Polish Parliamentary Elections seen through Western European Countries’ Eyes

Barbara Zak

Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Jarosław Kaczyński (Leader of PiS), JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP

Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Jarosław Kaczyński (Leader of PiS), JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP

It has been almost two months since the results of the Polish parliamentary elections have been revealed to the public. The overwhelming victory went to the Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) which earned 37.58% of the total votes. The consequence of this success is translated into the party having 235 seats out of 460 – that is to say that they managed to seize the absolute majority of the Sejm (one of the Polish chambers) which is 230 seats plus another seat. The party also gained the absolute majority in the Senate with 61 seats out of 100. What was also amazing was the fact that the second party on the list of the election results, which is Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), the party that gained the two previous elections, has gained only 24.09% of the votes, namely 138 seats out of 460 seats in the Sejm and 34 seats out of 100 seats in the Senate. The third and fourth parties’ results do not exceed the 50 seats mark and have no seats in the Senate. It is important to note that no left-wing party has won any seat in the parliament – something that is utterly inconceivable for Western European democracies. The significant difference between the results is not to be taken lightly since it illustrates the position of the Poles towards the administration of their country : they have entirely trusted PiS with its promises and have given it all the tools needed to rule the country (we should not forget that the political affiliation of the incumbent President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, is PiS). To sum up, PiS has received enough seats to govern alone.

Every victory shall be congratulated, particularly when it is an overpowering victory. Polish press magazines have mentionned the party PiS as the main winner and have praised its considerable success. However, words of congratulations could not be found in Western European countries’ newspapers. I remember watching live broadcast from the parliamentary election results and my naive feelings of joy as PiS was declared the main winner. Truthfully, I was glad that a party was able to convince the majority of Polish people that they are willing to change Poland and Poles’ lives. But I also remember how this innocent hope of change for the better had been smashed as soon as I saw the headlines in French, English, Spanish and Italian newspapers. The common words that were basically mentionned everywhere in a very negative perception were „Eurosceptic, conservative, nationalist, ultranationalist, populist, extremist, extreme right-wing, far-right party”. Even the harsh word „xenophobic” was used to depict the winner of the elections. I was quite astonished to find such adjectives, but then I understood that the meaning of these words is perceived in a different way between Western and European countries.

The Western European countries’ opinions

(AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Jarosław Kaczyński and Beata Szydło celebrating its victory (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Western European countries’ newspapers have defined the key to victory as the result of an anti-migration campaign, of the anti-internationalisation of the country but rather the promotion of „what is our is better”, of the promise to keep young Polish people from moving to other countries because of unemployment, of a coming back to the nuclear family and a ban of the modern Western family, of the support of the Roman-Catholic church, of a pro-rural campaign and helping promises to poorer areas of the country. They have warned that the possible constitutional reforms could immerse the country into disastrous relations with the European Union (EU). The medias in these countries have shared their worries about the future of Poland regarding its membership of the EU. The tensions bewteen Paris-Berlin and Warsaw may arise. Since the pro-European Polish government (made of PO members) is no longer in office, the relations between the EU institutions and the new „excessively” conservative and nationalist government could be turbulent. Moreover, the fact that PiS claims to be more of a pro-American party is very worrisome in the eyes of Western European countries. Poland is gradually looking towards the United States of America in the sense that it seems to be willing to protect itself from the „permanent Russian threat”. Poland asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to focus on providing it with missile shield on Russia – as the EU does not have a common army, the only solution found by Poland was beyond the Atlantic ocean.

Source: ALIK KEPLICZ / AP

Jarosław Kaczyński (ALIK KEPLICZ / AP)

The media of Western European countries assimilate the electoral campaign of PiS as propaganda, using fear as its main tool. Every means is good to illustrate how dangerous this party is for the sake of the future of the EU. The most quoted sentence by Jarosław Kaczyński that can be found in the newspapers is basically that immigrants are like parasites and that they will bring various diseases. The medias remind to the population that this kind of xenophobic speech was used against Jews during Hitler’s ascension to the power. The leader of the Polish party is compared to the totalitarian personalities of the XXth century. The media say they foresee his eventual coup d’etat because of his undeniable thirst of power – Beata Szydło, the Polish prime minister, is more of a screen to Kaczyński’s actions rather than an independent figure. During his speech after the results of the parliamentary elections were out, Mr Kaczyński’s first words were a tribute to his late twin brother who died along with his wife in a plane crash while he was President of the Republic of Poland. In addition to the fact that their daughter was also present, the media of Europe perceived this as a means to move the population by reminding them of their late well-liked President. He did not speak of the promises they made.

Online version of the Italian nawspaper "La Stampa" right after the results

Online version of the Italian nawspaper „La Stampa” right after the results

The media said his speech was not appropriate for a winning speech. Moreover, Mr Kaczyński’s admiration for the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who is percieved to become Hungary’s next dictator in the occidental part of Europe, worries the Western European journalists. They are afraid Poland’s politics and diplomatical relationship with other European countries will become similar to Hungary’s. The fear of authoritarian government and the weakening of democracy values can be found in every article talking about this subject. The constitutional reforms were the first step Orbán took to cement his position. „Kaczyński’s party is willing to do the same” can be seen in the press of Western Europe. PiS political affiliations that are partisan to sovereignty alerts considerably the West of Europe. Furthermore, the medias tend to remind that Poland needs the European funds in order to develop itself. Thus the idea of electing a Eurosceptic government should be unthinkable for Poles. The French researcher, essayist and political commentator Jean-Yves Camus has said in an interview with Le Figaro (French newspaper) that the member states from the Eastern part of Europe think they are like lower-ranking associates – but it is untrue because they are represented by important European commissionners (the former prime minister Donald Tusk (PO) is a revealing example of it), he says.

