by Daniel Tilles
Poland’s European elections resulted in a clear victory for the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won by an even greater margin than polls predicted. Their 45.5% share of the vote was the highest any party has ever received in an election in post-1989 Poland, and put it seven percentage points ahead of the European Coalition, an alliance of opposition parties, on 38.5%.
The only other party to pass the 5% threshold required to wins seats was the social-democratic Spring, founded by Robert Biedroń earlier this year, which took 6%. That left the far-right Confederation alliance (4.5%), anti-establishment Kukiz’15 (3.7%) and left-wing Together (1.2%) with no representation.
As the dust settles, and following a frantic few days of commentary and debate in Polish political and media circles, here are five takeaways from the vote and a look ahead to autumn’s vital parliamentary elections.
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The controversial memory law, though amended, is still in place, the Polish government’s historical narrative is stronger than ever, and Israel and the US appear to have accepted it.
One year ago, Poland triggered an international diplomatic crisis and months of bitter debate when, the day before international Holocaust Remembrance Day (HRD), it passed legislation criminalising the false attribution of German crimes to the Polish nation or state. This year’s official HRD ceremony at Auschwitz highlighted the fact that the Polish government has emerged victorious from this dispute. Continue reading
Poland’s government wants to reap the economic benefits of immigration while persuading its supporters that it remains opposed to it. With foreign workers coming to the country in record numbers, this is a balancing act that will inevitably collapse – with potentially dangerous consequences.
In 2016, the UK issued more first residence permits to non-EU citizens than any other member state. That’s not a great surprise; but ask people to guess which country came second in the list and few would get it right. The answer is Poland, which gave out 586,000 permits, almost a fifth of all those issued across the entire European Union and well ahead of third-place Germany, with 505,000. Continue reading
By Daniel Tilles
Critics accuse Poland’s government of seeking to introduce measures that would limit free speech. But it is often overlooked that they already have a powerful set of tools at their disposal to stifle debate, restrict artistic freedom and intimidate opponents.
This month, a 67-year-old man was charged with the crime of insulting a monument for placing a t-shirt reading ‘constitution’ on a statue of former President Lech Kaczyński (pictured above). Last month, prosecutors launched an investigation into whether two men at an LGBT pride parade who added a rainbow flag to the national coat of arms (pictured below) had publicly insulted a state emblem, an offence that carries a prison sentence of up to one year. Earlier this year, a poet, Jaś Kapela, was found guilty of contempt for the nation after changing some words of the national anthem (adding a reference to refugees). Although he successfully challenged the verdict, the appeals court instead found him guilty of contempt for the anthem of the Republic. Continue reading
By Siobhan Doucette
In June of 1989 semi-free elections were held in Poland; the results surprised onlookers around the world in that they were an unequivocal victory for the Solidarity-led opposition to the ruling communist government. In Books Are Weapons: The Polish Opposition Press and the Overthrow of Communism (Pittsburgh University Press, 2017), I argue that this victory had been made possible in large part due to a nationwide network of activists who expressed themselves through the independent press, which between 1976 and 1989 mirrored and, at times, provided the sinews connecting the Polish democratic opposition. Continue reading
Poland’s proposed law deserves to be criticised, but the country is not the only one that should be asking itself questions about its actions during the Holocaust. The United States and Britain have largely ignored this shameful episode in their own histories.
The last few days have seen a bitter dispute over the Polish government’s decision to push ahead with a law that would criminalise those who falsely assign the Polish nation or state responsibility for the crimes of the German Third Reich.
Debate has focused on the use of the phrase ‘Polish death camps’ and, as I’ve written on this blog before, I fully support efforts to discourage the term, which is not only factually inaccurate but also deeply offensive, given that Poles were, after Jews, numerically the greatest victims of the German Nazi camps. More broadly, Poles justifiably feel that their experience of and actions during the war are little recognised, and sometimes misrepresented, outside their own country.
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