In the midst of the nastiest election campaign in our history, all participants agree on one thing: it’s the most consequential decision since 1989, when the Communist Party lost. 15th October will decide the fate of our democracy and the balance of political power between populists and democrats in the European Union. The leader of PiS, the ruling party, Jarosław Kaczyński has declared that in his third term in power he will finally capture ‘the last barricade,’ Poland’s beleaguered but still largely independent courts. He means it. If he wins, Poland will slide into authoritarianism.
If democracy is a system in which the government can lose an election then Poland is still a democracy but only just. On the spectrum between a Soviet or Nazi-style farce and Switzerland or UK, Poland is in between. We don’t expect outright ballot stuffing or a blatant falsification, but most other features of a competitive and fair electoral system are already gone.
Take the media. Imagine the BBC taken over by Breitbart and you are getting an inkling of the tsunami of Goebbelsian propaganda that spurts forth 24/7 from state controlled media. Most people don’t believe that this is possible in a European Union country so let me give you an example. The ruling party has convinced their supporters that their main rival, former prime minister and president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is not just a traitor but is actually not even Polish. He is German and therefore by definition an enemy of Poland. How? Tusk was for a while Chairman of the European People’s Party, the confederation of Christian-Democratic parties in the European Parliament. A part of his job was to address congresses of member parties. Being a good politician, he always weaved in a few sentences in that party’s native language. So, when addressing the German CDU, he said words to the effect ‘Good luck in your deliberations but think not only what’s good for Germany, but mainly what’s good for Europe. For Germany, fur Deutschland. The clip of Tusk saying ‘fur Deutschland’ has now been shown hundreds of times on the main evening news.