Ukrainians often have an idealized image of Poland. It’s understandable. As a Pole, I too am proud of Poland’s admirable support for Ukraine. Yet, pride needs to be balanced by realism and idealism can’t turn into magical thinking.
In that context, it’s important to note tha the Polish parliamentary elections in autumn 2023 are going to decide Poland’s future for decades to come. The Polish opposition is a powerful force, but potentially not powerful enough to fully unseat Law and Justice, the ruling party in Poland.
If Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, commonly referred to as PiS) doesn’t have the majority in the Sejm (Polish parliament) in its own right after the autumn elections, PiS will likely form a coalition with the Konfederacja (Confederation) party. In coalition, PiS and Konfederacja will likely have enough MPs in the Polish parliament to have the majority.
Konfederacja is a conservative party, more so than PiS, and it’s gaining ground. In December, only six percent of voters were backing it, according to polling. Now, it’s eleven percent. If Konfederacja becomes a potent political force after the elections, there is a very real risk that it will likely pressure PiS to minimize, or even suspend, aid for Ukraine.
Anti-Ukrainian voices in Polish politics
The initial enthusiasm to help Ukrainian refugees is waning in Poland. The Ukrainian war is a strain on Poland. For its part, Konfederacja is trying to exploit the growing discontent in Polish society to its advantage. Grzegorz Braun, a prominent Konfederacja MP, openly protests against what he calls the Ukrainization of Poland. As can undoubtedly be guessed, Braun is a darling of Russian State TV. People like Grzegorz Braun could have a real impact on policy making in Poland after the elections. Additionally, the fact the U.S. is in political chaos means there’s going to be less external pressure to stop Poland from turning into the next Belarus.
Can Poland turn into the next Belarus?
Some say that's an extreme statement to make. Roman Giertych, a prominent Polish lawyer and former Deputy Prime Minister with a deep understanding of the Polish political scene, disagrees. He warns against Poland exiting the European Union and devolving into a dictatorship if the opposition fails to stop Law and Justice and its potential coalition partner in the autumn elections.
Giertych was detained by the anti-corruption bureau in October 2020, but it’s likely that his opposition to the ruling party was the real reason for his arrest. Indeed, the International Association of Lawyers expressed concern about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Giertych’s arrest. (Luckily, Roman Giertych has since recovered and, presently, runs a YouTube channel where he continues to rally Poles against Law and Justice.)
Russian spies in Poland
Russia is eager to exploit political polarization in Polish society. For one, it’s easier to recruit spies in a polarized and poor society. Polish security services have recently broken up a network of spies working for Russia. How many spy networks operate in Poland right now, undetected, and ready to strike? Have there been any links found between Russian spies and Russian diplomatic staff in Poland? Many questions need to be answered. It’s a matter of national security.
Russian ambassador to Poland says Bucha is staged
Given such developments, it’s mind-boggling that, given what Russia’s been doing, Poland maintains diplomatic relations with the terrorist state that is Russia. Some consider it realpolitik and keeping the last channel of communication open. However, it seems bizarre to do so when no less than Russia’s ambassador to Poland dismissed Bucha as a staged provocation. The ambassador’s statement is highly provocative and he’s acutely aware of that. Polish officials tried to reason with the ambassador. Unsurprisingly, that was to no avail. Will Russians ever stop trying to ‘’help’’ everyone around them? Yet again, the Russians are projecting. They are the ones needing ‘’help.’’
Russians can’t wait to disrupt the Polish elections
It’s likely we’re going to see more of such Russian provocations in Poland as the parliamentary election approaches. Anything can happen. Seven months is a long time. It wouldn’t even surprise me if an errant missile hit Warsaw and the elections were suspended. As always, Moscovia will of course deny it’s their missile.
I want to believe NATO is going to protect Poland when Russia tries something but, looking at the response to the recent missile incident at Przewodów, I expect NATO to only issue a strongly-worded statement. I guess it’s my Polish skepticism talking. We were betrayed by our supposed allies so many times that skepticism and cynicism are in our Polish DNA. Given our twisted history, it’s no surprise there are around twenty million people of Polish ancestry living abroad, making the Polish elections even more interesting.
All of the above paints a picture of instability and uncertainty – both born of internal Polish issues and of external propaganda and provocation by Russia – that some political players will seek to exploit in the upcoming elections.
I hope my concerns about how events may unfold are unfounded and there will be no change in Polish support for Ukraine after the elections. Whatever the future holds, the coming months are going to be critical for Poland and Ukraine.
We must stay vigilant. United we win, divided we fall.
Adam Borowski is a freelance journalist and translator based in Warsaw.
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