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
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
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.
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
By Daniel Tilles and Stanley Bill
Over the next two months, Poland will have one (and possibly two) national referendums and is likely to see a change of government. So why have some of the biggest issues involved – Poland’s electoral system, its constitution and the role of religion in public life – been subject to so little public debate?
The Poland that emerges at the end of 2015 is likely to be a very different country from the one that entered it. Already, the incumbent president, Bronisław Komorowski, who started the year with a 40-point lead over his rivals, has been dramatically voted out of office, replaced by his conservative opponent, Andrzej Duda. Now, the new president’s former party, the opposition Law and Justice (PiS), appears to be heading for a landslide victory in October’s parliamentary elections. In the meantime, one (and possibly two) national referendums will ask the Polish public to give their opinion on a range of important, from the funding of political parties to the retirement age.
Yet, despite these potentially momentous changes, there has been surprisingly little discussion among politicians, the media, and certainly the general public about many of the key issues involved.