Poland: a country under threat

Image credit: Elekes Andor

Poland is a country used to political turmoil. Difficulties with democracy, governance and freedom are plastered across the fabric of its history; sewn deep beyond the relative youth of the country and the tragedies it has faced in the last century alone, and infused with an innate patriotism rivalling that of the strongest nations. But a rich tumultuous past inevitably leads to a rich tumultuous present; and Poland is currently facing a threat that comes from within the land itself.

The current ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), has been in power for two years, but has still succeeded in heavily asserting its right-wing ideology over the state, with attempts to control the media and the courts to promote a xenophobic, anti-liberal message. Protests are now daily occurrences, and though President Andrzej Duda's decision recently to veto two out of the three controversial judicial reforms put forward by the government has been heralded as a victory for democracy, trouble in Poland is far from over.

These issues have been simmering away for a long time, certainly before any inclination of judicial reforms were suggested; but it is only now that the attacks on freedoms in Poland are becoming explicit, and thus being noticed by the foreign press. PiS has long encouraged nationalism over internationalism, with a move to reverse the promise to take in 10000 migrants taken almost immediately after winning the 2015 election, and frequent expressions of explicit anti-immigrant sentiments.

According to PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, refugees from the Middle East should not be permitted to enter Poland because they could bring infectious diseases with them.

But Kaczyński’s party is focused on one thing alone, and that is the protection of a Poland only they believe in: a Poland which puts itself first; which protects its citizens over others; which defends itself from foreign threats. Whilst Poles are fiercely defensive of their traditions, it is true also that the country has been built on foundations of division nobody wishes to repeat. The danger is that the true nature of PiS, as a force to weaken rather than strengthen the Polish state, has been hidden so effectively behind this nationalism, that Poles are blind to the fact the real threat is not an international one at all.

Poland used to be seen as a country growing from strength to strength, but concerns about the right-wing rhetoric spreading like wildfire from the doors of the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish parliament) and the Presidential Palace are now palpable. There have been threats from the EU; targeted criticism from international journalists; and the Poles themselves are now trying to fight back – but this problem is far less simple than those featured in Poland’s turbulent history. The dilemma is that PiS claim they are working to improve the state. The current Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, is quoted as saying: “The president’s veto has slowed down the proceedings on reform...but we will not back down from the path of repairing the state. We will not give into pressures.” By playing the patriotism card, PiS know they cannot fail.

But Poles now needs to look beyond this nationalism and discern what values they truly hold dear, to prevent another disaster befalling a country already pockmarked with tragedy.

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