The rightwing in Poland is growing quickly

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The rightwing in Poland is growing quickly

After Poland’s nationalist parties won the election and the country moved to the right, Dominik Sipiński writes about what it means for its people and for Europe.


A young Pole wears clothes with nationalistic symbols. He burns a flare in front of the National Stadium in Warsaw during the anti-migrant March of Independence in November 2015. © Dominik Sipiński

In December 2015 two young local boys attacked a Chilean man, Victor Baeza in the old town of Poznan. Poznan is one of Poland’s richest and most liberal cities. The boys shouted at him to leave Poland. They only left when Victor said in good Polish, that he had been living in the country for 10 years.

There were also attacks in Poznan on a Syrian cook and on a Palestinian student. In Krakow, there were attacks on two gay Polish men. The attackers said they were ‘afraid of gays’.

These things happen everywhere, but in Poland the problem is more a part of the society. On National Day, 11 November, between 50,000 and 100,000 people marched across Warsaw for ‘Poland for Poles’. They were against open borders and they shouted anti-Muslim slogans. This was only days after a rightwing party won the election with a big majority. The nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS) won 37.6 per cent of the votes - enough seats to form a majority government.

Kukiz ’15 is a party led by Paweł Kukiz, who was a rock star. They won 8.8 per cent of the votes. It is campaigning for single-seat constituencies and consists of a variety of politicians, including nationalists and former neo-Nazis. Some of them were organizers and speakers at the 11 November march. As time passes, it is very possible that there will be a split and the chance of extreme nationalists having their own party.

No leftwing party won any seats in the October elections. The biggest party, United Left, got less than eight-per-cent needed for a coalition after a bad campaign full of quarrels. Razem, which means ‘Together’, is a new party like Podemos with a surprising and good result of nearly four per cent. But it was not enough to elect candidates.

David Ost is professor in political sciences at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and an expert on Poland after communism. He says, ‘The Right clearly has an advantage now.’

After the Right’s top politicians made many anti-refugee, anti-migrant, anti-German and anti-EU comments. PiS and Kukiz ’15 think that all of these groups are a problem for Poland in one way or another. Poland no longer has the same warm relations with Berlin and Brussels.

We can also see Poland’s move to the right in a 2014 European Social Survey. 9.5 per cent of Poles thought they were very rightwing, nearly three times the average of 2.9 per cent.

Rightwing ideas

Maciej Gdula is a sociologist from the University of Warsaw. She says that there is a difference between politics and society. She says what is happening now in Poland is more a result of politics than the opinions of the people.

Gdula says that Poles have little, or no reason to believe the rightwing ideas. There are no big differences in ethnic groups or in religions. In the last census, from 2011, only 1.5 per cent of the people said they were not Polish. And 88 per cent of the people said they were Roman Catholic.

The main migrant group is Ukrainian. Many Ukranians speak Polish and are very much part of Polish society. The Prime Minister Beata Szydło said there were a million migrants but this is not true. There are fewer.

‘Most Poles never have any contact with immigrants, except maybe when they buy a kebab,’ says Gdula half as a joke.

Poland is also the biggest country of origin for economic migrants in Europe – with about one million in the UK alone.

The country is doing well economically. Its GDP went up by 60 per cent between 2004 and 2014 and did not go down during the global financial crisis. The unemployment rate has gone down from around 20 per cent in 2003 to less than 8 per cent now.

‘There is no reason for Poles to be afraid of immigrants. The fear is imagined,’ says Gdula.

But, he agrees that the rightwing politicians have made many Poles believe that people who are different are dangerous - migrants, homosexuals or non-Catholics. ‘Nowadays, the Right has the easy answers, not the Left. So the Right has affected people who normally do not care about politics,’ says David Ost. He thinks that the Left is easy to attack, and this helps PiS.

Gdula also believes that the reason for the success of the rightwing parties is that the liberal and leftwing parties and their leaders were weak. Gdula says that in the summer of 2015 more than 50 per cent of the population were happy to accept refugees. The Left did not reach those people.

Poland is really rightwing?

The country has never had strong leftwing organizations, because of the feelings against the Soviet Union. Piotr Arak is a sociologist at Polityka Insight. He says the workers’ organizations were usually conservative and rightwing. This has been made stronger by the important role of the Catholic Church as the centre of resistance during the Cold War.

‘The rightwing and Kaczynski have believed that Polish society is very rightwing. This is how we can understand the actions of the government,’ says Miłosz Wiatrowski, a historian at the College of Europe in Warsaw.

With no Left represented in the parliament and the strong PiS and Kukiz ’15, there is a real risk of the rightwing becoming stronger and stronger.

Attacks such as the one on Victor Baeza are still unusual, and most Poles still say they are terrible. But as the Right grows and the liberals and Left do not have strong leaders, it is possible that Poland’s will really turn quickly to the right.

Dominik Sipińskiis a journalist, political scientist and photographer based in Poland, writing about politics, conflicts and travel.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).