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
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
Having grown up in Britain’s political culture, I’m often shocked at the lack of personal accountability in Polish politics. On 7 May this year, general elections were held in the UK. The big winners were the Conservatives, who won a majority, and the Scottish National Party, who swept almost all seats north of the border. The morning after the election, the leaders of the other three main parties had all offered their resignation: Ed Miliband, despite increasing Labour’s share of the vote since the previous election; Nigel Farage, despite winning an unprecedented 13% of votes for UKIP; and Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats performed disastrously.
Compare this to what has (or rather hasn’t) happened in Poland since Sunday’s election. Ewa Kopacz, despite overseeing PO’s dramatic collapse this year (it’s easy to forget that just six months ago the party was leading the polls), has offered no indication that she will quit. Indeed, there are rumours that she will try to cling on to her position. 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.
By Katarzyna Zielińska and Ben Koschalka
By the time they graduate from school, the average Polish student will have taken almost twice as many hours of Catholic catechesis classes as of biology, chemistry and physics combined. These religion lessons are funded by the state, at an estimated cost of around 1.2bn zloty a year. This is something that the ‘Secular School’ (Świecka Szkoła) initiative hopes to change, and this week it declared success in its effort to secure 100,000 signatures in support of an amendment to the relevant legislation. Yet, with a conservative government likely to be elected this month, and a Polish population keen for religion to play a visible role in public life, Poland’s secularists face an uphill struggle. In a guest blog, Katarzyna Zielińska and Ben Koschalka discuss the Secular School project, as well as broader questions regarding the presence of religion in Poland’s eduction system.
On a baking hot first day of September this year, a new intake of Polish six-year-olds set off for their first day at school in their crisp best clothes, many of them heading for mass first. But what can they expect to learn in their school careers? The top four subjects in terms of hours, according to a 2013 Polityka article, are mathematics, Polish, a foreign language, and religious education. The average pupil will take almost 860 hours of catechesis, compared to just 160 each of biology, chemistry or physics. This is a status quo that is taken for granted by many parents. Increasingly, though, questions are being asked not just about the volume, content and form, but also about how this instruction is funded. Continue reading
Robert Biedron does not fit the typical profile of a successful politician in Poland. He is secular, liberal and gay in a country that is among the most religious, conservative and homophobic in the European Union. Yet the 39-year-old is carving out a reputation as one of the country’s rising political stars, and his success – as well as its possible limitations – says much about Poland and the ways in which it is (and isn’t) changing.
As well as being an unlikely figure in himself, Biedron has also taken an unusual route to prominence. Following an early career as a journalist and LGBT activist, Biedron made an abortive attempt to enter national politics with the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD). Standing as a candidate in Warsaw in the 2005 parliamentary election, he received a meagre tally of votes, after the party placed him low on their electoral list. Six years later, however, competing in the northern Gdynia district, this time in first position on the ticket of the liberal Palikot’s Movement, he won election, becoming Poland’s first openly gay member of parliament. Continue reading