Pole-arization in Europe

Across the Western world, from Hungary to France, and even to the United States, 2016 has been a year of triumph for nationalist conservatives. Spurred on by the massive influx of Muslim immigrants to the West, the fear of terrorism and otherness has risen to the forefront of both American and European politics. Among these nations is Poland, the former Soviet Republic which has long been a beacon of hope in Eastern Europe. As a leading NATO ally, a growing economy, and the first republic to peacefully unburden themselves of Moscow’s chains, Poland has demonstrated to the rest of the Slavic peoples that it is possible to move on from Communist oppression and join in the prosperity of the West.
Many Polish citizens, however, have been left behind by the rapid growth brought on by Poland’s admittance to the EU in 2004. As may be familiar to European and American readers alike, most of the government and EU development programs went toward cities and the surrounding areas, leaving the countryside in its original dilapidated state. Rural Poland is by no means a third-world country, and yet the unemployment in Podkarpacie, one of Poland’s most conservative provinces, is at 13.2 percent compared to the 9.8 percent national average. As young workers leave their ancestral homes to find work in the cities, they bring with them their labor potential and their progressive views. The result is an increasingly impoverished countryside, with increasingly conservative views.
Jaroslaw Kaczinski’s “Law and Justice Party” promises to solve the nation’s problems. How? By barring immigrants, of course!
It is perhaps easiest to understand Poland’s conservative streak in terms of its southern neighbor, Hungary, whose Fidesz party has gone in much the same direction, though earlier and more dramatically. At its conception, Fidesz represented Hungary’s liberal, anti-communist youth. Eager, like Poland, to join the European community after the Soviet collapse, a sizeable portion of Hungarians put their support in the pro-integration, pro-trade Fidesz, and its leader, Victor Orban. Over the years, however, the stance of Fidesz has taken a sour turn. In 2010 Victor Orban became Prime Minister, after having served a term in 1998-2002. In that time his liberal, global agenda reversed, and Orban became an advocate for closed borders and limited EU meddling in national affairs. He voiced a sentiment that many Europeans had felt afraid to suggest: that immigration was a plague, not just on Europe’s growing economies, but on its mosaic of unique, age-old cultures. In 2015, Orban’s administration succeeded in erecting a double-layered barbed-wire fence along the southern border, complete with guards and water cannons to drive off any refugees who would come expecting to find prosperity in their country.
Kaczinski is among a host of European leaders to draw from Orban’s example, though in this case he controls an economy four times that of Hungary, in a location that is strategically imperative for NATO’s control of Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea. Speaking no language besides Polish and obsessed with the memory of his dead twin, Lech, Kaczinski took over the leadership of what was his brother’s party, clamping his grip on Parliament and molding the image of a quiet but fiercely nationalist eccentric. He has scarcely ever left his country, and relies entirely on cabinet reports to acquire information about the world outside Poland. Both the president and prime minister of Poland are widely recognized as Kaczinski’s pawns, though he himself bears only a middling political office. This party-boss approach has officials within and outside his country fearing for the future of genuine democracy in Poland.
Kaczinski has used his power to reconstitute the branches of government, effectively neutering the Judicial branch while purging the public TV and radio stations of any non-conservative messages. Though private stations do exist and claim a majority of the nation’s non-internet media consumption, Kaczinski’s use of public infrastructure to spread PiS propaganda is troublingly reminiscent of the USSR’s complete control over its public’s access to information. Coverage of liberal protests has almost vanished; the emphasis now lies on programs relating to Polish identity, like the Pope’s visit to the dominantly Catholic country this year.
Whatever the future may hold, it is certain that Europe, and, indeed, the world, faces an unprecedented dilemma: do we, as one world, come together to build connections, trade, and diversity on all levels, or do we remain, as the human race always has, in a scattering of isolated tribes?

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