Rise of the far right in Poland

By Ahad Ahadli

Far-right rhetoric and political movements are on the rise across Europe. From Hungary to Great Britain, from Italy to Germany, far-right parties get much more support now than in the recent past. After the last European Parliament elections, far-right parties created “Identity and Democracy”, which is the fifth biggest group in the current parliament. There are 73 MPs in this group. They are mostly eurosceptics, nationalists and right-wing populists. Their rising is not news, but we can see that there has been a normalization of far-right discourse – which is a huge danger to the peace and democracy in Europe. 

Poland is a one of the countries where society has become visibly strongly polarized. One progressive liberal group claims that Poland must be integrated with European institutions politically and another group insists that integration with western institutions may pose a threat to Polish autonomy and national values.

Law and Justice (PiS) party which is in power belongs to the second group. It considers western values such as multiculturalism, LGBTQ rights, feminism are irreconcilable with the view of Polish values.1 Law and Justice accepts all of these values as a “virus” which destroy unity of Polish society. 

Law and Justice has established an image projecting the party as the defender of the traditional family values, Polish national identity, and Christian values. The claim of the party is that these values are the basis of the “Polishness”. Generally, Law and Justice party holds that not only Poland but also Europe is destroyed by immoral policies of the European Union such as LGBT rights, same-sex marriage and etc. The party claims that “pure Europe” is Christian, homophobic, anti-muslim. The core idea of their euroscepticism is that Europe must be given back its “purity”. 

PiS came to power in 2015 winning elections against Civic Platform which is a liberal-conservative party with a pro-European vision.2 Civic Platform had come to the office in 2007 and re elected in 2011 again. 

First of all, in Poland the society is homogenous so in 2011 census 97% of respondents declared Polish nationality. Secondly, Catholic Church is extremely powerful compared to other societies. Thirdly, homophobia is a very distinctive fact in Polish society. Some 80 local governments have issued resolutions creating LGBT free zones where there is no tolerance to sexual minorities.3

PiS is a right-wing political party created in 2001. It supports a ban on abortions, in-vitro fertilization, same-sex marriages, more powerful NATO, the closing of borders to immigrants.4 In its early years, it was not against accession to EU. But since presidential elections in 2005 party had started to move forward towards “far-right” language and political practice.5

Nowadays, the party does not describe itself in terms of far-right ideology, but it does share the same values with other far-right parties in Eastern Europe – such as the likes of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz.

Economy: Poland’s economy was the only economy in Europe that had experienced GDP growth during the economic crisis, from 2008 to 2009. In 2015, their GDP growth was the highest in Europe but some groups seemed to feel economically disempowered. It is estimated that about 2.5 million inhabitants left the country in the last decade until 2015. A survey was conducted and showed that 5 out of 40 respondents prefer to emigrate for high salary. Poles accepted “unemployment” as the most important issue that Poland was facing and “cost of living, inflation, rising price” were accepted as the most important issue themselves were facing.6

During the governing of Civic Platform the economy of Poland had grown by about a half but GDP per capita, but was still lower than that of many European countries. It was a period that the number of “trash contracts” was increasing. PiS used this opportunity very well. Even in 2013, three big trade unions organized a demonstration in which over 250 thousand workers participated.7 During their election campaign, PiS put forward its “Family500+” child subsidy program which meant for the first children of low-income families and the second children in all families.8 It was a very significant point in the winning of PiS because the main electorate of PiS were living in the Eastern part of the country – one which is mostly conservative and poorer.9 PiS got 46.8% of its votes from inhabitants of rural areas, 36% from small towns, 52.3% from farmers and 45.4% from workers.10

Immigration: Migration crisis was one of the biggest issues the EU faced in 2015. In that year, over a million refugees migrated to Europe.

11 In September 2015, EC proposed its relocation plan to take the load off  Italy and Greece. Polish government led by Eva Kopacz agreed to take 7082 asylum seekers agreeing to the program on 22nd September 2015 12

About a month later parliamentary elections took place in Poland and PIS won the elections. Actually, PIS agreed to implement the scheme firstly but in April 2016, PIS refused to accept the refugees to guarantee Polish national security. 

