If you follow international news about Poland, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the country’s politics consist exclusively of an authoritarian government – intent on silencing critics, bringing state institutions under party control, destroying the environment, denying women their rights, and leading the country into conflict with its European partners – facing off against mass street protests in defence of democracy.
While serious struggles over such issues are taking place, and rightly receive attention, a vital part of the story has got lost in this coverage: despite the occasional photogenic street protest, the government is extremely popular. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s poll numbers are currently at their highest level since it returned to power almost two years ago. At around 40%, its support is equal to the next three parties combined. Continue reading
Poland’s media and civil society have reacted with concern to Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s announcement that the government wants to bring NGOs under more centralised control, because, in her view, too many of them are still ‘subordinate to the policies of the previous ruling system’.
To this end, her office is in the process of establishing a Department of Civil Society which will be responsible for ‘bringing order to the whole sphere’ of NGOs. It will collect and disburse all money intended for such organisations, and set goals for their work.
Leaving little doubt as to the purpose of this move, Szydło says that, although NGOs should ideally not be under government control, ‘it turns out we have not yet got to the moment at which politicians do not want to control social organisations’. 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 Stanley Bill
A new museum in the village of Markowa in the east of Poland honors the sacrifice of Poles who lost their lives in the attempt to save their Jewish neighbors from the Holocaust. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II is housed in the place where Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children were murdered along with Saul Goldman, Gołda Grünfeld, Lea Didner and five other children by German gendarmes in 1944. Their tragic story symbolises the fate of hundreds of others who paid the ultimate price for kindness in Nazi-occupied Poland, where aiding Jews was punishable with death. In a recent ceremony, Polish President Andrzej Duda opened the museum in the presence of other politicians, religious leaders, journalists, and guests from Israel. Notes from Poland co-editor Stanley Bill attended the event. He reports on the museum, the ceremony, and Poland’s new politics of history.
By Daniel Tilles
While it is completely understandable that Poland wants to stamp out the misleading and offensive phrase ‘Polish death camps’, this should be done through education, not by threatening prison sentences for those who use the term, as the government has proposed. Even more worryingly, the new draft law on this issue – combined with a threat to withdraw a state honour from historian Jan Gross – has the potential to be just the opening salvo in a far broader attempt by the ruling party to impose its historical vision, potentially impinging on academic freedom, argues Daniel Tilles, a British historian based in Kraków.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has long made clear that it wishes the country to pursue – in the words of President Andrzej Duda earlier this week – an ‘aggressive historical policy’, with the dual aim of fostering a greater sense of patriotic pride at home while enhancing the country’s image abroad. 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