Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła

“Poland is not yet lost”

So goes the opening line of Poland’s Mazurka style national anthem.  As long as we live Poland will not be lost.  And this is how much we know for sure about the Parliamentary elections in Poland held on October 15.

Furthermore, and quite honestly, this is the takeaway from a European perspective.  The final result will eventually allow three opposition parties to form a coalition government, which will end two dark four-year terms of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) rule in Poland.  Poland would once again play a constructive role in the European dialogue for a more perfect Union.  The country of almost 40 million population may take its decisive role in pursuing a constructive European agenda.

From the Hungarian perspective, there will be a host of other conclusions and takeaways as to how all this may impact Hungarian politics and public discourse about the restoration of a democratic order.  Our Hungarian Perspective will attempt to address some of the ramifications of the defeat of the born-again nationalist PiS rule.  Our Blog will assess the outcome of the Polish vote and the prospects of the new government in other posts too, soon to come.

Before we do this, let’s just state that the near to 75% turnout, the highest since 1989, does reflect that the stakes were truly high.  It was by no means an exaggeration that democracy in this important EU country was on the line.  The transition will hopefully be relatively seamless and peaceful.  Messrs. Kaczynski and Morawiecki are no Orban clones.  With a bit of help from President Duda they may marshal a few obstacles that could work as a pain in the neck, but eventually they would not incite protests against a legitimate transition.  They would not echo Orban’s notorious slogan after his defeat in 2002 to the effect that “the nation cannot be in opposition.”

By the end of the year there will be a government formed by three parties: the Civil Coalition (KO) (30.7%), the Third Way (14.4%), and the Left (Lewica) (8.6%).  Yes, it was not a technikal KO by Donald Tusk’s KO party, but clearly an impressive showing under the difficulties of running a campaign where all state-owned media echoed the PiS party line.  Forming a coalition may not be easy.  It may require clever flexibility for each party to hammer out a realistic program for the reconstruction of a damaged democracy.  We are hopeful that this will be done.

The winner, soon to be prime minister: Donald Tusk.

We think one should also recall that on the wings of the general election PiS organized a referendum on four blatantly populist issues.  Very much like those manipulated Orban-style national consultations, elicited responses from the electorate. The Polish referendum, with just slightly over 40% participation, was invalid.  This reflects not only that Poland is not yet lost, but more importantly, it shows that the majority of the electorate cannot be fooled by outright populist slogans.

In the election campaign, old fashioned PiS hit the populist tone by using many vile techniques, including modern political marketing tools.  One creative video portrayed the German embassy in Warsaw from which, to a booming soundtrack of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, a man speaking Polish with a heavy German accent calls Kaczynski to arrange a call between him and German Chancellor Scholz about Poland’s retirement age.  This was one of the questions on the referendum.  Kaczynski takes the call and abruptly tells the caller: Tusk is long gone, our rules have changed, this issue will be decided by the Poles.  And so he hangs up.  The message is not so subtle: Berlin does not dictate to Warsaw.  But Kaczynski was right: it was the Polish people who decided how to move forward with the many social issues facing the country.

For Hungarians the simplest takeaway of the Polish vote is that in a free and substantially fair electoral system the vote of the people will be heard and translated into changing the guard.  Where the level playing field is not distorted into a steep (let’s say more than 45 degree) uphill battle for the opposition, changes can be achieved at the ballots.  Where the ruling party is not yet entrenched to the degree that it is unlikely to be replaced by popular vote, every vote matters.  This time wise urban and rural voters sent a clear message: Law and Justice was for everything except law and justice for all.  It is time to open a new page in the history of this country.

Marsz, marsz Dąbrowski!

Andras I. Hanak


  1. Happy to see The fall of the Polish regime. Of course, Poland is not Hungary as evidenced by a greater degree of civic culture/engagement, let alone a larger # of free press outlets. This, as our editor knows, is very different from Hungary, where most of the press is either directly controlled by the Orbán regime and/or its stooges or self censored to avoid legal persecution by the Orbán regime. I wonder if a follow up article regarding lessons from the election in Poland for the the Hungarian resistance/opposition is possible. In any case, thank you for this report.

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