Monday, May 27, 2024

The most expensive failed campaign in Polish history

PM Morawiecki on election night (Source: Twiiter / Prawo i Sprawiedliwość)


All that is left of the former Law and Justice party, which came to power in 2015 defending national values, insisting on sovereign politics, and announcing that Poland would rise from its knees and play tough with Brussels, is the bullish rhetoric.

Paweł Lisicki

“Europe’s leaders have been waiting precisely for the kind of Poland that you can talk to, that you can have normal relations with,” Anne Applebaum commented on the Polish elections.

I chose this quote – from a well-known American columnist with ties to the Democrats – on purpose, because it shows perfectly what the Law and Justice (PiS) government in Warsaw could not understand: both American Democrats and European bureaucrats would rather have a different government in Warsaw and they used all available means – both financial blackmail (the European Union) and political pressure (speeches by ambassador Mark Brzezinski) – to achieve their goal. Defeating such an alliance was not easy, but not impossible. Last year, Viktor Orbán’s government faced exactly the same problem in Budapest. There is, however, a fundamental difference: Orbán won his campaign and obtained a constitutional majority, whereas although PiS received the most votes, it lost the election.

Orbán had shown that he is at the head of a great national movement and that to defend the Hungarian raison d’état he will not be afraid of falling foul of the major powers in the West; Poland has lacked both a national movement and an understanding that defending the state’s sovereignty must mean pursuing only one thing: the Polish national interest. Could things have gone differently? No, because most right-wing politicians in Poland have forgotten about the most important thing: politics.

Instead, we had, first, massive buying of support, and second, the use of propaganda. That is why Mateusz Morawiecki ran the most expensive failed political campaign in the history of post-communist Poland. Voters were not persuaded, but, in the strict sense of the word, bribed. The mechanism was supposed to be simple: if you want to get free money from the state, vote for PiS. The mode of operation was not too complicated either. Sufficiently numerous social groups, such as retirees or the lowest earners, had to be selected for the distribution of money. This had nothing to do with state interests or economic policies, hence the gradual loss of concern for investment and the abandonment of private entrepreneurs. It was an effective mechanism, except that it produced a group of clients, not supporters. These went to the elections as if to get a paycheck, without much enthusiasm or commitment.

The second instrument meant to give PiS victory turned out to be propaganda. The idea that the main focus of media attacks should be Donald Tusk and that voters should be constantly scared with reminders of his government of nine years ago was absurd from the beginning. This was a message only for Law and Justice’s core electorate. The same goes for the idea of accusing Tusk of acting as an agent of both Moscow and Berlin. By focusing all its firepower on this, the Law and Justice party failed to notice the growing support for the Third Way party coalition. More importantly, the aggressive anti-Tusk campaign stood in sharp contrast to what one would expect from a party that has been in power for eight years and talks a lot about security. Blaming the opposition leader for the governing party’s own mistakes and constantly invoking the 2007–2015 period completely failed to convince younger voters.

The second feature of the government’s message was the incessant propaganda of success, which was increasingly unbearable and increasingly farcical. Everything the government was preparing was great, magnificent, unparalleled: the largest land army in Europe, the largest military equipment purchases in history, the largest investments in history… It seems that many Law and Justice politicians, with party leader Jarosław Kaczyński and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at the fore, believed this propaganda, and it made them arrogant. That is why they ignored the warnings, or worse still, considered them a sign of betrayal. Such complacency, juxtaposed with the deteriorating economic situation of Poles, caused by rising prices, led to an explosive mixture. Unsurprisingly, the government’s message contributed to growing anger and the largest turnout in elections in post-communist Poland.

Third, all that is left of the former Law and Justice party, which came to power in 2015 defending national values, insisting on sovereign politics, and announcing that Poland would rise from its knees and play tough with Brussels, is the bullish rhetoric.

The Morawiecki government has effectively strangled all the patriotic enthusiasm of years ago. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Law and Justice Party simply carried out the directives of global corporations, rolling out a huge campaign in favor of restrictions and vaccination. The mass admission of labor migrants has undermined confidence in the government as a defender of Poland’s cultural homogeneity. Prime Minister Morawiecki has suffered a string of failures in his clash with the Union. He signed up to the disastrous “rule of law” conditionality mechanism, but did not get the Next Generation EU money anyway, and he accepted the EU’s “Fit for 55,” which is an extremely harmful program designed by deranged environmentalists.

In recent years, the government, with the exception of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro’s Sovereign Poland party, has also completely abandoned the fight against gender ideology, succumbing to pressure from Brussels and Washington. During the war in Ukraine, it did everything it could, at least until September, to prove that it was primarily guided by Ukrainian interests. It could not even make a strong case for the commemoration of the Polish victims of the Volhynia massacres by Ukrainian nationalists during World War II. With all this, the only political argument left to persuade people to vote for the government was the claim that the opposition would be even worse.

Well, as we can see, it wasn’t enough.

This article was first published in Polish as the editor-in-chief’s column in the Do Rzeczy weekly.