Since twenty-five years Polish have seen and lived lots of changes in their country : the end of communism and the EU membership are the biggest ones in terms of economic, social and political impact.
How is it to be Polish in 2016 ? What do they think about their country and the EU ? Our one week trip to Poland was an excellente opportunity to understand better the various position of Polish people. Its seems like they are quite divided, in particular since the last legislative elections.
We had the chance to meet and talk with people who represents two opposites sides. Both are worried for Poland's futur, but not for the same reason : some believe the threat could come from inside the country, for others, from outside, that is to say, the EU.
__The fear of loosing democracy
A few days after the demonstration against the government organised by the organisation 'Komitet Obrony Demokracji' (KOD - Comittee for the defence of democracy), we met some of the active members in Warsaw, in order to understand who they are and what they are fighting for.
KOD is a people movement, born right after the election of the conservative party in the Parliament. They compare themselves to Solidarnosc. Its emergence is due to a feeling of threat on democracy. It is an apolitical movement who decided to come together to defend their fundamental rights and democracy in Poland, but also in Europe. They define themselves as an answer to a more global issue : the raise of extremism in all Europe.
Today, and since the day of our meeting, KOD is a legal association. They wish to expand very quickly and are quite optimistic about that. They know that Poles from all over the country are supporting them, particularly the seniors who remember how it was to live in a non-democratical country. They already have several sections in different polish cities. Moreover, they would like to become a more global movement, as they think that the answer against the threat on democracy should be more global and more european. They plan to make partnerships with other countries where democracy is not respected, such as Hungary. The KOD would like to organise a big summit with all European who feel concerned about democracy. The support of more western countries is essential for the growth of the organisation and for democracy, because, as they said “ in Poland, democracy is not as strong as France”.
Founders of the KOD insisted on the fact that they are not a political party. They don’t want to be associated to any political side or movement. Their goal is to reach out to the people, make them realise how much the path taken is dangerous and make them act.
With no surprise, the fisrt target of the KOD is the youth. As they are the generation of the future, it seems logical that they are the ones who should be sensitized to democratic matters and the ones fighting for democratie. But here is the surprising thing : the reason why one of the KOD’s goal is to reach out the youth is precisely because they are not yet involved in the fight, and don’t even seem to consider there is a fight to conduct. During the first demonstration organized by the KOD, in november, right after the elections, they were happy to see around two hundred people. But quickly they realized that the big majority of them was “old people”. Kasia Smieszek, one of the founder, who is 24 years-old, told us “when I arrived to the demonstration, I noticed I was the only young!” In order to encourage the youth to get involved and to seize the matter, the KOD founders decided to build a youth section. Artur, who we met, is a young teacher, in charge of it. The tools dedicated to this section are communication, happenings, social media and of course education. The observation they made is that there is a real lack of education in Poland. One of the objectives is to fill this gap and encourage thinking, reasoning, open-minded attitude and mobilization. The KOD is ambitious and motivated.
One of the purpose of our meeting was to evaluate the polish position towards the European Union. Since the beginning of our journey, we came across many people speaking harshly of the EU. We were quite reassured and pleased to hear Kasia, Artur and Slawomir explaining how much they believed in the EU institutions and democracy. They shared with us how “Poland has become better since it joined the EU”, in 2004. Kasia, even if she was a little girl, remembers that Poland before joining the EU was way worst. Hence, they have great expectations from the EU in helping them fight the actual government and preserve their newly acquired democracy. They count on the UE sanctioning power and influence.
The difficulty lies in the fact that such a power is divided the Poland population.
The fear of loosing Poland
What we red in France about the October elections in Poland, was quite easy to understand : the conservative party « Justice & Law » won the legislative elections, and was described not only as eurosceptic but also as “dangerous” for Poland. In French newspapers, the party « Justice & law » is described as a political party fighting actively for national interests, more than the European ones. While talking with young Polish people about this new political party elected at 38% in the « Sejm » (lowest house of the Polish Parliament), we were expected a strong opposition, as it happens in France, when a conservatism or a nationalism party is winning over electorate. But in fact, that was not really the case. For instance, Arka, 25 years old, thinks that a conservative party was a good thing for his country, especially after the nomination of Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. « A lot of people in Poland considers the leaving of Tusk from the government for the EU Council as a betrayal » told Arka. « As if he left his Polish nationality for the European Union one ».
The problem may lie in the way some Polish people are considering the European Union. Some are quite worried about the futur of Poland in the EU. As Arka, Stas, 24 years old Polish boy from Krakow, think that being in the EU make Poland « obliged » for the futur : « Yes, we are receiving more European funds than any other member states, but maybe it is not a good thing, because we will be obliged to give this money back in some way, for the other countries that will soon integrate the Union. And we are not ready yet ». Moreover, Arka explained us that the EU legislation prevents some traditional Polish products (such a the famous « Polish sausages ») to be marketed as they are not suitable anymore with the Single market rules. Consequently, it leads to a feeling of « being stolen from the EU », or sounds as if the EU market is not matching the Polish interests. And this is probably one of the reasons why some Polish are still skeptical about their role in the EU. In some way, we must admit that the European position of a member state such as France for example, cannot be compared with the Polish one. But in which limits the fears of the Polish youth regarding the EU are acceptable ?
Polish society is divided. On the one hand, some consider that Poland joining the EU is positive. It is coming with restraint, of course, but globally being part of the EU is helping Poland and leading it on a good path. Moreover, EU is seen as a way of maintaining the democracy and democratic values within the country. Which, nowadays, doesn't seem to be so obvious anymore. On the other hand, a great deal of the population considers the EU as a new foreign and hegemonic power trying to take control over Poland (and all other member states). Founders of the KOD explained that for some people, living the collapse of the Soviet Empire felt like such freedom that they are not willing to be part of an other supra-national organization, no matter how different it is.
More generally, the rise of nationalist and extremist parties can be observed all across Europe. And in some other countries, such parties have also won over elections. It happened in Hungary, which is, as well as Poland a “new” member state of the EU and a former republic of the Soviet Union.
Artur, Slawomir, Lola, Kasia, Clemence, Camille in a coffee shop in Warsow
Camille Ghestin, Lola Kahn, Clémence Le Corff