The life of a liberal in Poland is not a piece of cake. Quite frankly, liberals up to this day are really the subject of political torment, given the pitiful choices they are given every election.
Now, what do I mean by that? There is a certain requirement that a political party has to obtain at least 5000 signatures in a voting region to be able to register their candidate list. Imagine that your options on who to vote for are limited due to this requirement, and are as follows: the far-right populist coalition, widely understood “left-wing” coalition and finally, the centrist big-tent coalition consisting of people from pretty much the entire political spectrum.
In this article I will try to summarize the Polish political spectrum from a liberal point of view and try to justify the thesis that “liberals can only choose the lesser of three evils” in my beautiful home country.
Let’s begin with the topic of our government. The Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) party once again rose to power in 2015. This political party currently holds a lot of power in our government – their own candidate (Andrzej Duda) won the 2020 presidential election and is currently in his second term as president of Poland. Prawo i Sprawiedliwość.
They also won the most recent parliament elections, which now allows them to rule completely independently, with, for the first time in Polish history, no need to form a ruling coalition.
From this point onwards, Professor of law Adam Strzembosz pointed out seven violations of the Polish Constitution made by president Andrzej Duda1. Also, the Senate’s Rule of Law Commitee pointed out 13 times when Duda and the PiS-dominated government violated the Constitution2.
In addition, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that some laws implemented by PiS violate the separation of powers and furthermore, the autonomy of the judiciary system3.
Therefore, I do not find it surprising that I do not see PiS as an especially liberal party. The Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki called PiS a party of low taxes. Government critics have added to this statement that “PiS is a party of numerous new low taxes, payments and impositions.”
New taxes were imposed on:
- petrol sellers,
- large-sized stores,
- electrical energy,
- televisions and radios,
- products containing sugar,
- low-percentage alcohol,
- and so on…
It isn’t much better in terms of personal liberty. Due to the new laws, foreigners are forbidden to buy Polish farming lands from the Polish national land supply. This law is not only anti-liberal, but also highly ineffective5. PiS has also implemented “Pracownicze Plany Kapitałowe” (Workers Capital Plans) – which basically means another social security payment to which your approval is default and if you want to withdraw from this plan – you will be faced with a mountain of paperwork and department talks6.
Let us also not forget about the prohibition of retail on Sundays, which has prevented many students (including myself) from taking up part-time jobs on weekends. To make matters even more ridiculous, convenience stores like Żabka have managed to bypass this law by implementing… postal services. The same thing will most probably be implemented in Kaufland – one of the biggest Polish markets7.
Furthermore – during his 2020 presidential campaign, Andrzej Duda also made a scandalous remark about LGBT people:
“We are told that [members of the LGBTcommunity] are people, like us. And that is just an ideology”… “My parents’ generation didn’t struggle for 40 years to expel the communist ideology from schools, trying to prevent children from forcefully believing in these things, from brainwashing our youth… so that we would now have to agree to come to a new [LGBT] ideology that is even more destructive to mankind, an ideology that, behind the clichés of respect and tolerance hides intolerance and elimination, and the exclusion of anybody who is not willing to submit to it”8.
Can it get worse than this? It certainly can. In October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, which is considered to be politically dependent on the parliament9, found that a 1993 law allowing abortion in cases of severe and irreversible foetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.
In 2019, 98% of abortions were carried out on those grounds, meaning that the ruling effectively banned the vast majority of pregnancy terminations. Abortion is now allowed only in cases of rape or incest, or when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother10.
This incredibly controversial verdict sparked the biggest riots since the fall of communism – Strajk Kobiet (Women Strike).The biggest march happened in Warsaw at the end of October, where around 100 000 people gathered together and went to the streets to show opposition against the anti-abortion verdict11.
So… What Are the Alternatives?
To be quite frank – there aren’t that many for liberals. The most “laissez-faire” in terms of economics is, without a doubt, the coalition Konfederacja Wolność i Niepodległość (Confederation Freedom and Independence). In their “program” we may find ideas such as voluntary social security, 0% personal income tax, 3 pln for a litre of gasoline, school vouchers and culture vouchers12. It all sounds wonderful… on paper. The “program” of Konfederacja is in reality composed of a few catchy, enticing promises.
No calculation, no precise numbers – so basically, almost nothing of merit. During the 2020 presidential campaign, we were able to observe the same practice when Piątka Bosaka (Bosak’s Five) – the presidential candidate of Konfederacja – proclaimed: “No more tax rises, tax-free allowance amounting to 31 thousand PLN yearly, (once again) voluntary social security, lowering the Vat tax for food and finally “simplifying bureaucracy”.