To make it clear, it is estimated that there were about 900000 Ukrainians in Poland by the end of 2017.13 It seems that there are quite good circumstances in Poland to host migrants but the problem is in the approach of the government. The problem is regarding the Islamophobic policy of the PiS. It is interesting that in May 2015, about 72% of poles were in favor of accepting Muslim migrants but in April 2016, it was about 33%.14 It was influenced by right-wing-rhetoric of fear. 

It is a well-known fact that PiS often resorts to Islamophobic rhetoric. Even Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said Muslims are dangerous because they carry parasites and cholera.15 Within the week when there was a vote for the EU quota plan, thousands of Poles marched in cities chanting “Today refugees, tomorrow terrorists!” and “Poland, free of Islam!”. Supporters of the right argue that immigration of Muslim refugees will damage Polish society because their integration and adaptation is difficult – even impossible. PiS’ main argument when speaking about immigrants from the Middle East and Africa is that they are threat to national security. In an interview Kaczynski argued that immigrants can change their culture and can put national security at risk.16

Politicians usually compare Muslims who are escaping poverty and war with economic migrants and religious radicals. Any violence committed by a Muslim all around the world was accepted as a justified reason why Poland must not accept any people from the Middle East and Africa. Former Minister of Interior, Mariusz Błaszczak, said that even a single refugee in Poland would risk turning it into a “breeding ground for terrorists. Poland must therefore defend the continent’s “Christian civilization” from “the Islamic fighters who threaten to kill us”.17

Filip Pazderski from the Institute of Public Affairs comments: “…Regarding Polish society, the fact is that attitudes to issues are changing because of the rhetoric of the populists or new authoritarians, all these names are referring to the currently ruling party after the results of the last elections. So we know that because of the rhetorics they adopted in their operations people’s beliefs are changing. This is, first of all, related to the refugees. Before the 2015 parliamentary elections it was the first time leaders of the party including president of the party Mr. Kaczynski started referring to refugees in very rough and bad language, saying they are bringing diseases to our country. It was Kaczynski who started these kinds of narratives when there was a great influx of refugees to Europe because of the war in Syria. There was a huge  discussion about if it is a danger to European society or not. In this kind of circumstances these bad words used by the leaders of the current ruling party caused the change in Polish society. We know from the research before the election that 70% of Polish population was supporting the idea that refugees should be accepted fleeing from war. The next research was conducted in the beginning of 2016, the results were overturned: 70 percent of population was against accepting the refugees…”

EU relations. The rise of the far-right in Poland impacted its relations with the EU. In the past decades, it was the first time that European integrations were presented as a threat. The main narrative of Law and Justice toward European integration is that the EU does not take member states’ concerns into account. Brexit is presented as an example of EU tyranny over member states. Government-controlled media describes the president of the EU as “German Candidate”.18Euroscepticism of Law and Justice is different from Brexit actually. Jacek Kucharczyk from Institute of Public Affairs(Warsaw) adds: “This needs to be modified. I mean the statement that they are eurosceptic. Because they are really, both Orban and Kaczynski, trying to balance out things. They would never admit that they are eurosceptic…The policy regarding Orban and Kaczynski is that they want the European Union reformed. This is the message they sent to their voters and also to the audience outside. But when they talk about the reform they basically mean disintegration – loosening the EU is possible in a way, to have it just become a free market zone. That is an extreme version. They want funds, they want access to the free market but they do not like political union and strong EU institutions. And they do not want European values. Values that Europe declares are wrong values so we want other values. We want every country to have its own values. The courses differ I mean. Populism is both nationalistic and this version of European populism which claims that Europe should be Christian, white and we need to keep it that way. They speak as we are at the forefront of defending true Europe against the kind of Europe that comes from Brussel’s policies. It is paradoxical because they say that they support Europe of nation states but they have some ideas how this common Europe would look like. They always talk about returning Europe to some kind of mythical past. So they are not just regular eurosceptics who are trying to dismantle the EU. They are more complex.”

