Can the self-proclaimed voice of the people really be a credible alternative to a democratic Government?
To explore this concept further I have asked the following questions:
- What led to the rise of the populist movement in Poland?
- Who votes for Law and Justice in the election?
- Is Jaroslaw Kaczynski a charismatic leader?
- Is populism a threat to democracy?
- Who can influence the future?
What led to the rise of the populist movement in Poland?
In 1918 Poland became independent after 123 years. Independence would be short-lived when Poland was invaded again in 1939 by Germany, Slovakia and USSR.
After the Second World War, Poland was under strong influence from USSR. It became the Polish Peoples’ Republic in 1952.
An Anti-democratic communist regime combined with poor economic growth and cultural isolation eventually led to strike actions in the working-age population of society in the late 1980s.
Solidarity, a social movement, survived the introduction of Martial Law and peacefully freed Poland from soviet dominance in 1989. Starting in democratic opposition and rising to power the party would form the Third Polish Republic and introduced significant changes, including joining NATO in 1999.
After the transformation, economically Poland was one of the best-performing countries in
Europe. Its GDP has grown from $65.98B in 1990 to $533.61B in 2008 (macrotrends.net,
2022). Also, in 2004, Poland became a member of the European Union, accessing the world’s biggest single market. It also allowed its citizens to study and live anywhere in the EU.
However, something went wrong, even though the minimum wage increased from €175 in 2004 to €350 in 2014 (Statista, 2022a), it was still lower than the EU average. The uncertain labour market led to massive migration of Poles to western European countries.
Did this uncertain market also trigger the populism movement in Poland? By definition,
populism claims to represent “the people” against powerful “elites” (Open University, 2022a).
Some first-hand experience
According to my interviewee, her grandmother thought people’s lives would become more like most western European countries after Poland joined the EU. She didn’t see GDP rising steadily or any of the benefits from it. She saw her son living abroad and looking for a better life. She was left feeling betrayed by the system.
My friend also pointed out that Poland is a Catholic country, and the church is a powerful
institution. The unexplained introduction of any ideology can be perceived by people as an
attack on their beliefs leading to cultural insecurity. There are a lot of people in Poland who
have no idea what LGBT stands for. Somehow, however, they think it is a danger. A danger
created by the EU, to their religion. People in Poland looked for someone who will
understand their needs.
Is Jaroslaw Kaczynski a charismatic leader?
Law and Justice is a right-wing and national conservative party focused on the negatives
from previous years of governments. The party is led by charismatic leader Jaroslaw
Kaczynski. A leader with charisma influences and motivates many people (Open University,
2022b). Jaroslaw Kaczynski spotted the opportunity and reached voters disappointed with
eight years of rule by Civic Platform. Mainly older and uneducated people. He showed extraordinary compassion and empathy toward them.
Who votes for Law and Justice in the election?
In 2015 Law and Justice won the election. Checkmate opposition. New government introduced Programme 500+ so people in the poorest areas received extra benefits for their children. Pensioners also received annual financial help. People were so thrilled with the support that they didn’t question the massive increase in public spending and rising inflation.
Is populism a threat to democracy?
Fair enough. Overspending money is not a crime. So is the current government a threat to democracy? Firstly, we have the neglect of LGBT and migrant rights. Secondly, the government continuously targets judges who try to raise concerns over the lack of independence of the judiciary and public broadcasters, taking away their right to a fair trial. During the demonstration, the arrested protesters had difficulties accessing their lawyers (Amnesty.org,2022).
The list is never-ending. The government not only ruined relationships with many European institutions, but it is pretty clear that their direction is toward autocracy rather than
democracy. Unfortunately, most Law and Justice supporters still feel their party did well
because they kept their promises.
So what can be done?
As my friend said, she didn’t vote in the first election as none of the campaigns convinced
her that her vote mattered. Plus, she was young and busy travelling the world.
Who can influence the future?
If Polish people want to change something, they must vote in the nearest election in large numbers. The opposition must choose a charismatic leader with extraordinary presentation skills who will convince young people that their vote matters. Millennials grew up. Many of them returned from abroad and most of them have a solid educational background and
understanding of the current political situation. And they don’t like it. In 2020 during the presidential election, they created a campaign called #dontdudat to convince people to not vote for Andrzej Duda, who represents Law and Justice. Instead, they encouraged people to vote for Rafal Trzaskowski from the Civil Platform. Even though Andrzej Duda had won, it was the closest result since the election in 2015. The successful campaign made more people vote. And this should be continued. Poland needs a more intensive social media campaign in 2023. Only a large number of voters can make changes and keep Poland as a democratic country. #Everyvotematters