be banned for “inciting hatred”.
Before the 2018 local elections, the PiS government released an advert warning about the dangers of the opposition allowing in more migrants. The advert, however, was received very badly, with opponents predictably accusing the government of hate speech, while even right-wingers accused the government of hypocrisy, given its own record on immigration. Ultimately, in the election, PiS performed very poorly in the big cities, and lost control of some local governments.
While migration was the big topic in 2018, the following year it was followed by LGBT issues, with many institutions joining in the international trend of displaying rainbows in the summer of 2019. Perhaps as a reaction, several Polish local governments in mainly rural, conservative parts of Eastern Poland started adopting declarations that they wouldn’t support policies which run “against family values”, such as lessons on homosexuality and masturbation to 4-year-olds (as were reported to be promoted by the WHO). The media raised the alarm that these areas were declaring themselves to be “LGBT-free zones”, as a result of which several partner towns and regions in France cut ties with these regions.
At the same time, progressive Poles helped push through initiatives such as rainbow-coloured park benches in the city of Kielce (voted through by a citizens’ budget — which does not require a majority, only a sufficient number of votes), while in Warsaw a similar initiative for precisely 666 rainbow-coloured benches is planned for this year. How long these benches stay without graffiti or damage (a favourite pastime of Polish football hooligans) remains to be seen.
Polish schools have also not been free of the progressive push from local governments, with lessons about LGBT issues given to pupils as part of “Rainbow Friday”, and even a drag queen being recruited to read stories to small children.
So why this sudden push for western “progressive” values? One cannot be certain; however, in my discussions with family and at work, there seems to still be very little enthusiasm for refugees or LGBT issues. There are no “Refugees Welcome” signs, or rainbow flags displayed “in solidarity” at work, as happens in Western countries.
What there is, however, is widespread annoyance at the government, especially the head of the PiS party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. He likes to meet with Viktor Orbán, and be seen to be his Polish “equivalent”, however the difference could not be more stark. Whereas Orbán is undoubtedly the prime minister and the most powerful (and probably most popular) politician in Hungary, Kaczynski is neither the President nor Prime Minister (the last time he was Prime Minister, in 2007, PiS lost the election in a few months). Whereas Orbán is an established football player and has a family with five children, Kaczynski is a life-long bachelor, and lives alone with his cat.
Finally, whereas Orbán is known for eloquent, charismatic speeches, Kaczynski stated that the opposition should “shut their treacherous mouths”, and earlier said that his PO opponents are “standing where the Zomo stood” (Zomo was the brutal communist-era riot police, of whom many current politicians were victims, during their days in Solidarity. Both from the PiS government and the PO opposition — who, before 2005 were united in their opposition to Communists). Recently he was also seen flouting the social distancing rules his government set for the public, during the tenth anniversary of the Smolensk air disaster.
Kaczynski, however is not the only PiS politician to act in such a manner. In February this year, a fellow PiS politician, Joanna Lichocka, raised a middle-finger at the opposition and as a result, found herself in the centre of the opposition’s advertising campaign. Then last week, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, the government was so desperate to hold a presidential election in May that it announced it intended to hold a postal vote, and even flirted with the idea of 3 years in prison for anyone who didn’t vote.
Such displays of arrogance, insulting language and dictatorial tendencies do the government no favours with the public, while perhaps enhancing the pro-EU opposition’s chances.
For now, the government won a second term in Autumn 2019, even increasing its majority, and in public polling a large majority of Poles remains opposed to both immigration from Islamic countries, and gay marriage and child adoption by gays.
The future, however, is the key… In spite of the many misdemeanours of PiS and Kaczynski, I can only hope that the pro-EU opposition is kept away from the corridors of power.