The government receives the support from the church in this process. Filipp Pazdersky from Institute of Public Affairs says that:

“What we can observe is strong cooperation between the church and the ruling party. It is not official because the separation between the state and the church is written in the constitution but in fact, actually, for the whole period after 1989 the church holds an important position in public life and tries to influence even the legislation process. We can see this cooperation is quite strong. One part of the ruling party is strongly related to the conservative part of the church. This group is related to one famous priest. His name is Father Rydzyk. He runs a TV and a radio station. They (the government and Father Rydzyk) are supporting each other. Some of his initiatives are being financed by the government. Ryzdzk supports the ruling party by asking the people to abide by Catholic values. Some of the officials of the church, not saying openly which party is good or bad, constantly claim that we have to fight to support traditional Polish values and we have to work against changing Polish values into European or liberal ones. Since the election to the European Parliament, there has been discussion led by the ruling party and supported by the Catholic church. They have created this narrative against the LGBT members. Connecting LGBT members to European values government and the church claim that they are the same thing. These values coming to Poland aim to destroy Polish traditional values. They hold that LGBT propaganda aims to sexualize our children, steer the focus of our children to sex. This is being discussed by politicians and also by priests.”

It seems that political and economical reasons are not the only triggers for this phenomenon. Current issues on an international level and the overall global rise of the far-right are also a reason for such developments in Poland. Law and Justice uses this opportunity effectively now. The party claims that LGBT rights, same-sex marriage destroy Polish society and the main reason is the European Union, controlled from Brussels. As a result, there are serious violations of human rights in the country, and the situation is unfolding with concerning speed and strength. 

 

 

  1. R. Adekoya, Extreme Nationalism Is as Polish as Pierogi, 9 November 2018,
    https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/09/extreme-nationalism-is-as-polish-as-pierogi/
  2. P. J. Koszykowska, The Rise of Right-Wing Populism in Poland: Comparative Analysis of Social Structure and Party Strategy, City University of New York, 2018, p 29.
  3. https://www.dw.com/en/european-parliament-slams-lgbti-free-zones-in-poland/a-51722613
  4. P. J. Koszykowska, op. cit, p 34.
  5.  B. M. Rydlinski, Nationalism and Neo-Fascism Under Jaroslaw Kaczynski, The Far Right in Government, Six Cases from Across Europe, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung
  6.  P. J. Koszykowska, op. cit, p 40.
  7. https://www.socialistalternative.org/2019/11/11/poland-the-far-right-and-reactionary-ideas-in-central-and-eastern-europe/ 
  8.  https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/10/poland-family-values-cash-handouts/599968/
  9.  https://www.resetdoc.org/story/illiberal-trend-kaczynskis-poland-soft-economic-populism/
  10. Waldemar Wojtasik, Parliamentary elections 2015 in Poland: trends and tactics, 2016 https://pl.boell.org/en/2016/02/12/parliamentary-elections-2015-poland-trends-and-tactics 
  11. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean 
  12.  https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/09/24/with-history-of-emigration-poland-now-confronts-immigration-crisis 
  13.  https://www.osw.waw.pl/sites/default/files/Report_Migration%20from%20Ukraine_net.pdf
  14. ibid.
  15. https://euobserver.com/political/130672 
  16.  https://www.politico.eu/article/politics-nationalism-and-religion-explain-why-poland-doesnt-want-refugees/
  17.  https://voxeurop.eu/en/2017/poland-and-refugee-crisis-5121327
  18.  New Pact for Europe, National Report, POLAND, Institute for Public Affairs, 2017, p.5
2020-05-19T17:20:42+00:00May 18th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Ahad Ahadli
Ahad Ahadli is a young political scientist from Azerbaijan. He interned at the Center for Strategic Studies in Azerbaijan and Institute of Public Affairs in Poland, and completed a broad array of international training programs, including the "Human rights and media literacy" program conducted by the Council of Europe.

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