 Poland’s response to the accusations

"Indestructible - what will Jaroslaw Kaczynski do now?" says Polish magazine Do Rzeczy

„Indestructible – what will Jaroslaw Kaczynski do now?” says Polish magazine Do Rzeczy

Nevertheless, all of these negative views of the winning party are not shared by the Polish people nor Polish media. In theory, PiS is a right-wing, national-conservative party. PO is also a right-wing party. The true far right, Eurosceptic party of Poland is KORWiN (Coalition for the Renewal of the Republic – Liberty and Hope). But PiS’ campaign was to rather care about the interests of Poland and of Polish people. Poles say that since the integration of the country into the EU, Poland has received a huge amount of funds but in return their political moves were dictated by the EU’s most powerful government, which are Western European countries. Poles say that the PO government has sold everything (especially banks and supermarkets) to the foreigners and speculators, thus Polish little companies have perished. The reason why Polish people have voted for PiS is that they wished for some changes from the PO government. PO being pro-EU was not well-received by Poles in the end. Harsh critics has been made against the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the former primer minister Ewa Kopacz depicted as puppets of the German chancellor Angela Merkel. Poland is starting to refuse the authority of Western Europe, for instance regarding the quotas of migrants it is told to welcome. The new government promised to make the voice of Poland be heard so people are looking forward to what it has in stores. Right after the elections, Polish newspapers have written that Poles are looking at the new government with hope for a better change.

The main motto of the Western European medias is „be aware of PiS governing Poland”. It is not well perceived that a conservative, Eurosceptic and xenophobic party, as they call it, was allowed to form the new government. These are the statements that can be found in Western European countries’ newspapers and their influence on the population is huge. They know they play an important role in forming the public opinion. The position of these medias will divide the EU more and more. However, we cannot hide the fact that this government has been elected in a democratic way. This is the answer of the Polish people towards their difficulties and worries. So rather than being a Polish crisis, as we can read in the medias of the Western European countries, it should be called a European crisis, and more specifically a European identity crisis : Poles feel above all else Polish rather than European. The national values got the upper hand on the European unity. We could feel it during Poland’s new prime minister Beata Szydło’s speech : only Polish white-red flags could be seen. No European flag. Not anymore.

Belgium

http://www.rtbf.be/info/medias/dossier/vu-sur-le-web/detail_des-populistes-remportent-les-elections-polonaises-selon-la-vrt-theo-francken-les-corrige?id=9121033

France

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/10/25/pologne-la-droite-conservatrice-remporte-les-elections-legislatives_4796630_3214.html

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/10/23/pologne-la-fin-du-bon-eleve-europeen_4795312_3214.html

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/09/15/face-aux-refugies-des-opinions-europeennes-profondement-divisees_4757942_3214.html

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/10/27/l-ue-inquiete-de-la-victoire-du-pis-en-pologne_4797652_3214.html

http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/monde/2015/10/27/31002-20151027ARTFIG00346-legislatives-en-pologne-ce-que-revele-la-montee-de-l-euroscepticisme-a-l-est.php

United Kingdom

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34631826

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34640535

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34638483

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/26/poland-election-idUSL8N12Q08J20151026

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/22/polish-elections-2015-a-guide-to-the-parties-polls-and-electoral-system

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6959c838-77fb-11e5-a95a-27d368e1ddf7.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/23/poland-election-law-and-justice-party

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-16390574

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21748878

Spain

http://elpais.com/elpais/2015/10/26/opinion/1445893343_097387.html

http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2015/10/26/actualidad/1445861367_552444.html

http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2015/10/25/actualidad/1445764644_924199.html

http://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2015/10/26/562e145322601dbc1e8b45bf.html

Italy

http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/10/25/news/elezioni_polonia_-125883255/?ref=search

http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/10/24/news/polonia_intervista_czarnecki-125812685/?ref=search

http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/10/24/news/elezioni_polonia-125809157/?ref=search

http://www.corriere.it/esteri/15_ottobre_25/elezioni-polonia-primi-exit-poll-avanti-destra-anti-unione-europea-cccbd0a4-7b53-11e5-901f-d0ce9a6b55d1.shtml

Poland

http://www.fakt.pl/swiat/wybory-parlamentarne-2015-okiem-zagranicznej-prasie,artykuly,586388.html

http://www.wprost.pl/wybory-parlamentarne-2015/

http://www.wprost.pl/ar/523739/Zagraniczne-media-o-wyborach-w-Polsce-Prawicowa-zmiana/?pg=6#strona-komentarzy-1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_parliamentary_election,_2015

Newspaper wSieci nr 46 16-22 november 2015 : article „Niezły rząd wielkich nadziei”, Piotr Zaremba

Bonus:

United States of America

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/26/europe/poland-election/

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