A new start for Polish democracy

, by Ines Consonni

A new start for Polish democracy
Dwxn, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons. “4th of June 2023 march”, anti-government protest organized by the Civic Platform on June 4, 2023

Lech Wałęsa, the former President of Poland, stood in a balcony in the Polish Parliament and teared up as he saw PiS being undeniably put in the opposition and a new coalition government led by Donald Tusk being sworn in to govern Poland for the next 4 years. While he is a controversial figure, seeing this person who fought so much for freedom and democracy in Poland, standing up and tearing up shows how monumental this moment was.

I was commenting on this to a friend who I interviewed for this article and she also smiled and said that she found the photos of this moment heartwarming. This lies in stark contrast to how Joanna experienced the campaign period, which she described as intense. She explained that there was an element of frustration, as well as an urge for change. Joanna went as far as saying that she felt that this time PiS, ‘would not get their way’, even though she had felt the same during the last presidential elections, she truly felt this time it was different, because of how people were reacting to the campaign: with a lot of motivation for change.

According to Joanna, all of this tension towards election day led to a collective urge to actually go and vote, creating the highest turnout ever, simply due to the fact that so many young people went to the ballots. She was so happy and proud of this, describing it as a powerful moment for Poland and democracy.

In fact, according to the BBC, polls showed that 68.8% of voters aged under 29 turned out to vote for these elections, this meant that more young people cast their ballots this time around than people over 60.

Now that Tusk has been sworn in as new Prime Minister, Joanna feels good and I could notice her sense of relief, as she described that people until this past week, remained afraid of what PiS could still do to curtail democratic principles. However, it quickly became clear that this would not happen, even when President Duda still gave the mandate to the now former PM to form a government despite not having a realistic chance to do so.

Joanna explained to me that she really has hope that Poland will change now. She kept repeating this word in a way that really made me feel she wanted to put everything that PiS did behind her and start fresh. Even if she shared her feelings of unease, as people were now celebrating, she could not stop herself from thinking this was only temporary and it could be taken away. Other people around her felt the same.

She considered that PiS was leaving the country in a complicated situation which meant that the new government had a very hard job ahead and she could not help but wonder if they would be up to it. Joanna also explained that it is good to be realistic and understand that being in the opposition will potentially embolden PiS, especially when she considered that there is a clear trend among young people, mostly men, to turn to the far-right. Before the election, Notes from Poland published an article reporting how one third of young Poles planned to vote for the far right.

Joanna went along to talk to me on what she expected for the future of Poland. She started by mentioning a recent expose, a sort of long interview, of former Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, in which he shared what he wishes for the future for Poland and his own experiences in the past eight years. Joanna disagreed with much of the country’s image the former PM portrayed. While he said the country was booming economically, she described the much harsher reality Poles were facing after the pandemic and the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. She hopes this new government is able to find ways though policies and programmes that create well-paid jobs so people do not have to leave the country.

The former PM, quite shockingly, went on to give details on how much he did for women’s rights and Joanna to this said, “sure, the politics and policies of his government motivated women and girls in numbers never seen to the streets protesting for their basic and fundamental rights.”. This is where she wishes for a sharp turn, for rights such as abortion to be guaranteed, even though she understands how controversial this is. Nonetheless, Joanna, akin to many women and girls in Poland, showed how anxious she was after years of struggle and gender discrimination to see her rights respected and enshrined in law, even though she recognises that the battle is not over, even with this new government.

She also went along to talk about how she and many colleagues expected TVP to be shut down and the creation of a new space to build independent and free media. However, this model of media close to the government should now, according to her, come to an end. Her final thoughts turned to a deep wish for the constitution to be respected, with no more signing legislative papers at 3am without transparency and democratic accountability. Joanna hopes to see in politics now a healthy dialogue between political forces. In the evening, we talked about her feeling optimistic that this would happen.

In many ways, Joanna portrayed how many people in Poland felt. It is impossible to know right now how the next years will be, but after eight years of Polish people fighting for their democracy, their rights and freedom, while being cautious, their hopes are now high – as they should be. This is precisely what they aim for: a fair, free and democratic Poland.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them. This article has been written and produced as part of Check’Europe, an Erasmus+ project and written by Ines Consonni, Policy Officer at JEF Europe.

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