Trevor Butcher

Living abroad brings two major changes into the way you perceive what happens in your native country. First of all, you realise that things get serious when people around start asking you: hey, politics in Poland right now, what is it about? Second, internet becomes your main source of knowledge. This is exactly what happened to me lately when Law and Justice populist party (‘PiS- Prawo i Sprawiedliwość’ in Polish) won both Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

How did it happen?

Starting from the background points of clarification, Polish politics is for many years now dominated by two major players- aforementioned conservative Law and Justice party and the more liberal, centre-right Civic Platform (‘PO- Platforma Obywatelska’ in Polish). For eight years-long term of office, PO was leading the coalition in the Parliament and for five years had its member at the presidential post. Their reign was hailed by the public to be idle and deceitful. Moreover, their campaign during presidential elections was, putting it mildly, mediocre, which was caused by their overconfidence and arrogance. Meanwhile, strongly conservative PiS played all in during both elections: it acted as much more moderate than usual in their opinions and chose those candidates, which had the sympathy of the public – Andrzej Duda and Beata Szydło, instead of its infamous and distrusted leader, Jarosław Kaczyński. This, along with the failure of PO, let them attract the electorate broader than their usual agrarian or elderly, conservative supporters and gain the overall majority in the parliament and win presidential elections.

What does this mean?

This is the first time since the fall of the communism when a single party alone has the complete power to govern Poland. This fact itself seems not too appealing for anybody with balanced, moderate views. But what is even more worrying, PiS seems to had forgotten their moderate attitude right after the elections and got right back to what we remember from 2005-2007 (period in which PiS was previously in power): radical conservative and Christian attitudes, unconstitutional actions and a come back of badly remembered figures. Kaczyński seems to stand behind all the Prime Minister Szydło’s and President Duda’s actions and decisions.

Constitutional Tribunal Sabotage

President Duda has signed a law requiring the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to reach two-thirds agreement on verdicts, which will handicap reaching any agreement and court’s functioning. Moreover, PiS has dismissed five of the judges beforehand elected by PO, claiming them to be chosen unconstitutionally and appointing new ones. Those actions are claimed to be undertaken in order to prevent the Tribunal from intervening in PiS’s actions. This made people come into the streets and attracted the European Union’s attention, unfortunately with no real effect, besides belittling government’s reactions.

Late Night Stands

Discussions and voting on any significant issue in parliamentary sessions are now made during late night hours. PiS parliamentary deputies are not in majority in the chamber before 4 p.m. due to work in ministries, as they explain, therefore, no voting takes place earlier than that. Situation like this is highly inconvenient, as it hinders society’s ability to control parliament’s proceedings.

Economy Wrecking

During elections, PiS made some promises which they are desperate to hold. They have declared to lower the retirement age for both sexes, which can be disastrous in its outcomes for aging Polish society. They have promised as well to supply people over 65 with free medication and to install a monthly supplement for every kid in the family, in the amount of 500zlotys (about 100 euros). Gradually, the idea evlolved to be a supplement only for families with more than one child. Still, there is no plan on where the funds will come from. Also, they have boasted about the tax changes, which will put higher rates on banks, benefiting its customers. They did not take into account the fact that banks will just change its charges, therefore, ones to pay in the end will be the customers. What those ideas have in common is that they show not even a shadow of economic understanding and a lot of cheap populism. All of those made Poland fall in S&P ratings, with the forcast of even bigger degradation.

A come back of surveillance and state-media

One of PiS deputies, Mrs Pawłowicz, has written lately that demand for the public media to be apolitical is a damaging, idealised myth, impeding the control over the country and every legitimate government has a right to dispose of them. However radical it sounds, this is exactly what PiS’s actions would be if they were translated into words. They have put into power a media law, which has purged public media of all journalists critical towards the government. As PiS did with the Tribunal – they substituted those publicists with their own people. If the freedom of media wasn’t enough of a Communism era comeback, an online surveillance law had come into life, which allows the officials to access private online data with no clear constraints or court’s permissions.

EU-independent wannabee

Even though Poland is one of the countries, which gained the most from the EU membership, now when Brussels is calling us to come to senses, PiS tends to ignore. They pay no attention to EU’s warnings and condemn their actions, especially when migration crisis is concerned. Even during the debate in European Parliament, Prime Minister Szydło blamed the entire fault of constitutional violations on the Civic Platform Party and made no real explanation of PiS’s actions. If we continue that way, we may end up to be the first country in the EU history to have its vote in the European Council taken away on the basis of regulations’ breaches.

Is there anything to laugh about?

Besides noticing seriousness of the situation, thanks to the existence of surrounding interest, the second thing that changes after emigrating is the fact that the Internet becomes the main source of your information. Not newspapers, not television. It is online platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, that supply you with the facts and public’s reactions to them. And when it gets bad and there is nothing you can do about it, Internet is always one of the largest supporters of the theory that laughing at a situation is always better than crying. And PiS has supplied the online mockers with a lot of material to work with.

The vice minister of health has proposed wearing ‘loose pantaloons’ as an alternative for public funding of in vitro and as a means to counteract sterility. The leader of PiS has called citizens who went out to streets in protest against constitution breaches ‘a worse sort of Poles’. He also said that immigrants carry contagious diseases, which reminds me too much of Nazi statements about Jews back in the 20th century. Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated that being vegetarian, cycling and using renewable energy sources is against traditional, Polish values. All of those have caused a wave of memes, Facebook groups and hashtags. But has it caused also enough scepticism and second thoughts?

Being a country with a rich history of tolerance, Poland has started to slowly drift towards radical attitudes in all the aspects. Radical Christian values are being imposed, even though the country is claimed to be religion-neutral. Surveillance is being introduced, media’s freedom of speech is being limited and xenophobia is being praised. We are really close to cross the line behind which there is no option of coming back.

We might have all been desperate for change and tired with PO’s reign. Okay, let’s admit it, we might have been even fooled by PiS’s campaign and fake change of attitudes. We might have hoped for new to come and had too much faith into the phrase that ‘people change’. But there is also saying that ‘people make mistakes’ and I believe that this is the one we should stick to right now. We, Polish people, should admit that we made a mistake giving PiS all the power and we should try to stop the situation from getting worse. Because if we let it continue with its own pace, it will soon be too late to catch on.