The Polish general election held this month saw the Law and Justice (PiS) party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski retain its majority in the Sejm. It took 235 of the 460 seats, on a 43.6% vote share, up 6% since 2015.
The newly formed The Left or Lewica, which is supported by the despised Communist Party, won just 49 seats on a vote share of 12.6%. Its leader Czarzasty was a member of the Communist PZPR until its overthrow in May 1989.
Kacyzynski has always been insistent that every vestige of the Stalinist apparat be dismantled and has strenuously opposed any attempt to rehabilitate the Polish Communists and their shameful role in Polish history. The Communists even retrospectively praised the Stalin/Hitler Pact that partitioned Poland in 1939 and led to millions of deaths.
Kacyzynski claims that the former apparatchiks exchanged “power for property,” much as the former Communists in other European countries have done, and as some of our own former revolutionaries are doing.
The PiS were central to a European Parliament vote on September 19 which condemned Communism and Nazism as equally abhorrent, and rejected all forms of totalitarianism. The motion also inter alia condemned any attempts to organise political violence against opposing groups and minorities. The political faction which includes Sinn Féin MEPs Carthy and Anderson voted against the motion. Perhaps this is something their constituents might ask them about.
Among the clauses was one condemning anti-Semitism. Kacyzynski has been unequivocal in his condemnation of this and in 2017 paid tribute to those Catholic clergy and lay persons who played a central role in protecting Polish Jews from the death camps.
PiS is part of the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping in the European Parliament, a Eurosceptic alliance but it does not see eye to eye with other conservative and nationalist parties on many issues, including the attitude of some nationalist parties to Russia. The Poles, given their own history at the hands of the Bear, are naturally less than enthusiastic about the notion that Putin represents a possible ally.
PiS domestic policies also separate them from the orthodox conservative parties. While in no way beholden to socialism as an ideology, they support state intervention in the economy, and a strong social network that owes much to the influence of Catholic social teaching.
The party kept to its promise in the 2015 election that it would introduce a welfare package that would help poorer Poles, especially families. Known as the “500+”, the programme supports families to the tune of 500 zlotys ($130) a month for every second and subsequent child, although very low-income families with one child are also eligible. 500 zlotys are equivalent to a third of the net minimum wage in Poland.
According to the Financial Times, Eurostat reports that programme has produced significant results, with an 11 percentage point fall in those at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2017 – the largest such drop in the EU. PiS also delivered on a cut to the retirement age and housing support.
The Poles, as a people subjected to decades of cultural assault and repression, are also wary of the implications of allowing huge numbers of people from outside Europe to become residents and resolutely opposed demands by Merkel that all member states take in a quota of people claiming to be refugees and asylum seekers.
Poland has radically reversed the liberal abortion regime that was in place under the Communists, and Kacyzynski is pledged to further restrict clauses which allow the deliberate killing of children diagnosed to be born with Downs Syndrome. PiS are in the strange position common to American conservatives of having to fight political and legal battles against an enemy which does not have a democratic majority but which is entrenched in the legal system and state structures.
All of the above have made the current government hugely popular in Poland, and of course one of the hate figures of the left internationally. Kacyzynski shares with Trump the paradox of being a man holding enormous formal power who is in battle with an embedded institutional elite. Clearly, many people share that view and see the liberal left as part of that elite. We in Ireland do not need lessons on that.
In an interview given to the Financial Times shortly after PiS won its first majority, Kacyzynski set out his vision as being “to consolidate Polish society at large along the lines of positive Polish traditions and values.” In his speeches he called for Poles to take their country back from “the gangsters and the reds.”
Anyone who has been on pro life marches or who campaigned during the referendum will have noted that Poles living here are in great measure supportive of the opposition to abortion on demand. We must give them the benefit of knowledge of just what such a regime as abortionists here have put in place means in terms of the destruction of social values.
There are also perhaps other lessons to be learned from our Polish friends, but we have nothing as yet resembling the forces that might bring about such a shift in attitudes and politics.