Going against the grain has earned Poland an international media rebuke, writes Jason Osborne
Poland has opted for the road less travelled by with its re-election of incumbent Andrzej Duda for a second term as president following a tight race against Warsaw mayor, Rafał Trzaskowski.
Mr Duda’s victory was sealed with the reigning president securing 51.2% of the vote to Mr Trzaskowski’s 48.8%. At the time of the announcement, the difference between the candidates amounted to around 500,000 votes.
The voter turnout for the final round of election was reportedly 68.2% – the highest of any presidential poll since the start of free elections in post-communist Poland, indicating the impassioned views held by those on both sides of the political divide that each candidate represented.
The heat of this passion is one felt all over the western world, with an increasing number of countries facing the same divide as Poland. The tension between tradition and modernity is played upon everywhere, with many countries and their electorate buying into the values that Rafał Trzaskowski came to represent to the Polish populace.
Mr Trzaskowski is a leading figure in Poland’s Civic Platform party, but he is best known to the Polish and international communities as mayor of Warsaw.
A late stand-in for his party after the poor performance of a previous candidate, Mr Trzaskowski quickly appealed to the appetites of those seeking change the likes of which has been seen in Ireland in recent years. Advocating for increased acceptance of LGBT movements, and ambivalent on the question of abortion, Mr Trzaskowski performed well in Poland’s large, cosmopolitan cities and in the western regions on the border with Germany.
Rafał Trzaskowski’s positions are emblematic of the direction taken by many countries in Europe, and this has not been lost on the Polish electorate. The election came to be seen as a contest between two rival visions of Poland; one seeking to maintain a sense of national identity and tradition, the other looking to move forward into the global community while throwing off the perceived shackles of patriotism and religion.
It is along these lines that Andrzej Duda campaigned and won. Whereas Ireland and elsewhere have opted for the vision that Mr Trzaskowski represents, Poland has sought after the traditional values and social spending Mr Duda brought to the table.
A practicing Catholic and an advocate for Polish culture and traditions, Mr Duda performed well across the Polish countryside, particularly among the poor and disadvantaged.
His acceptance among impoverished voters is in part due to generous social programmes; the 500+ programme sees a monthly handout of 500 złoty (€112) for children, and a lowering of the retirement age.
Mr Duda is backed by Poland’s governing Law and Justice party, and it is understood that this will allow them to resist many of the changes that have swept other countries in recent years. At the top of their agenda is ensuring the protection of the family against competing ideologies, and defending the right to life of the unborn in the country’s legislation. Andrzej Duda’s election is a spark of hope for those seeking reprieve from the encroachment of increasingly liberal sentiments among the electorate.
I’m absolutely certain that nothing will beat us, because we’ve already won, regardless of the final result”
This is not to say that the reigning government has smooth sailing ahead; many clashes with the EU await, particularly concerning its judicial reforms which place more power in the hands of the state. The government’s relationship with the media has also come under fire recently, with the state-owned television being viewed by many as a mouthpiece for the ruling party.
Going against the grain has earned Poland the ire of many international media outlets, with phrases such as ‘populist’, ‘authoritarian’, and ‘backwards’ being levelled frequently at the triumphant candidate and his voters. Mr Duda was continuously attacked throughout the campaign on the basis of running an anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant platform. These charges fail to acknowledge the validity of his Catholic viewpoint or the deeply-held beliefs of those who voted for him, and continue to marginalise Catholic voices in both politics and culture.
The current political landscape in Poland offers the Irish electorate an opportunity for reflection and insight. While the Church in Poland enjoys a mostly respected position in society, and its lessons remain deeply rooted among the majority of its people, its increasing proximity to the western world and its values has allowed views and policies contrary to those at the heart of the Church to pass dangerously close to the presidency.
Complacency allows ideologies opposed to the Gospel a foothold in society, and while Ireland has opened the door widely to these strains of thought, Poland has bought itself at least three more years to gather its breath and compose itself.
They are not in the clear yet, however, as Mr Trzaskowski hinted that there was more to come in a public statement: “I’m absolutely certain that nothing will beat us, because we’ve already won, regardless of the final result. We have managed to wake up, we have managed to create new hope.”
While Ireland has much to learn from Poland, and can look to them for an example of an unbending knee in the face of what is often seen as an inevitable wave of extreme liberalism, Poland could learn something from Ireland in return; if you give the forces of modernity an inch, they will take a mile.