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Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter examines Poland’s relationship with the Catholic Church. The Church has a huge influence on Polish society, and its support for Law and Justice on various issues – notably the banning of abortion – is crucial to the government’s ability to maintain power. This influence is rooted in Poland’s long history of domination by foreign powers, during which the Church came to play the role of a “backup state.” Even under communism, it was able to retain a remarkable degree of institutional independence. The chapter recounts the history of Catholicism in Poland before turning to the situation today. It offers a comparison with Ireland, a country with a strong Catholic tradition which has nonetheless undergone a rapid process of secularisation in recent years. There are reasons to think this may happen in Poland as well, but the future remains uncertain, and for many the Catholic Church continues to represent a stronger guarantee of continuity than the state.

in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter examines the victory of Jarosław Kaczyński’s right-wing Law and Justice party in the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2015. It details the party’s past and focuses on Kaczyński himself. To understand Poland’s illiberal turn it is essential to understand this man, a brilliant political operator who prefers to work behind the scenes, installing trusted lieutenants in conventional positions of power such as prime minister and president. The chapter explains his background and his relationship with his identical twin brother, Lech Kaczyński, a former president of Poland who died in a plane crash in 2010.

in The new politics of Poland
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Post-traumatic sovereignty and war
Jarosław Kuisz

This concluding chapter returns to the presented day, asking what lies ahead for Poland and Eastern and Central Europe more generally. Poland’s parliamentary elections of 2023 are seen as crucially important both by the Law and Justice government and the opposition; the outcome will determine whether the country continues on its illiberal trajectory or returns to something approaching the liberal democracy of the 1990s and 2000s. A series of crises, including COVID, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising gas prices have shaken Poles’ already tentative sense of security, ushering in a new age of uncertainty. The war in Ukraine in particular has revealed a clear difference of perspective between Eastern and Central European countries and their Western neighbours. Poland and the Baltic States have good reason to question NATO’s commitment. But an important point moving forwards is that the sensitivities of Eastern and Central European societies have become part of European politics – looking to the future, they simply cannot be ignored.

in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter explores the thirty-year debate over Poland’s economic transformation. Like other former-Soviet states, Poland underwent a dramatic programme of economic transformation after 1989. This “shock therapy” was spear-headed by the economist Leszek Balcerowicz, and it caused significant economic hardship at the time, a fact that many Poles still remember. Arguments about whether shock therapy was right or whether a “gradualist” approach would have been less harmful have raged for years. But a distinct turn occurred around the middle of the 2010s, with more and more people expressing dissatisfaction with the market economy, despite a generally good economic outlook. When Law and Justice were elected in 2015, they took advantage of the sense of disgruntlement to launch their new socio-economic agenda.

in The new politics of Poland
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Jarosław Kuisz
in The new politics of Poland
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What happened to Poland?
Jarosław Kuisz

This introductory chapter begins by reflecting on the situation in Poland in 2014, a year before the electoral success of Jarosław Kaczyński’s right-wing Law and Justice party. At that time the country appeared to be on a steady path towards increasing liberalism and prosperity, as foreign commentators were only too happy to note. But a dramatic change was just around the corner. The chapter goes on to explain the book’s approach, which involves three levels of geographical analysis: global, regional, and national, and three time frames: the three electoral terms in which Law and Justice aims to fulfil its objectives, the thirty years of liberal development following the fall of the Soviet Union, and the three hundred years of foreign control following the country’s partitioning by Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary in 1795.

in The new politics of Poland
Who controls the past controls the future
Jarosław Kuisz
in The new politics of Poland
The unbearable burden of the past
Jarosław Kuisz
in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

Opening with Milan Kundera’s 1983 essay about the “kidnapped West,” this chapter explores Central and Eastern European countries’ idealised image of their own pre-war states. Kundera argued that the living memory of Eastern Europe in the interwar years took on a special importance under Russian rule, preserving an ideal for future independence. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, this ideal began to be challenged. A major turning point came in 2004, when a number of post-communist nations joined the European Union. Many people in these nations saw a federation of European states as broadly acceptable, but to others, such as Václav Klaus, Jarosław Kaczyński and Victor Orbán, the arrangement was a threat to national independence. For a time the Visegrád Group, consisting of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, offered a means of counterbalancing the influence of Western European states, but even this alliance has floundered in the face of growing nationalist movements.

in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter looks at the “never-ending” debate on de-communisation in Poland. The Law and Justice government has announced its intention to eliminate all remnants of communism in Poland. This is despite the fact that there are no active communist politicians in the country, and communism is not a significant political force. To understand the meaning behind this announcement requires a deeper understanding of Polish history. From the end of Second World War until 1989, Poland existed as a satellite state of the USSR. Russia imposed profound political, economic and social changes. When the Third Republic of Poland came into existence, a narrative tug-of-war began over the country’s communist period. But, ultimately, successive governments were reluctant to force a reckoning with the past. When Law and Justice came to power they turned de-communisation into a political tool, using it to justify the weakening of the judiciary while simultaneously promoting former communists sympathetic to their agenda.

in The new politics of Poland