A Warning and an Opportunity
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
Analysis of the Polish elections
Right-wing president Andrzej Duda took 51.03 percent of the vote, to narrowly beat liberal Rafał Trzaskowski who took 48.97 percent - in the second round of the Polish presidential elections last Sunday.
Duda is the candidate of the governing Catholic conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS).
His campaign was marked by hate rhetoric aimed at minorities—from Islamophobia and anti-refugee racism to antisemitism and, most of all this time, homophobia. Duda even proposed that the constitution be changed to ban same-sex couples from adopting children.
Trzaskowski was systematically attacked for having a pro-gay, anti-family agenda because he had signed an "LGBT Charter" as Warsaw Mayor. He was also shown taking part in last year's Pride demonstration in Warsaw.
His response to the backlash about this was to back down. Trzaskowski emphasised that he was against the adoption of children by same-sex couples and stressed that he agreed with Duda on this question. Instead of loudly and clearly backing LGBT rights he said the issue was a red herring in the campaign.
Before the first round, other candidates also failed to challenge Duda's hate speech.
When the 11 contenders lined up for a TV debate the leader of a tiny social democratic party said that asylum seekers, "Regardless of whether someone was born in Africa, Asia or Europe, he is a human being just like us Poles." No one else had the guts to say this.
And the liberal-left, Robert Biedroń—Poland's best known openly gay politician only recieved 2.2 percent of the vote after running a bland campaign.
The most dangerous aspect in the first round was the success of Krzysztof Bosak, who won 6.8 percent of the vote.
Over 1.3 million people voted for him. Bosak is one of the leaders of the fascist National Movement (RN) something he did not emphasise during the campaign.
Fascists in Poland are still too weak to achieve a significant election result on their own.
That is why the RN set up a coalition with the far right neoliberal supporters of the grotesque Janusz Korwin-Mikke - who has said women are less intelligent than men and should not be allowed to vote. He also encouraged men to rape their wives. Korwin-Mikke was hidden during the campaign and Bosak identified himself as simply being a “conservative”.
In their anxiety to take away votes from Duda and promote Trzaskowski, the liberal media helped Bosak disguise his true politics. This allowed him and his far right allies to get much more positive exposure on TV than before. This means that some of Bosak's voters do not know who he is.
Anti-fascists must take this opportunity to unmask him.
But why did Duda win?
Not because his voters are all homophobes and racists. And not just because the Catholic church hierarchy and priests backed him.
Trzaskowski is the deputy leader of the Civic Platform (PO), which is the favourite party of big business.
The PiS government has introduced popular welfare benefits which were initially opposed by the PO, and reversed the PO’s upping of the retirement age. Many did not believe Trzaskowski when he said that he now supports these measures.
Duda was also fortunate in that the coronavirus death rate is much lower than in many other countries, although the government lied that the crisis was over.
There are now three years before the next elections. The left has to show that another politics is possible—focused on street and workplace protests and strikes. And to remind people that the biggest retreat by the PiS government followed the mass protests against a harsh new anti-abortion bill in 2016.
In Poland the signs are hopeful. In the two years before the coronavirus lockdowns, Pride marches were organised in some 30 towns and cities. Protests against homophobia have resumed. And thousands of young people have taken part in recent Black Lives Matter, climate and anti-fascist demonstrations, many of them calling for system change.
There is a new urgency among the protesters and an opening for anti-capitalist politics.
Andrzej Zebrowksi is a member of Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers Democracy) in Poland.