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Polish Right’s Narrow Victory

Polish President Andrzej Duda narrowly wins re-election (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It no doubt ruined Anne Applebaum’s day, but I was pleased to hear that the incumbent president Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice Party in Poland won re-election in a squeaker.  The Washington Post‘s account reflects the agony of the globalist class and its press organs over this result, but this is a very important detail:

An exit poll on Sunday, which showed a result too close to call, painted a picture of a country divided along lines of age and geography. While [Warsaw Mayor Rafal] Trzaskowski comfortably won over voters under 50, according to the exit poll, Duda drew support from the older generation.

Trzaskowski primarily won in the wealthier and more economically developed cities, while Duda prevailed in Poland’s strongly Catholic and poorer countryside, notably in the east. Duda’s campaign had sought to highlight the expansion of social benefits under Law and Justice party rule, which has mainly helped voters in rural areas that are right-wing strongholds.

Check this out:

I’m 53 years old, and given my political priors, if I were in Poland, I probably would have been a Duda voter. Seeing the exit poll results, however, brought to mind the conversations I had with younger Polish Catholic conservatives when I was there last year. If you were reading this blog then, you will recall how taken aback I was by these Catholics — all in their twenties — telling me that they expected Poland to go the way of Ireland in a decade or two. That is, they expect a mass and almost sudden de-Christianization. I emphasize that every person who told me that is a practicing Catholic. They absolutely to not want this. But this is what they see coming, and they don’t know how to stop it. They believe that the leadership in the Church is hiding from the ugly truth.

The first time I heard this, I thought it can’t possibly be true. But then I kept hearing it, in Warsaw and then in Krakow. Finally I asked a well-respected older priest if it was true, and he said yes, sadly, it is. My American conservative ideal of Poland as Fortress Wojtyla was shattered by all this.

Last night, with the exit poll results just in, I wrote to my friend Lukasz Kozuchowski in Warsaw, to ask him what he thought of the election results. Lukasz is a history grad student who was my translator when I was in Warsaw last year doing interviews for Live Not By Lies. He was the first Pole to tell me that Catholicism is in real trouble in Poland. And though he is a conservative, theologically and otherwise, he also predicted big problems for the political Right. I had no idea what he would say about this weekend’s election, but I told him I would print whatever he said, with his permission.

This is how he responded:

We now have the official results: Duda received 51,2% of votes, Trzaskowski – 48,8%. As we see, Duda’s victory is not a decisive one.

The reasons for this are numerous. First of all, Duda won only among 50+ voters (as exit-poll suggests). In this age group his victory was unquestionable — and this is why Duda won in general. In all age groups below 50, Duda lost with Trzaskowski. Among my generation (20-30 year old), the Trzaskowski vote was sweeping. This shows that we have an abyss between older and younger voters in Poland, and in our society in general.

I am far from saying that everyone who voted Duda did it because of cultural reasons. In fact, Duda’s party, Law and Justice, claims to be a Catholic party, but barely does anything to introduce Catholic values to Polish politics and society. They quote John Paul II or ostentatiously take part in liturgies, but nothing more.

For instance, they openly support these bishops who covered pedophiles in their dioceses. They also turned down a few petitions asking for making abortion law in Poland less liberal, for no rational reason (they have a strong majority in the parliament). Sometimes they even make Christianity seem ridiculous or despotic. A few weeks ago one of Duda’s officials publicly said that he “regards LGBT people as inferior to normal people,” causing an outcry even among Polish conservative Catholics.


Lukasz Kozuchowski and Self discussing serious matters in Warsaw last autumn

More Kozuchowski:

But there is a reason why people vote for Duda and Law and Justice: introducing social programs, like the minimum hourly wage. Due to this, many people from middle and lower classes consider Duda as their defender against ruthless neoliberal policies, which dominated in Poland after 1989. I would say that Duda voters voted for him mostly for socioeconomic reasons, while the cultural aspects were in second, or even third, place.

Duda and Law and Justice are far from being ideal. As recent social research show, they are widely regarded as incompetent. Many of my friends who work for the government or for state agencies say that Law and Justice has utterly no idea how to administrate the state, and it is really a miracle that our country has not already collapsed. They are widely regarded as bad politicians, but people vote for them merely because they consider others to be even worse.

Nevertheless, this clearly shows in which direction in which our politics and society are heading. We still have self-proclaimed Catholics in power, but these Catholics do not make any real Christian changes in law and government. On the other hand, Trzaskowski and his Civic Platform are not so lazy. They openly declare themselves to be reluctant about faith, vigorously support the LGBTQ agenda, promise to liberalize abortion law, and introduce liberal tax reforms that would hit the poorest and benefit the rich.

Most Poles in my age strongly support these proposals. Those who do not might have voted for Trzaskowski  because of Law and Justice’s incompetence in ruling its affairs, and its highly controversial reforms, like juridical ones. More and more people, even Catholics, are starting to believe that it is Trzaskowski and Civic Platform who are the “lesser evil,” not Duda and Law and Justice. Trzaskowski also declared that he will not remove Law and Justice’s social reforms, so some of those who were afraid of Trzaskowski’s neoliberal attitudes were also appeased. While I personally do not share this point of view, I cannot say that it is utterly without merit.

We are losing the culture war in Poland. In fact we have already lost it. It is a mere matter of time. Not because our opponents are too strong,  but because the Catholics in power are too incompetent and aimed narrowly at winning the next election at any cost. In a few years, when the oldest voters will have passed away, the Polish electorate will get rid of incompetent Catholics and replace them with efficient liberals.

I hate to hear that, but we can’t keep our heads in the ground. Besides, this sounds familiar to American ears. In a private exchange last week, an American college student and reader of my blog told me (I paraphrase):

After Trump, you will never see another Republican president in your lifetime. The brand is too toxic among people my age. It doesn’t matter whether or not we’re Democrats — we’re never going to vote Republican after this.

The student is an independent and a churchgoing Christian who leans left because of climate change and economic insecurity. A Bernie Bro type, though not really ideological. He said he believes that the GOP offers him nothing, and that Trump has catalyzed such hatred for the Republican Party in his generation that no Republican candidate in the future, no matter how competent and attractive, will be able to overcome the disadvantage.

The American student who told me that is three years younger than Lukasz Kozuchowski. Make of that what you will. What’s happening in Poland is only the local version of what’s happening all over the West.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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