No “False Picture”: Poland’s Illiberal Turn Is Worrying

Poland’s foreign minister says there is no reason for concern before calling leftism an illness.

Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski talks with officials in Bucharest, Romania, December 21, 2015
Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski talks with officials in Bucharest, Romania, December 21, 2015 (MSZ/Sebastian Indra)

Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski has tried to correct the “false picture” he says is being presented of the country’s new right-wing government abroad. But his very own comments underline what’s wrong.

In a television interview on Monday, Waszczykowski advised viewers against causing “some sort of huge consternation over what’s happening in Poland.” The conservative Law and Justice party that came to power in November is only “dealing with certain pathologies that have been growing for years,” he said.

He similarly told the German tabloid Bild, “We only want to cure our country of a few illnesses.”

Those “illnesses,” as Waszczykowski sees it, include the mixing of “cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion.”

Law and Justice, by contrast, stands for “what moves most Poles,” he said: “Tradition, historical awareness, love of country, faith in God and normal family life between a woman and a man.”

Liberals anxious

Liberals in Poland have grown increasingly anxious in recent months as the new government purged political opponents from government agencies — including constitutional court justices — and state-run companies; threatened critical media outlets and suggested that the state should have a bigger role in deciding what arts performances are appropriate.

If Waszczykowski worries about these policies being “falsely” portrayed as illiberal, he surely did himself no favors by suggesting that anyone who is cosmopolitan, pro-European, atheist or gay is ill.

When Poles elected Law and Justice in October, many were hoping the party had learned from the last time it was in power. The conservatives presided over a deterioration of Poland’s relations with its neighbors from 2005 to 2007, culminating in a 17-percent swing in favor of the liberal Civic Platform in the election that year.

This time around, Law and Justice put on a new face: It nominated the 43-year-old Andrzej Duda for the presidency and 52-year-old Beata Szydło for prime minister. Both appealed to younger and urban voters in the traditionally Protestant west of Poland. Law and Justice’s base is in the poorer and largely Catholic east.

But Jarosław Kaczyński, the former prime minister, is still party leader and the power behind the throne. It is his paranoia and vindictiveness that is setting the tone — and causing a majority of Poles to worry that their democracy is in danger, according to a recent poll.

Whatever Waszczykowski says, their consternation is justified. Law and Justice is subjugating democratic institutions and conventions to its own political vendettas. It deserves all the criticism it gets.


  1. The article describes the situation correctly, however the west of Poland is not traditionally Protestant. There is division into west and east Poland, resulting from historical partitions and post-II-war shift of borders, but religiously my country suffers from almost homogeneous Catholicism.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Miroslaw! You’re right that I simplified a bit there, I am referring to western parts of what is now Poland that used to be German, hence “Protestant”. (If not homogeneously so in a religious sense, but culturally.)

    I wrote about this issue in greater detail a while ago, you may be interested in that article as well: Territorial Changes Shaped Polish Society.

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