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Hall of infamy: Andrzej Duda

Poland
ARTUR WIDAK/PA IMAGE
ARTUR WIDAK/PA IMAGES

JOB: President of Poland

REPUTATION: Nationalist autocrat with conservative Catholic tastes

The 48-year-old Duda squeaked in for his second term as Polish president in July 2020, winning by less than two per cent of the vote against liberal Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski of the Civic Platform. Duda ran with the support of the rightist Law and Justice Party (PiS). His ugly campaign whipped up hatred against Jews, liberals, foreigners and the LGBTQI+ community to mobilize their reactionary small-town base à la Donald Trump.

Duda set himself up as the ultimate Trump wannabe in a pre-election visit to the White House in June 2020. He was the first foreign leader shameless enough to visit during Trump’s coronavirus debacle, with the streets full of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Trump proclaimed Duda was doing a ‘terrific job’ and promised to pull 1,000 US troops away from ‘peacenik’ Germany to Poland, as Duda was willing to hike Poland’s military budget to cover the costs.

At his swearing-in, 10 MPs from the Left alliance dressed in rainbow colours and wore rainbow-striped face masks to visibly express their solidarity with Poland’s besieged LGBTQI+ community.

Duda’s election revealed Poland as yet another country split almost down the middle between a populist ethno-nationalism with extreme Right leanings and a mostly urban population mobilized behind a more tolerant centrist liberalism. Civic Platform spokespeople pointed out a number of electoral irregularities and the unremitting hostility of the state media to any Duda opponent. Duda and PiS party boss Jarosław Kaczyński are of the view that the transition from communism in 1989 was hijacked in a corrupt deal between the elites of the Solidarity trade-union movement and former communist apparatchiks to create Poland’s Third Republic. For Duda, the Third Republic period is a story of ‘shame, nothing but shame’.

This despite the Civic Platform (who ruled over much of that period) establishing a modicum of democratic safeguards in the post-communist era and having an enviable record of economic success. The Polish Right is having none of it – wrapping itself in the flag and religion (some 70 per cent of Poles believe God plays a big part in their lives) to establish the image of a squeakyclean nation devoid of immorality and corruption. To achieve this, Duda and company have launched a programme of manipulating the judiciary, reducing democratic space and turning state media into a cheerleading section for the PiS.

The main villain of their piece is the former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a strong advocate of the EU and, until recently, President of the European Council. His globalist neoliberalism complete with market-friendly austerity led to growing discontent in Poland due to galloping inequality (well over the European average), high unemployment and mass emigration of young workers.

Duda and the PiS took advantage of this discontent by combining a narrow-minded nationalism (xenophobic hostility to their proper EU quota of refugees) with a willingness to open the public purse for wildly popular family allowances and beefed-up pensions. But Duda’s narrow victory and foreboding over a likely post-Covid-19 economic crash is making Poland’s conservative nationalists distinctly uneasy. In these circumstances, Duda and Kaczyński’s Trump-like railing against foreign elites is unlikely to resonate much beyond the PiS’s shrinking provincial base.

LOW CUNNING: Nationalist revision of history. On the eve of the German occupation of Poland in 1939, 3.3 million Jews lived there. At the end of the war, approximately 380,000 remained alive. It beggars belief that, despite a history of virulent antisemitism, there was no Polish complicity in this genocide. Even contemporary Poland has a raucous neo-Nazi movement. Yet the Law and Justice gang, led by Duda, is re-writing history to make it illegal to accuse the ‘Polish Nation’ of any complicity in the Nazi holocaust. This would make Poland the only Nazi-occupied country in Europe where at least some conservative forces had not facilitated the genocide.

SENSE OF HUMOUR: Not much. Making fun of senior Polish officials is no joke – the country’s legal code makes insulting the president a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

Sources: Jacobin; The Japan Times; Politico; Reuters; Global News; Yad Vashem; Associated Press; Notes from Poland; openDemocracy.

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