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Elections as a Сultural Сlash

15.10.2023
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https://nationalinterest.org/feature/poland-faces-culture-clash-upcoming-elections-206942

Elections to the Polish parliament, which are taking place today, will either lead to a third consecutive victory of the right-wing conservative Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, unprecedented in the history of Poland, or will bring to power a broad coalition of opposition forces of former Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The outcome of the elections is important not only for Poland: the continuation of the rule of Eurosceptics or, moreover, the entry into the coalition of the far-right Confederation party is fraught with further alienation of Warsaw from Brussels and does not bode well for the European project in its current form.

The end of the elections is also expected in Kyiv: for some time, the topic of relations between Ukraine and Poland became one of the dominant motives of the campaign and led to a noticeable cooling between the strategic allies. When describing the upcoming elections, Polish media often cannot resist using loud phrases like “the most important elections in Polish history since 1989.”

Such pathos can be easily understood. Today, after eight years of rule by the Law and Justice Party (PinS), Poland is a stronghold of conservative ideology in this part of the world: a country with the strictest abortion laws in Europe, with a huge role for the Catholic Church in society and politics. This is a country in which, according to outside observers, democracy is under threat, which has been confirmed in numerous resolutions by human rights organizations. This is a country that is at the lowest point in its relations with the European Union.

But you can look at the situation from the other side. After all, according to supporters of the government, Poland is now a bastion of traditional values in the modern world of permissiveness and liberalism with its same-sex marriages and multiculturalism; it is a self-sufficient and proud state that resists the dictates of transnational corporations and Brussels bureaucrats.

To a large extent, the current elections are a referendum on whether the majority of Polish society considers the country’s current course acceptable and worthy of continuation.

The importance of the Polish elections and for Europe as a whole cannot be underestimated. A victory for Eurosceptic forces, especially in light of the recent success of Robert Fico's pro-Russian party in neighboring Slovakia, does not bring anything good to the European project in its current form. Warsaw’s new turn towards Brussels is capable of producing a “mini-reset” of the European Union. “The future of Europe is at stake,” Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Polityka Insight in Warsaw.

On the other hand, skeptics ask, should the significance of the current campaign be overestimated? Yes, elections could potentially change the balance of power in the Polish parliament and lead to a change in the government’s course. But next spring Poland will hold local elections, in the summer it will have to go through elections to the European Parliament, and finally, at the beginning of 2025, the Poles will elect a president. With the parliamentary elections, Poland is entering a period of political turbulence that will last a good year and a half. And this election is just the beginning of the journey the country has to go through.

On October 15, Poles elect two houses of parliament. Experts are confident that the opposition will be able to maintain or even strengthen its majority in the top of them - the Senate. But, since its role in the political system is minimal, everyone’s attention will be focused on the elections to the lower house - the Sejm.

Perhaps the most important word to understand when talking about the Polish elections is “polarization.” The thesis that Polish society is deeply divided has long been a commonplace. The lines of this division - between the more developed western Poland and the economically lagging East, between the increasingly liberal large cities and the conservative, religious province, between the generation that witnessed the “building of socialism” and the youth born after the fall of the Berlin Wall - are transferred to the political landscape of the country.

The competition between the two major political forces in this election is a competition of archetypes. The personification of Poland as liberal, open to Europe and the world, with a limited role for the church in the life of society, is the “Civic Coalition,” a conglomerate of opposition parties and public organizations led by the former Prime Minister of Poland and the head of the European Council, Donald Tusk. Poland is conservative, Catholic, drawing strength from its identity, doomed to eternal confrontation with Moscow and Berlin - this is the picture of the world of “Law and Justice” of another former prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

One of the possible outcomes of the elections in Poland poses a direct threat to the already shaky relations between Kiev and Warsaw: if, as a result, PinS and the Confederation create a coalition. “Confederation” is the only party that during the campaign openly advocated ending aid to Ukraine and Ukrainians. At the height of the “grain crisis” in relations between Kiev and Warsaw, one of its leaders, Slawomir Metzen, proposed influencing Ukraine’s position in such “creative” ways as repairing the key hub for arms supplies - the airport in Rzeszow or the railway lines that lead from it to the Ukrainian border . Another prominent figure, Grzegorz Braun, tried to organize a nationwide campaign “Stop the Ukrainization of Poland!” If the Confederation comes into power, even as a junior partner, this will not bode well for Kyiv.

 

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