Warsaw Conservatives Berlin and the Polish Populists

With the election of the Law and Justice party and former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski to power, Poland could become an uncomfortable partner again for Berlin.
  • Siobhán Dowling
28.10.2015 - 17:58 Uhr
Jaroslaw Kaczynski and incoming prime minister, Beata Szydło. 
Polish election

Jaroslaw Kaczynski and incoming prime minister, Beata Szydło. 

For Germany, the new Polish government could turn out to be an unwelcome blast from the past.

Officials confirmed on Tuesday that the country’s conservative Law and Justice party, or PiS, had scored a massive victory in national elections on Sunday, winning 37.6 percent of the vote.

The result sweeps the center-right, pro-business Civic Platform from power, after eight years at the helm.

The surprisingly strong showing gives Law and Justice, which ruled Poland from 2005 to 2007, 235 seats in the 460-seat parliament. The conservative party will govern alone, the first party to do so in Poland since the fall of communism.

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    And while moderate politician Beata Szydlo is to take over as prime minister, the man widely assumed to be pulling the strings will be her party leader, the former prime minister Jaroslow Kaczynski.

    A decade ago, Mr. Kaczynski and his twin brother, the late President Lech Kaczynski, were a dual thorn in the side of Berlin. Germany-bashing was a regular part of their nationalist repertoire, with the brothers frequently alluding to Germany’s Nazi past and its atrocities during World War II.

    Just four years ago, Mr. Kaczynski hammered again on the theme when he published a book in which he claimed that Germany still had “imperial” designs on the areas of Western Poland it had controlled until losing the war.

    But once Law and Justice were out of power, relations between Berlin and Warsaw seemed to blossom, with good rapport between former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, now president of the European Council in Brussels, and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    When Joachim Gauck became Germany’s president in 2012, he made his first official state visit to Warsaw rather than to Paris, the traditional choice.

    Poland’s economy flourished under the pro-business Civic Platform, growing by 20 percent in eight years. The country had the distinction of being the only E.U. country to avoid recession after the financial crisis in 2008.

    But many Poles felt left out of the economic upswing and grew increasingly alienated from the ruling elite. The PiS’s message of social conservativism and greater state intervention in the economy was music to the ears of many people.

    Now, with a validated conservative movement firmly in control in Warsaw, there is growing some concern across the Oder River border in Germany, as well as further to the west in the E.U. capital, Brussels.

    The fear is that Poland will squander the progress that has turned the country into one of the European Union’s biggest success stories since it joined the now 28-nation bloc in 2004.

    To continue reading this story, click here to go to Handelsblatt Global Edition.

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