But all of this remains in direct conflict with one major promise made by Konfederacja – the constitutional prohibition of passing a yearly budget with a financial deficit. And counting all of those changes there would definitely be a financial deficit. A 270 billion PLN deficit to be precise, which would be fixed by “reducing the bureaucracy” as the politicians of Konfederacja say13.
But for a moment, let’s say we could accept this incredibly self-assured economic populism. What’s the problem with accepting this political program?
Pretty much everything else. Even in their official “programme”, Konfederacja has announced the fight with “mass migration” and “force indoctrination into for example the LBGT ideology”12.
“We as a Confederation will lead to a situation where we’ll pass the anti-LGBT bill. This is one of the foundations of why we are members of the Parliament”14 – this is a quote from Witold Tumanowicz’s speech in 2019, a member of the aforementioned coalition.
The Polish MP Grzegorz Braun gave a terrifying statement about homosexuals in 2019:
“For example, I am not so radical (…). You can negotiate with me. I do not support stoning. If someone comes up with a liberal whip, then we will consider whether to carry it out through the European Parliament or the Warsaw Sejm and Senate” he said in the TV program wRealu2415.
Aside from the LGBT+ community, abortion is another controversial topic in terms of Konfederacja. I am not in any position to judge whether abortion is a liberal statement or not. Yet this topic has also been touched upon also by the politicians of Konfederacja:
“In my opinion, a complete ban on abortion and forcing women to give birth to, for example, children without a brain cannot take place in a civilized country. I perceive such situations as inhuman” – a Member of the Confederation Artur Dziambor wrote on Facebook, stating, however, that as a conservative, he is “an opponent of the liberalization of abortion law “16.
However, Krzysztof Bosak has a slightly different approach to this topic:
“There are children who are incapable of life and such children – according to the Patients’ Rights Charter – have the right to a dignified death. It is the right to die without pain or death in the presence of loved ones, where human dignity is respected”. He added that “if a child dies during or shortly after birth, it will simply die, and that is a natural process.”17.
To add insult to injury, the wife of Bosak is an Ordo Iuris lawyer – an association strictly linked to catholic fundamentalists and alt-right figures. Nowadays, Ordo Iuris plan to ban day-after pills, “abortion tourism” and even try to completely ban abortion in Poland – rape and life-threatening pregnancies included18. Ordo Iuris intertwines further both with PiS and Konfederacja year by year – and is a serious threat to Polish freedom19.
Furthermore, Bosak has also stated that only “traditional Christians” can be members of the constitutional court, and has criticised Polish “multiculturalism” after seeing Hindu from Uber Eats. Here I have quoted one of his statements:
“”Do you have any research for this?” – this phrase has begalyzeun to par normal discussion amongst the brightest of society’s younger generations. People around the age of 20 years old have begun to pose as experts in science, and at the same time have stopped using their mind on their own. Prudence and common sense is in retreat.”
And last but not least – surprisingly, even freedom of speech might be an issue to the politicians of Konfederacja. Recently Sławomir Mentzen was asked about freedom of speech and offending religious feelings – the politician does not want to his religion to be insulted while striving to make it possible to freely express opinions about other people:
“Personally, I do not intend to fight against the law concerning offending religious feelings, because truthfully I would not really want someone to offend my religion.God is much more important than me” – he stressed20.
Now, what about other political options? Well, there is actually a coalition of Lewica (meaning “Left-wing”). Unsurprisingly, the Polish left is by no means liberal in economic terms: the ideas they tout include a rise in minimum wage, a pay rise for members of the public sector, “medicine for PLN 5” as well as the employment of 50,000 brand-new doctors and so on…
In the source you will find a comprehensive breakdown of the Lewica program in the source and funnily enough, they have predicted PLN 436,525,000 of economic surplus – which of course will be funded by the middle class and higher class.
So is there truly “freedom” in Lewica’s social programme? First and foremost, Lewica postulates civic unions for same-sex couples, refunded day-after pills, legal abortion on demand up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. We can also find statements on the abolition of church funding and the retraction of religions from schools.
Up to this point, their ideas are not entirely terrible, as I would go as far as to agree with most of them. But naturally, there is also the other side of this coin. This includes the removal of the conscience clause for medical personnel, which strongly harms the freedom of beliefs and faith. Parity of the government, national companies and local governments will only cause more discrimination because of gender biased and not merit-based recruitation21.
