In the European Elections 46% Poles took part, which is an astounding increase with the previous European votes in 2004, 2009 and 2014 (all with 20-25% participation level).
In October 2018 during the local and regional elections some 55% Poles went to the polls. This was the best turn out in local and regional elections ever.
Poles go to the polls. Will the October 2019 national elections bring a new record in the participation level, too? The current record is 63%, when the Communism has fallen in 1989 elections.
The wider question is, what is the state of democracy in Poland? Clearly there are heated political debates in the country that bring emotional engagement to new levels. Entitlements are debated and defended. Rights are offended and disrespected.
Last June the Warsaw gay pride attracted a 45,000-strong anti-government manifestation. This was the largest gay pride in Poland in history.
On Saturday, 20 June, in the NE Polish city of Białystok, a first gay pride is ever organised. A 1,000 strong crowd is overpowered by right-wing hooligans and other radical groups. The left-wing journalists of OKO.press are present. Their story is dramatic. Read it in full in Polish here.
The police is accused by the hooligans and the gay pride participants alike. The hooligans are surprised the police is arresting them. They feel empowered. Still, 20 people are arrested. But before that happens some pride participants are beaten up. There is a police helicopter involved in the monitoring of the march.
There are many proofs of violence on the social media. I shall share one such video, which is disturbing. A peaceful person who is coming to the gay pride is attacked by hooligans:
The hooligans try to block the march. The pride has to re-route to avoid the blockages. Instead of a celebration of diversity many people end up in hell. Someone comments “I feel like at war”. People who march hear offensive comments and bricks are thrown in their, and the police, direction. The gay pride response: “Come with us”.
The Białystok pride is a clear manifestation of two sides of Poland. One is the open, tolerant, diverse, modern. Another is regressive, aggressive, offensive, with a clear world view that Poland is a place for Poles alone, family consists of a mother and a father, and everybody should go to Church. There is no room for any differentiation from “the norm”.
Both groups feel threatened. The anti-diversity campaign of Law and Justice brought the party victory in the May elections. In it, the LGBT community is demonised. Ahead of the October elections, the party continues to play the same tone.
Will the anti-gay propaganda machine reach its limits?
We are the island of freedom. We need to reject the offensive of evil.Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, in Katowice, 6 July 2019
Summer likes strange news. The homophobic news from Poland hit front pages of many Western media. No different is with the latest Gazeta Polska campaign, to distribute homophobic stickers.
Gazeta Polska is a small paper with a circulation of about 13,000 copies. Major state corporations support the publication with commercials. The links between the GP and the ruling party are close and well known.
Since PiS scares the general ignorant public with LGBT telling people that gays are “perverts and degenerates” (MP Stanisław Pięta). The fake news that “40% of gays are paedophiles” is taking Poland by storm after two months ago half of the Polish public saw a terrific documentary about the Catholic Church cover-up of the paedophile priests.
Today, PiS and the far-right are putting the two together.
Often it is difficult to distinguish PiS from the far right.
One case when it is possible to distinguish PiS from the far right is the GP anti-gay stickers propaganda case. The US Ambassador, Trump appointee and a colourful diplomat, Georgette Mosbacher twittes in Polish “I am disappointed and concerned that certain groups use stickers to promote hatred and intolerance. We respect freedom of speech, but we must stand together on the side of values such as diversity and tolerance.”
Here when the Trump US government intervenes in the Polish domestic affairs, some of PiS politicians retract. Piotr Muller, the government spokesperson speaks against the anti-gay stickers.
Also, the Interior Minister Elżbieta Witek defends the police defending the gay pride on twitter without calling it “gay pride”: “The officers ensure security regardless of the banners, worldview and beliefs of the citizens. Officers operate on the basis and within the limits of applicable law.”
The End of One Pole
With the heated debates Poles are discovering the obvious: there is no one Pole with identical features. Poles are as diverse as every other nation. What is truly new is that many Poles are nostalgic of old times when life was simpler. Then, the government was promoting a narrative of one Poland inhabited by one nation, with one language and one religion.
PiS will defend the nostalgic, simplistic view. The opposition will dwell on the diversity. This is the outlook for the October elections.
Since the Opposition likes diversity, it chooses to go not in one block, but instead in three blocks. More on them in the upcoming weeks.
New Democratic Instruments
One debate within the Opposition is how party democracy should look like.
The European Coalition that was formed ahead of the 26 May vote was decided behind closed doors in negotiations between party leaders. There were many disappointed ahead of the vote and disenfranchised after the vote.
The soul searching among the Civic Platform (PO), the biggest of all Opposition parties, was an important process, that nevertheless did not lead to increased democratisation of the Opposition lists. What PO learned is that it needs to run a campaign among the people, not only on the web.
Still, the heart of the Polish Opposition is not with the PO. The true heart is with the civil society organisations that organised and led the anti-government protests since 2015: the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP), Free Courts (Wolne Sądy), the Women’s Strike (OSK) among many others.
In the context of the European vote the Citizens of Poland organised a series of citizen panels between the citizens and democratic candidates for the European Parliament. Over all there were 19 panels organised in 6 regions (out of 13 total). 36 candidates participated in the panels.
The panels gave recommendations on who was the best prepared to serve as a Member of the European Parliament.
This was the first attempt of its kind in the context of European vote in Poland.
Today, Citizens of Poland campaign for further democratization – greater involvement of the citizens – in the life of Opposition parties. Since coalitions are to be drafting its candidates for MP positions in the next Sejm, Citizens of Poland would prefer for those candidates to be selected in a primary way. “Do not make contracts in closed offices. Break with the tradition of a political trading behind closed doors away from the media and the public opinion. This style of politics […] discredits democracy in the eyes of citizens”, writes Paweł Kasprzak in Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading liberal journal, 5 July.
Idealists as they are, Citizens of Poland’s idea is not shared by the political parties.
Law and Justice has pulled back another ‘softer’ instrument of citizens participation: voting by proxy for people who are abroad has been disallowed since 2018.
Many expect a clash. A clash of society groups. Diversity v homogeneity, small towns v big cities, Church-goers v Church-visitors, believers in open Poland v believers that Poland is under threat.
The turnout will be high. Emotions will fly high. Some sociologists say there may be 4 million new voters compared with the European elections.
Many of the Opposition folks talk of “the last chance” of a democratic Poland. Should PiS continue to rule, they say, PiS will solidify its power, begin a new fight against the last bastion of the Opposition in the cities and regional governments. PiS will rule for many, many years to come.
PiS says to stay calm. PiS runs a campaign to receive a new mandate to change the country. PiS is certain of a win, especially since the Opposition is divided into three camps. The only unknown is the degree of its win.
Should PiS truly win in October it may well be that a new wave of Polish citizens may chose to leave the country. As a participant in the gay pride in Białystok remarked: “As of today I think it is time to think about leaving”.
The thing is that if the current debates and controversies were to be sidelined, there are other groups to be demonised by the PiS machinery.