Poland, like Hungary, has been cultivating for some time a reputation as one of the EU’s baddest, meanest reactionary regimes. Liberals the world over accuse it of being an “illiberal democracy” since the ruling party, Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), rose to power in 2015. Since then, it has enacted a series of policies and attitudes heavily criticized in Brussels: attacks on the press, on LGBT culture, on diversity. Most famously, a new set of rules which allegedly threatened the independence of the judiciary. The ruling was meant to erase the foothold its rival party, Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), had tried to build in the Constitutional Court, prior to losing its 2007-2015 mandate. The ripples raised by the polemic have lasted until recently, and the presidential election of Summer 2020 was won again by Law and Justice’s Andrzej Duda, but by a much smaller margin and in a far more polarized society.
Interestingly, both the PiS and PO share a common origin: they are the factions that emerged after the split of a right wing democratic movement born out the Solidarity trade union, famous for its distinguished role in the fall of Communism. The story of Solidarity is deserving of its own article: for now, suffice it to say that, after a decade together, PiS and PO broke up in 2001. Since then they’ve been taking turns in power as the two most successful brands of Conservatism in a Parliament heavily tilted to the right. Although they even shared a coalition in 2005-2007, they have been bitter enemies since then.
The fact is, despite their shared origin and their meaningless characterization as “right wing”, both parties have not much in common anymore. PO is a purely liberal Open Society-type project, which strongly aligns it with the European Union. After all, Donald Tusk, former Polish PM and PO leader, was President of the European Council (2014-19) and is now the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest transnational party of the European Parliament. The EPP also includes other right-wing liberal forces, such as Angela Merkel’s CDU, the Spanish People’s Party, the French Republicans of Jacques Chirac, and curiously, Fidesz (the party of Viktor Orbán himself).
This suggests that PO represents in Poland the interests of the European establishment, which usually means representing the interests of Germany, specifically. The media landscape supporting PO reflects this fact: mostly foreign-owned groups, either German or American. And those who are American, such as Discovery Inc, are mostly lobbyists for the Democratic Congressional Campaign and Joe Biden’s presidential run. All of this is unsurprising, given the fact that the Polish economy is extremely dependent on Germany. About a third of its exports go there: notably, vehicle parts to be assembled in the latter’s famous factories.
Contrary to PO, the PiS boasts the approval of the Trump administration. Historically, and since its 17th century Deluge, Poland has always sought the protection of far-away foreign powers: France, Britain, the US. It has needed them against most of its neighbors, all of them seeking to correct past grievances committed during the zenith of Polish power. The nationalist, populist ethos of the PiS resonated with Trump’s rhetoric, giving place to a natural alliance. It is not a coincidence that, since around 2015, fringe right online circles began to be filled with different variants of the “Based Poland” meme. From low-brow PUA dating guides to brainy neorreactionary essays, the Polish nation’s capacity to resist Woke imperialism was praised all over the Internet.
It’s difficult to tell what will become of this Based Poland without Trump sitting in the Oval Office. The cultural and political environment that led to populist governments all over Europe was not eternal. It depended heavily on the refugee crisis, the frequent terrorist attacks in European capitals, the War in the Donbass, and the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. All of these worries have been replaced by a different breed of threat, with a completely different memetic background: Covid-19, racial conflict, Chinese spycraft, cyberpunk surveillance dystopias. It’s a brand new set of tropes for a brand new season, coming soon to a screen near you.
This article is part of a series. You can find the next installment here.