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A case of post-traumatic sovereignty
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For many Western observers, the electoral success of Poland’s populist right-wing party Law and Justice in 2015 came as an unpleasant surprise. Even more shocking was what happened next: Jarosław Kaczyński’s party started taking over all state institutions. It suppressed the media and launched a controversial “reform” of the judiciary. How was this illiberal turn possible after decades of democratic development? Has Poland cut itself off from the pro-European path, or is the Law and Justice government a passing episode in the country’s history? Written by a leading Polish political commentator, this book traces the country’s transformation over the past thirty years, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the government response to the refugee crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It also reaches back further into the past, analysing the current situation in terms of a “post-traumatic” reaction to centuries of statelessness. Familiarising readers with the latest developments in Europe’s largest illiberal democracy, The new politics of Poland provides lessons for other countries experiencing the rise of populist right-wing movements.

Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter looks at how Poland’s relationship with the Jewish people and more specifically the Holocaust has been used politically by the Law and Justice government. Many of the Nazi death camps were located in Polish territory, but it was not until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the restoration of scholarly freedom that significant research was conducted in this area. This research challenged Poles’ long-standing view that they were innocent victims in the Second World War by bringing to light incidents such as the Jedwabne pogrom, where Polish people actively participated in the massacre of Jews. When Law and Justice came to power in 2015, they quickly set about reversing the work of the preceding thirty years, seeking to reassure the Polish people that they bore no responsibility for the Holocaust. The most concrete instance of this came in 2018, when a law was passed making it illegal to accuse the Polish government or nation of complicity in the Holocaust. This law caused an international scandal, inviting accusations of antisemitism and significantly weakening Polish soft power. Domestically, however, Law and Justice’s approach was largely successful, as it chimed with the view of many ordinary Poles.

in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter focuses on Poland’s membership of the European Union and the way it has been recast by Law and Justice. In October 2021 Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki publicly speculated about the European Commission starting a “third world war.” Not long afterwards, the pro-government weekly Sieci reported on a supposed EU plot for a new partitioning of Poland. For many in the party, Polexit remains an important goal. Jarosław Kaczyński, however, has been quite inconsistent on the subject of Europe. The Brexit referendum disappointed him, because he wanted Britain to remain a Polish ally within the EU. He has argued that Europe should be a superpower and “a real actor in international politics.” Nonetheless, he remains wedded to the idea of the nation state as the primary instrument for protecting Poland’s interests. Ultimately, despite much posturing and serious diplomatic efforts, Law and Justice has failed to exert much influence in foreign affairs.

in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter begins with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which reawakened deep-rooted fears in Poland over the loss of sovereignty. It sketches a history of Poland over the last 300 years, a period in which the state disappeared from the map more than once. After enjoying a golden age in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Poland suffered partition in 1795. It did not come into existence again as an independent state until 1918, when the Second Polish Republic emerged from the ashes of the First World War. This republic fell to Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Second World War, and on the Nazi defeat in 1945 Poland became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the USSR in 1989 opened the way for the creation of the Third Polish Republic, but while this state has existed continuously since, many Poles retain a deep anxiety about their independence and prospects for self-determination, an anxiety that may be termed “post-traumatic sovereignty.”

in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter looks at the state of the political opposition in Poland since 2015. The popularity of Law and Justice’s socio-economic agenda and the relative stability of the economy has put the opposition in a difficult situation, where they are constantly obliged to react. Civic Platform initially mounted strong resistance to the government’s efforts to change the constitution, but this had limited success. The newly formed Committee for the Defence of Democracy organised high-profile public protests, but over time the momentum weakened. In the elections since 2015, turnout has been unusually high. But Law and Justice have been able to maintain control of the country, due to the popularity of certain social policies, a fragmented opposition, and the lack of a clear leader to oppose them.

