Law

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
A case of post-traumatic sovereignty
Author:

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