We can also find statements made by the party about possible punishments for “hate speech and racism” which can be interpreted in various, unclear ways – and definitely violate freedom of speech22.
And there is also one thing that strikes Polish left-wing, and hard. Namely, the anti-atom rhetoric.
“There is no political and social approval for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland” said Robert Biedroń, the presidential campaign chosen by Lewica in the 2020 Polish presidential elections23.
“Nuclear energy? No thank you! And no, this is not a failure in some underdeveloped country. It is Finland. One of the most modern countries in the world. The only alternative is green, clean energy” – wrote Krzysztof Śmiszek, polish MP of Lewica24.
In this article I will not be covering PSL (Polish People’s Party), a conservative people’s party, as well as the Kukiz’15 political party which recently received a program agreement from the government. They do not have much to offer for the liberals compared to the aforementioned parties, therefore describing them in this article seems to me irrelevant.
Also, most of the polls show that neither of them will reach the election threshold in the following parliamentary elections25.
At long last, we are left with one last option for liberals in Poland- the wide, “catch-them-all” coalition named Koalicja Obywatelska (Civic Coalition.) In this big-tent party we may find members of Zieloni (the Green party), Inicjatywa Polska (centre-left), Nowoczesna (Classical liberal) and finally Platforma Obywatelska (which in itself is a diverse party consisting of social liberals, conservative liberals and Christian democrats). So what does this egzotic mix have to offer? It is, quite honestly, hard to say.
In their programme we can read statements like “free the judiciary system”, “more direct democracy” and “stop depression”. So again we are snowed under with populist quotes, which contain no real answers to the depicted issues. Statements like lowering taxes and no social security payments for anyone under the age of 25 seem a little bit conflicting with huge infrastructural investments, mass funding of the medical system and higher-paid retirement.
This is especially noticeable bearing in mind that one of the points assumes lowering the public debt reduction to 30% at maximum. Now it’s 56% and still rising26.
In 2005, before the parliamentary elections, the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) – the leading party of a coalition – submitted a tax bill called 3 x 15. According to its assumptions, the PIT, CIT and VAT rates were to be 15 percent each.27
However, after several years of the rule of the Civic Platform, we could read in the 2014’s article:
“I do not know why, among the “most important successes and most difficult reforms” the most significant decisions of Donald Tusk’s government were not mentioned, which were the draconian tax increases: VAT rates (from 3% to 5% , from 7% to 8% and from 22% to 23%), the disability pension rate (by two percentage points), excise tax (on diesel, vodka and cigarettes), freezing the PIT thresholds and the already ridiculously low tax-free amount”.
This also included new levies: copper and silver tax, toll (via toll), bank tax and othersa.
“Tusk and the party that went to the 2007 elections with liberal slogans pursued an anti-liberal and statist policy. Instead of lower taxes, we had the largest increase in the fiscal burden in the history of the Third Polish Republic. The repressive nature of the tax apparatus has also increased significantly, as Tusk’s ministers have conferred forceful powers on the taxpayer in the alleged role of a fraudster who has to prove his innocence.”
During these 7 years of the PO-led government there were no free-market reforms, but there were many instances of so-called cheap populism:
“”dopalacze”, gambling regulation, subsidizing kindergartens, increasing pensions. Harmful administrative structures grew, debts and taxes grew, and the government of Prime Minister Tusk preferred to build “national champions” and Polish Development Investments rather than allow private initiative to operate.”28
So truly, can anybody blame me for not trusting the “new civic platform” when the manpower of it has practically gone through no changes since 2014? During the teacher’s strike in 2019, Grzegorz Schetyna promised a 1000 PLN pay rise for every teacher29.
Most of the political party voted for this pay rise during the nationwide lockdown30 and even announced another anti-government coalition called “Koalicja 276” consisting of KO, Lewica, PSL and a newcomer in the Polish political scene – Polska 2050 (which has not yet described itself on the political spectrum, we are still waiting for their political program to be announced) without asking most of the members about their opinion on this idea31…
So, faced with these choices, which one is the best? I truly wish to know the answer to this question as much as you do. To describe my dilemma, I will make use of a quote from the world-renowned book “The Witcher”:
“Evil is evil, Stregobor, lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I’m not a pious hermit. I haven’t done only good in my life. But if I’m to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”.32
Funnily enough, most of the people who use this quote do not remember that in this situation, not choosing anything led to even more devastating consequences.
We all have our own choices to make. But can a liberal in Poland really be really happy with his vote? I know that I never was.