Lidia Kelly & Justyna Pawlak –
When activists from eastern Poland travelled to Warsaw to join a far-right march, the local mayor from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) paid for some of their travel.
The march caught the attention of the world’s media because some of the 60,000 participants carried banners bearing racist and xenophobic slogans.
Stalowa Wola’s PiS mayor, Lucjusz Nadberezny, does “not regret the decision to support the trip”.
A resurgence of far-right sentiment poses a dilemma for the PiS — a socially conservative group with a nationalist agenda.
Far-right voters are a threat and an opportunity. The party tapped into frustration with western liberal values, when it won the 2015 election with the biggest majority by any party since the end of communism.
In other European states where anti-establishment right-wing slogans are also increasingly resonant, several far-right groups have got a foothold in power.
But in Poland they have had little success. This is in large part because the PiS has tailored its message across the spectrum of right-wing voters.
The activists from Stalowa Wola said they were going to Warsaw to express their opposition to “an invasion of immigrants and atheism in Europe”.
While several PiS officials said any racist slogans were few and unrepresentative, they also praised the march.
Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said afterwards it fuelled “patriotic behaviour of Poles” and any displays of xenophobia were “incidents” that were “of course, reprehensible”.
His comments were a typical PiS mix of patriotism with a general condemnation of racism and anti-Semitism.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the PiS who has no formal position in government, said in 2015 that Middle East migrants could bring parasites and diseases to Poland.
But he also said the racist banners at the march were “disgraceful rubbish” and that the “Polish tradition” has nothing to do with racism or anti-Semitism.
The PiS is mindful of the need to retain the support of all right-wing voters, including far-right, for elections in each of the next three years.
It is also wary of the risk of a breakaway, ultraconservative group emerging to challenge its majority in parliament.
Tadeusz Cymanski, deputy head of the PiS parliamentary caucus, said it is better if far-right organisations such as ONR, which helped organise the Warsaw march, do not feel threatened by the PiS.
Another PiS member, Ryszard Czarnecki, said the party gave all right-leaning voters a sense of belonging, in contrast to the previous centrist government which was seen as “cosmopolitan”.
“A number of young people now prefer to vote for PiS. If (centrist) rule continued, then I think radical movements would have been stronger in Poland.”
ONR and other far-right Polish groups such as Mlodziez Wszechpolska refuse to release membership figures but analysts say acceptance of xenophobic slogans as well as violence against Muslims is on the rise.
Meanwhile, PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the government’s stance on migrants is not going to change “in years to come”.
“We will not accept refugees, migrants from the Middle East and Africa,” Morawiecki said.
In 2016 the PiS government disbanded the Council for the Prevention of Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerancee, an advisory body to the government responsible for monitoring hate crimes.
“While the PiS governs increasingly as a far-right party, it didn’t campaign as such and it wasn’t elected as such,” said Cas Mudde, an expert on the far-right at the University of Georgia.
But with local elections expected in late 2018, a parliamentary vote in 2019 and presidential elections in 2020, this tactic is expected to continue. Polls expect the PiS to do better in the local elections than four years ago. — Reuters
Lidia Kelly & Justyna Pawlak –