The Nowoczesna Party: The Old and the New Leadership

Adrian Grycuk || CC 3.0

Last Saturday, the Nowoczesna party has elected a new leader: Katarzyna Lubnauer replaced Ryszard Petru at the helm of the Polish opposition party, the most liberal one in the country there is. It was high time Nowoczesna stopped being associated chiefly with Petru.

Ryszard Petru managed to achieve the (almost) impossible. He created a party that quickly became a viable political option almost from scratch. Drawing on his own popularity he created a political body that has had motivated liberal circles in Poland to join the project.

Nowoczesna started chiefly as a grassroots initiative without much funding that ended up in a success in parliamentary elections of 2015. All this due to Herculean labor of the leader, Ryszard Petru. So it’s only natural that from the beginning there had been some chaos and a number of bloopers – the major one being undoubtedly the problems with filing the required financial documentation what resulted in a limited budetary subvention for the party. This is a serious matter that cast a shadow over the chances of a young party and could have caused eventual defeat. Yet, these mistakes are perfectly understandable if we take into account the lack of experience and limited resources. That period in the history of the party is therefore a huge success that could be chiefly attributed to the party leader.

Alas, the first serious mistakes of Ryszard Petru followed quite soon. Right after the election he transformed the grassroot movement into a party led by a leader, a party model typical for Poland. The barons sent from the party headquarters – who very often had had nothing in common with the Nowoczena party before the election – took over the reins in their totality often destroying entire exsisting stuctures.

And so, for example, in the Dabrowa Basin (southern Poland) three out of five county groups were dissolved while the remainig two were significantly reduced. All this was to serve one purpose: in the fortcoming election the anointed barons were to stand the best chance of winning. This feeling of security of the Nowoczesna party leadership was, however, quickly undermined by the fact that this move strongly discouraged some of the biggest supporters of the party, party officials, and broadly understood prospective electorate.

These deficits as regards human resources and party organization are likely to resurface also during the next election. As a result, today, two years after the events mentioned above, the group in Sosnowiec (a large city in Dabrowa Basin),for example,  consists of only several members – just enough to fill in the posts on the list in one of five voting constituencies. And since nothing has changed much for the past two years, there is little evidence pointing to any change within the next year. That is Ryszard Petru’s greatest crime – and one that was not a result of negligence or lack of experience but rather cold calculation in the name of consolidating his power in the party.

Yet, despite these obvious shortcomings that for a long time have been affecting the party, Nowoczesna continued to gain in popularity. At some point it even seemed that it might enter a fight with Law and Justice and marginalize Civic Platform. Alas, it quickly turned out that the party suffers from financial and resource shortages. Cavalier behavior of the party leader was a nail in the coffin of the party success. And even though there is nothing wrong in taking a vacation, yet doing that at the same time trying to convince the nation that the state is in the midst of a catastrophic crisis and that Nowoczesna is the leader of the opposition was simply an act of making fools of the voters. And voters do not like when they are treated like fools.

As a consequence, the support for Nowoczesna in the polls dropped drastically and is still declining after the unforunate Madeira incident. It remains unknown whether this blunder will not be more critical than the detrimental effects of the deficits in financing.

A few days before the party leadership election Petru had decided to enter a coalition with Civic Platform in the forthcoming local election. Was that a smart or silly idea? On the one hand, opposition electorate seems to have been awaiting the opposition to come together. On the other hand, Nowoczesna has been developed and positioned in the opposition to Civic Platform and yet, taking into account its current results, its position is rather a weak one. It appears to be more of a side dish rather than a partner. Yet, this is a dilemma difficult to solve and as such it shall be dealt with by the party leader with a strong mandate after the election and not before, during the last few days of Petru’s term of office. Decisions of this kind at such a moment are simply an example of making fools out of voters the cirlce of Nowoczesna.

This is why it appears that Ryszard Petru has been dead wood for Nowoczesna already for some time. He is still a sort of a symbol of creating the party and will most likely always play an important role in its structure. Yet, it is high time the party worked out a solid economic program since the one offered so far is somewhat flimsy and apart from the support for introducing Euro in Poland. does not offer much It was time Petru stepped down from the center stage. It became apparent that he is no longer capable of restoring the potential of the Nowoczesna party – after all, he’s the one that brought it down. And so, this new beginning brings hope. Maybe not a lot of it, but surely some.

The article was originally published in Polish at: