A cabinet reshuffle suggests that the new prime minister is no puppet and indicates a new direction of travel at home and abroad – one with potentially great rewards for PiS, but also significant risks.
By Daniel Tilles with Stanley Bill
Poland’s cabinet, which has remained almost unchanged in the two years since Law and Justice (PiS) returned to power, underwent a major reshuffle today, with a third of its ministers replaced. While all of the individual decisions had been rumoured, some for quite a long time, the scale of the overall change, and the decisive manner in which it transforms the nature of the government, still came as something of a shock.
Previously, Jarosław Kaczyński, the country’s unofficial but de facto ruler, has carefully and successfully balanced the various factions within the ruling camp (which, as well as his own PiS party, includes the smaller Solidarna Polska and Porozumienie). But he has now granted clear dominance to the more moderate, business-friendly wing. Meanwhile, major figures associated with PiS’s traditional national-conservative and religious base have been demoted or removed entirely. Continue reading
The recent upheaval in Turkey has been seized upon by opponents of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to accuse it of leading the country in a similar direction. On a political chat show on Sunday, an opposition politician claimed that Poland is currently under a ‘dictatorship’ of the same type as Turkey’s. When pressed further on what was clearly an exaggerated claim, he admitted that ‘there are dictatorships and there are dictatorships’ – the point being that ‘Poland is on the wrong track’. Continue reading
By Daniel Tilles
Just like the Brexit campaigners, Poland’s own ruling party has been guilty of stoking resentment of outsiders, with the result that xenophobes have been emboldened and hate crimes have increased. The danger of leading the country in such a direction should be even clearer now that Poles themselves are falling victim to precisely such rhetoric in Britain, writes Daniel Tilles.
Since Friday’s announcement that the UK had voted to leave the EU, there has been a wave of hate crimes against immigrants in Britain. At this early stage, most of the evidence is anecdotal. But what appears absolutely clear is that the Brexit vote – which was motivated in large part by a desire to reduce immigration – has given xenophobes greater confidence to express their views publicly. Continue reading
By Daniel Tilles
By apparently agreeing to David Cameron’s proposal to restrict benefits for EU migrants in the UK, Poland’s government has made a dramatic reversal on its earlier declarations that it would never accept such discrimination against Polish citizens. Daniel Tilles asks whether this U-turn is the result of a pragmatic compromise or if, instead, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has used the rights of its countrymen as bargaining chip to gain concessions from the British that advance its own political agenda.
As I’ve written in these pages previously, a particular concern in Britain stemming from the unprecedented wave of immigration during the last decade has been over ‘benefit tourism’: the idea that some migrants are coming not to work, but to take advantage of the country’s generous welfare system. Such accusations have been directed in particular against Poles, who make up the largest group among recent European immigrants and who, as EU citizens, are legally entitled to receive benefits on the same basis as British natives. Continue reading
(Updated in light of new evidence; see end of article)
Another article has appeared in the international media expressing concern at the actions of the new Polish government, this time from the Washington Post, which reports on fears of a ‘creeping coup d’etat’ taking place. However, as with much foreign coverage of the country, the piece is over-simplistic, exaggerated and fails to provide context.
In particular, the description of the new defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz, as an ‘outspoken anti-Semite’ is rather far-fetched. The accusation – which has recently appeared in a number of Western media outlets – is based on a slightly ambiguous statement made 13 years ago by Macierewicz in a radio interview, in which he appeared to partially endorse the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He recently attempted to clarify his remarks, claiming that his words had been ‘manipulated’ and confirming that he ‘condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms’. Continue reading
As the election results filter through, Poland today began to brace itself for life under a far-left government. The newly elected Law and Justice (PiS) party have promised to lower the retirement age, while providing free medicine and higher pensions for retirees; greater subsidies and insurance for farmers; more state-subsidised housing; cash handouts of 500zl a month to families for each child they have; bailing out households who took mortgages in Swiss francs and have seen their repayment rates balloon; and state support for failing industries such as mining. The estimated 45bn zloty annual cost of this radical agenda – enough to make Jeremy Corbyn blush – will be funded in part by higher taxes on banks and big supermarkets.
The above, of course, is something you will not hear anywhere in the international media, amid the welter of headlines decrying Poland’s new ‘right–wing‘ – or even ‘far right‘ – government. But it’s an important reminder that the left-right spectrum applies separately in economic and cultural spheres, and can often cut across them in ways that surprise or confuse westerners used to a simplistic division in which parties are on both counts located towards the left (the British Labour Party and American Democrats) or the right (the British Conservatives and American Republicans). Continue reading
To see individual profiles of each of the main parties competing in the election, scroll halfway down the page or click here. But first, a briefing on some of the main issues that are at stake.
On 25 October Poles will go to the polls in what promises to be one of the most important and interesting elections since the return of democracy 25 years ago. In particular, it may help answer three questions, argues Daniel Tilles. First, whether the older generation of leaders, who have dominated politics since the fall of communism, are being pushed aside by a younger wave of politicians. Second, whether Poland will continue its evolution away from the multi-party turmoil that characterised much the post-1989 period, and towards a stable two-party system. And third, to what extent the Polish electorate has rejected the pro-European economic and social liberalism of the incumbent government, and instead turned to the more inward-looking national conservatism of the opposition. Given Poland’s growing economic and diplomatic clout, these are questions that all of Europe should take an interest in.