in The new politics of Poland
Law and Justice’s continued popularity among citizens
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter examines Law and Justice’s popularity with the Polish people. Despite failing to fulfil many of its political objectives, the government has been able to maintain a reasonably consistent level of popular support. Why is this? One reason is that Jarosław Kaczyński has proved to be a flexible and pragmatic leader, ready to change tactics and retreat from policies that prove unpopular. Nonetheless, he would not have been able to sustain public approval if not for the “shield” provided by government-controlled mass media. Also crucial has been Law and Justice’s social spending plan, which they point to as proof of their distance from their predecessors, who promised much but supposedly did not deliver. It helps, too that until the COVID-19 recession, the Polish economy remained strong, disproving predictions that Law and Justice would ruin the country’s finances. Lastly, Law and Justice has waged a cultural war around dignity politics, telling Poles that they should be proud of their past. The Holocaust is a major topic of discussion, with Law and Justice insisting that the Polish people bear no responsibility for what happened in their lands.

in The new politics of Poland
Jarosław Kuisz

This chapter details the early phase of the Law and Justice government. After coming to power, the new government undertook a series of radical reforms, social, economic, and judicial. Some of these were not unexpected, but others seemed to come out of the blue, bearing no relationship to the platform on which Law and Justice had been elected. Among the most shocking were the steps taken to paralyse the Constitutional Tribunal, the most important court in the land. Although the liberal Constitution of 1997 was not explicitly revoked, through political manoeuvring, Kaczyński succeeded in changing constitutional reality in Poland. Equally important, Law and Justice took public mass media under government control, purging television and radio channels of critical voices and threatening the freedom of independent media. Finally, they took steps to change Poland’s position on the international scene, distancing the country from the EU and strengthening ties with other illiberal democracies.

in The new politics of Poland
War remains and the politics of commemoration in the wake of the Asia-Pacific War
Beatrice Trefalt

In January 1955, an official mission departed Japan for New Guinea to collect remains of the war dead and to erect commemorative monuments to fallen soldiers. Just before its departure, a diplomatic contretemps arose about the English wording on the Japanese stones: the Japanese government considered them memorials to the dead, whereas the Australian government insisted that they be mere geographical markers noting the search for remains. This article examines how the divergent politics of commemoration in Japan and Australia created this dispute, demonstrating how the remains of soldiers functioned as important signifiers well beyond their material existence. In Japan, the search for remains spoke to the nature of national duty, the acknowledgement of mourning and the possibilities for atonement. In Australia, however, they stimulated visceral resentment, because the soldiers’ remains symbolised Japanese aggression and war crimes.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
In search of the Republic of Vietnam war dead
Alex-Thái Dinh Võ

Finding, identifying and interring the war dead are ethically and ceremonially crucial tasks for healing, repairing and legitimising. Before the end of the Vietnam War, the United States had begun to look for missing Americans in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In the wake of its victory and takeover of South Vietnam, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam went to great lengths to identify and immortalise its fallen soldiers. The same cannot be said for the war dead of the Republic of Vietnam, whose fall on 30 April 1975 made the war dead stateless; consequently they have never been legitimately acknowledged by the current Vietnamese government or their former ally, the United States. This article explores the accounting efforts by Nguyen Dạc Thành and the Vietnamese American Foundation to reveal the financial, logistical, technical and political opportunities and challenges in accounting for war dead associated with a state that no longer exists.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s policies for repatriating soldiers’ remains and accounting for the missing after the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War
Liu Zhaokun

After the Chinese Civil War (1946–49), hundreds of thousands of graves of the People’s Liberation Army soldiers dotted the country’s landscape; the ensuing Korean War caused more casualties. Honouring this immense sacrifice and mobilising the survivors for its reconstruction were indispensable for the nascent People’s Republic of China. This research probes China’s policies to repatriate soldiers’ remains and account for those missing after these wars. The dilapidating status of soldiers’ graves threatened the morale of soldiers’ families, the backbone of the country’s socialist revolution. The state acknowledged families’ wishes to retrieve soldiers’ remains and nationalised their repatriation to salvage popular support. However, the deceased were not to drain the labour and resources reserved for the revolution. This principle had effectively prevented most families from retrieving remains. Accounting for missing soldiers was to ensure that only the revolutionary martyrs’ families could receive due honour and privilege.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal