Democracy in Question?

Maciej Kisilowski on the Polish Elections

Episode Summary

This episode explores Poland's recent election results and their significance as a turning point in democracy in Poland. Will this election mark the end of an illiberal period in the country? And might it be the start of a progressive wave sweeping across Europe? Listen to hear an analysis of the results and the political implications for both Poland and Europe.

Episode Notes

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Polish population transfer

(11:20 or p.3 in the transcript)

Shortly after the Red Army entered western Ukraine and eastern Poland in the summer of 1944, representatives of Soviet Ukraine and Poland, meeting in Lublin, agreed to the reciprocal transfer of Poles from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and of ethnic Ukrainians from Poland. The implementation of the Lublin accord on ‘evacuation’ took place against a background of extreme violence which had already induced ‘spontaneous’ migration. The evacuation took much longer than expected, and only came to an end in 1946, by which time some 483,000 Ukrainians had been moved from Poland to Ukraine, while 790,000 Poles were transported from Ukraine to Poland. It represented one of the largest such transfers undertaken in postwar Europe. Nor did Ukrainians and Poles escape the consequences of further intervention. In 1947 the ‘Vistula action’ affected a further 150,000 Ukrainians who had not already resettled. Another phase of transfers took place following the final series of territorial adjustments under the Polish-Soviet Agreement of 15 February 1951, as a result of which some 40,000 Ukrainians were expelled from territory annexed to Poland. Finally, more than 10,000 Poles from among the Soviet deportees and prisoners, who had been unable hitherto to exercise their right to return, were repatriated to Poland in 1955–56. source





Episode Transcription

Shalini Randeria (SR): Welcome to Democracy in Question, the podcast series that explores challenges democracies are facing around the world. I'm Shalini Randeria, Rector and President of Central European University in Vienna, and Senior Fellow at the Albert Hirschman Center on Democracy at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

This is the ninth episode of the seventh season of Democracy in Question. My guest today is my colleague at the Central European University, Maciej Kisilowski. He established and directed our executive MBA program. Maciej has an unusual background. He holds doctorates in law, both from Yale and from Warsaw University, as well as degrees in economics and public policy from Princeton and INSEAD.

His main research focus is on the application of innovation strategy to nonmarket fields, including regulation and public law. But he's also been involved in projects at the intersection of strategy and governance, such as The Social Contract Incubator in Poland, which he co- founded. He's also been regularly consulted by governmental organizations, progressive political parties, businesses and advocacy groups.

Maciej is the author and editor of several books, of which let me mention only one, “Administrategy”[i] – a mix of administration and strategy – has been translated into five languages. He's a regular contributor to Project Syndicate, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Haaretz and the German Verfassungsblog.

Most recently, he co-edited a highly acclaimed book in Polish. It has a very interesting title, absolutely central to our discussion today, “Let's Agree on Poland”[ii]. It features contributions from 28 Polish intellectuals representing views from liberals and the left to the conservative right, putting forward a proposal for a democratic constitutional reform for his country.

Today, we're going to discuss the recent Polish elections, which marked not only the end of the illiberal experiment in Poland, but might hopefully also be the start of a new progressive wave sweeping across Europe. Maciej, it's a great pleasure having you on the podcast today. A warm welcome and thanks for joining me.

Maciej Kisilowski (MK): Oh, thank you so much. It's so nice to be here, especially on this very, very important week for and democracy, not only in Poland, but more generally, 

SR: Absolutely right. Let me begin by saying that the recent elections in Poland on October 15th have been called the most important national elections, not only for your country, but in the European union this year. They come at a critical moment for Poland and the EU because the right-wing nationalists have lost their hold on power.

Instead, a tripartite coalition led by the former president of the European Council and former Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, appears to have won a decisive majority. So could you begin by an analysis of the election results and explain the significance of this victory as a turning point in democracy in Poland?

MK: Yes. This is truly a historic moment because we have many, many bad news when it comes to democracy globally, and especially a visible trend that we see is that this new wave of authoritarianism resembles cancer. As it progresses, it's less likely that you recover.

And we did see some positive examples of ousting authoritarian leaders, including Donald Trump in America or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. But both of those cases happen after merely one term of this populist authoritarian rule. Poland had this very radical, authoritarian government for two terms, eight years.

And this was already very visible in the campaign, the total value of campaign spending, not, of course, only the official one, but also counting the captured media by the regime, suggests that the differential in spending was about more than 20 to 1 for the ruling government.

The government controls and absolutely ruthlessly politicizes not only the media, but also the law enforcement services. Just before the election it conducted a very controversial change at the leadership of the armed forces, replacing respected generals with unqualified loyalists.

So we are talking about a fairly advanced democratic decline. In this context, you have this massive social, civic, and also political, strategic effort that proves successful. It is very important, for Democrats everywhere to understand why it was successful. And we should not exclude the possibility that there was just an element of good luck.

We often say that autocrats have good luck just because of some randomness that always exists in any social process. But there was an element of good luck for us, which should be acknowledged. But also, perhaps there were some very important strategic decisions made by the leadership of the opposition that helped to bring this, frankly, stunning outcome that defies a lot of international trends.

SR: Let us talk about the election in terms of two things. One was geography. One was demography. To look at the geography first, there was a very interesting East-West Poland difference and a rural urban difference. Overwhelming support for the right-wing ruling partyin rural areas and in the east of the country, whereas the west of the country and urban centers both voted overwhelmingly for the opposition.

So that's something I'd like to understand from you as to where these differences come in. But then there are very interesting demographics in the support for both sides. Whereas the ruling party was the most popular one among the over 50-year-olds, the opposition coalition led by Tusk came first with 30 to 35 percent of votes among the 18- to 50-year-olds. Most dramatically for me, the number that I saw was that the ruling party scored very badly among the young. But the new party, which is to the right of the ruling coalition, the far right Konfederacja has 16 percent among the young.

And it's an odd program in which that far right party, at least to an outside observer, brought together monarchists, libertarians, anti-LGBTQ rights, anti-migrants, pro-Putin and anti-EU. And yet they managed to get a rather large number of not only young voters, but they've managed to get some 10 percent of the vote from the working class. Could you say something about both the geography and the demographics of this election? 

MK: Yes, you are raising critically important issues, Shalini, because the geographical divide that you mentioned, which is at the very center of the project that I have co led, the social contact incubator, is not a new phenomenon.

Actually, if you analyze the elections from the 1990s, you see the exact same pattern, which is that the southeast of Poland votes much more conservative, much more eurosceptic, and the northwest votes progressive and liberal and leftist. And initially, in the 90s, the result was slightly muddied by the post-communist factor. Polish progressive liberals are from the anti-communist opposition. Unlike other post communists who have much more mixed record, think about the tragic case of Serbia, the Polish post-communists truly became perfectly acceptable progressives.

It becomes more and more clear cut the way you describe it. Northwest progressive, liberal leftist and southeast conservative. I would also say that those results underestimated the true depth of that civilizational, political, ideological, philosophical division, the reason being that both camps strategically nominate candidates in those parts of Poland. So, the Liberals nominate very conservative candidates in Southeast, while PiS nominates the relatively most moderate candidates in the Northwest. If both parties nominated, their median candidate in all those districts, difference would be even greater. And why is this? There is a big historical path of dependency here. First of all, we had in the critical 19th century, where the modern nation states were created, Poland was occupied and split in three.

And those divisions very neatly patterned the former Austrian and Russian partition, occupying zones of Poland, which are now much more conservative. And the former Prussian, which is much more progressive. And then a critical factor is that a big chunk of Polish Northwest is former German land where Stalin basically moved millions of Poles from highly conservative today, Ukraine and Lithuania and Belarus.

This part, Szczecin, Wrocław, the real Northwest, is perhaps the most interesting because it shows the power of social change. Those very, very conservative Poles from Western Ukraine, from Lithuania, from Western Belarus, taken out by this forced resettlement from their communities, from their little parishes, from these little pieces of land that are divided between sons, and moved to these new lands, they were much less supervised by the communists and people could start anew in those new lands and over the generation from very conservative, they became the most progressive of all Poles. So of course, the story of forced resettlement is tragic and it's not to glorify that story, but to simply acknowledge that that process created this very pro-western progressive part of Poland. 

SR: And the demographics?

MK: Yes, on the elderly voting for the right, I think we see it everywhere, now the young. Well, that's actually another reason why I would strongly warn against triumphalism in saying that the danger is over, Poland is back. It's generally very concerning to me when we talk about democracy in terms of our side winning. Consolidated democracy, as Adam Przeworski famously defined, is a system where democracy is the only game in town. And thereby the true return to Polish democracy will be when the conservative side of the Polish political spectrum finally accepts some version of democratic rules of the game. And counter to this narrative, which I have become known for, is the hope that this far right, anti-democratic conservatives is this older generation that is leaving us and then everybody will be kind of liberal. 

And what you very perceptively observed about the new far right party scoring very good results among the young and especially young men, young women vote for the left and their partners, their boyfriends vote for the far right. That shows me very, very clearly that this hope of the conservatives having their last dying breath, not only figuratively, but quite literally, is the classic example of wishful thinking.

The conservative, deeply misogynistic, patriarchal, racist, xenophobic views are unfortunately alive and well, and they will, my prediction is, reproduce in the next generation. That privilege, the sense of entitlement that comes from all those views will still be too tempting to resist for many, especially young men who are just unable to cope with the changes that are inevitably being brought. Now. I would say, and that will also be quite a controversial statement with a lot of my other experts in Poland probably strongly disagreeing, that the important difference I see between the ruling PiS Party and this far right Konfederacja is that so far, I have not seen a lot of evidence that Konfederacja is authoritarian in a sense of basic rules of the game.

It has very awful political platform, ideological platform, but it has been fiercely against the authoritarian aspects of PiS policy. So, for example, one of their main reasons why they became popular was very strong opposition to COVID measures that were introduced by the PiS government, very often, frankly, in illegal ways, which wasn't maybe sufficiently pointed out by our side because we supported the general direction of controlling the pandemic for very right scientific reasons.

But that doesn't change the fact that, for example, the Polish constitution does not allow that type of limitations of civic rights to be imposed without state of emergency and PiS government did not introduce a state of emergency. In particular because they had a presidential election, that the constitution would then require them to reschedule in 2020, and they wanted to have them done and won. Konfederacja was the only party, actually, even the opposition was striking a more conciliatory tone and the Konfederacja was the only party that was vociferously opposing that saying this is not right. This is not legal. And this libertarian streak is quite important for them. And I think the analysis of the difference between PiS and Konfederacja may be a place where we need to go to think how we can live with our deeply conservative compatriots who hold all those very objectionable views.

And my personal take is that the starting point for any discussion should be this notion of acceptance of competitive democracy. That is the red line that can't be crossed. I'm not saying this is the only red line, but this, I think, is underestimated. We have a tendency to brand authoritarian everybody who has awful political views. We know it from Bruce Ackerman that there are two levels of politics. There is normal politics, when you hold awful political views, potentially, and there is constitutional politics, where we decide how we decide. And I do think that we need to focus more on this distinction when we look at far right parties. 

There are some far right parties, which are inherently authoritarian, like Law and Justice. Every single aspect of it from internal structure to how it operated and maybe we need to have a different look. Not necessarily an accepting look, but simply a different look at parties who are representing those patriarchal xenophobic bigoted views of the section of the electorate, but still are willing to accept basic democratic rules of the game. 

SR: I think that's a very important distinction that you are making because the future of democracy will rest on both the acceptance of the rules of the game by all parties, but also on trying to find some kind of compromises with citizens whose political views we would not share, but must learn to respect and tolerate if we are going to live in societies which are extremely diverse.

I think that's a very important point you're making, not only about Poland, but about democracies everywhere. And the other thing which I found quite interesting, looking at the religiousness of Polish society. And here it was interesting to see that the number of regular churchgoers in Poland seems to have dropped quite a bit from 40 percent to just 28 percent over the last decade.

So, either way, are we seeing this ultra conservative agenda of a party like Law and Justice losing popular support because that religious sentiment is no longer so strong in Poland? Is it a matter of time before that support dies out?

MK: Most experts on Poland would respond with very strong “yes”. I like to differ. I think we need to realize, and this is not only Polish phenomenon, this is, if you look at the evolution of the British Conservative Party or the Donald Trump's movement, you can observe the religious right is being replaced in many ways, but not by liberal movement, but kind of a non-religious Darwinist right. I think in Poland and many other countries this is the future of the right. So unfortunately, the decline of religiosity, I think will not lead to people becoming all liberal. But the people who have been conservative right wing may change the reasons for them being so and their ways of expressing it.

The million-dollar question is whether this will be good or whether it will be bad, because there are very worrisome aspects of this change, which is that religious right at least has certain rules of conduct. There is at least a proclaimed importance of civility, kindness, forgiveness, trustworthiness in the religious creed. The Darwinian nonreligious libertarian right does not have this. It's very much power oriented, so that's very negative. But there is also a positive aspect, which is that religious right has this authoritarian aspect in it that comes from the hierarchy, from lack of ability to compromise on anything, while the Darwinian right is by nature competitive. 

So, it may be more consistent with competitive democracy than the religious right. If you can make deals on everything, if everything is subject to a deal, that may be easier to make it consistent with democracy. But those two trends are going the opposite way. And Trump, I think, is in many ways an example of this.

This Darwinism makes him very, very scary in terms of abuse of power, lack of any self-constraint. He is quite unique in the Republican Party. For example, how he points out the need for some compromise on abortion, and the need not to abandon social security. So, in some aspects, he is more pragmatic than the religious right in the U. S., but also this worship of power that this Darwinian right has can be incredibly dangerous. So, it's both ways, but the bottom line is the decline of religiosity and those young men voting for Konfederacja showed that the right will simply morph, not disappear. And we just need to be prepared for this new type of libertarian Darwinian right.

SR: It's an interesting point that you just made where it would sound as if opportunism should be preferable to ideology when it comes to making compromises in democratic politics. But Maciej, let me turn to a totally different point, one which you have made recently in a rather cautionary article that you wrote immediately the day after the elections in the Project Syndicate, where you warn about the possible tricks, which the incumbent regime may still resort to in the upcoming weeks. Perhaps, as you say, they will even try to nullify the election results or with the help of the courts, which they have packed especially the supreme court to try to stay in power. And you point to the possibility of the presidential veto power being used by President Duda to either reverse the election results or call for new elections. Do you think there's still a danger of such a constitutional crisis? Now that we've just heard that President Duda has invited the incumbent ruling party prime minister to form the government instead of the opposition, which has won an electoral victory. 

MK: I think this new development is truly shocking and it's underestimated and misunderstood in many ways internationally. In the Polish constitution, there are only three attempts possible to form a new government. And two out of those three are initiated by the president. So, by appointing the incumbent prime minister from the ruling PiS party, the president can very well leave the opposition with just one attempt to be able to form the government. And if that doesn't happen, call for the new election. And we, of course, know that authoritarian leaders learn from each other.

So, this is very concerning and that's why I wrote those pieces in international media but also in Gazeta Wyborcza on the election evening where I called the ruling government not to engage in those things. I think our responsibility as academics is to highlight those risks precisely to disincentivize the outgoing authoritarian rulers to use them. I think the sunlight is here a disinfectant in many ways because by informing international partners and international community, but also making it plain for Polish voters: let me tell you that the situation which we are in with the president clearly inviting someone who doesn't have the majority in the parliament to form the government is a precedent. It has never happened since the constitution was enacted 25 years ago. So many Polish voters may not even be aware how fragile this transfer of power may be. And by making it plain, you make those tricks less likely. You make those rulers think twice, hopefully. So I think this is the best insurance policy, the best antidote for any tricks around transfer of power, to just show that people have moved on, people have spoken, there is no way back, there is no possibility to magically create PiS majority in any rematch. And the ruling government should not even try because the outcome can be quite dramatic for them.

The constitution sets a very high bar in Poland to indict the president for crimes and constitutional abuse of power. But at the moment, the current democratic coalition of democratic parties is far from that majority needed for that. But if you start playing with Polish people and with Polish voters and try to do a rematch, the potential landslide can put us much closer to this majority that is needed to indict the president.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, but we need to be very cautious because we are talking about the regime that has a lot to lose, that has been implicated in a lot of illegality, and there are consequences coming, and the coalition that is being formed by the Democratic Party makes it plain that the accountability is coming. So the classic dilemmas of the end of authoritarian rule that we've seen in so many other countries (Chile) is also at play here in Poland. And until Donald Tusk is properly sworn in as prime minister, we should not keep our eye off Poland.

SR: So one other aspect of this presidential power, which I wanted you to comment on, are some of the most controversial policies of the current government over the last eight years were, for example, the anti-abortion law, and also the very partisan transformation of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. So, do you think that even with a new government in power, President Duda has the power to block the changes which could reverse these laws, could he use it in a way that one could have a new government, but it will not be able to change or reverse a lot of the legislative, transformation made by the current one?

MK: Yes, absolutely. The president has the veto power, and the opposition does not have a veto proof majority. But more importantly, he has completely staffed the constitutional court with his loyalists, and he can always, according to Polish constitution, before signing any legislation, send it to the constitutional court.

And the practice of this current so-called constitutional court, completely illegally appointed, is simply that faces that are not convenient for the ruling party are being put in what in Warsaw slang is called the “judicial freezer”. So they basically are accepted by the constitutional court and not decided upon for years, which is why I, as you mentioned, and 27 other intellectuals in Poland actually proposed, and I will continue to propose another route, which is to sit down with the PiS Party to discuss some constitutional reforms that can be accepted by both sides. I think this geographic dimension of the Polish political polarization opens the door to a more decentralized political system. Poland has been very traditionally influenced by France and this super centralized French system, which is no longer working even in France, President Macron is openly admitting it. In many ways an advantage of new democracies like Poland is that we make changes much easier than countries with all this baggage like France. And I think Poland should use this to be an innovator to create a system in which certain policy dimensions and also just participation in the execution of power is ensured for both sides.

One example that we propose is that instead of the current Senate, we have a bicameral legislature, but the Senate has a unique place, it's elected slightly differently and has fewer members, but it doesn't meaningfully add another dimension. Our proposal is that popularly elected regional governors, or “voivodes” in the Polish language, should form a Senate along with the mayors of the major cities, and that kind of Senate would truly represent the diversity of Poland. Currently we have 16 regions and seven, recently eight, were run by the conservatives and eight by the progressives. Recently one region flipped. But generally, the idea that you will have stronger regional governments where the party that is currently losing election nationally, like PiS now, would have some ways where politicians can find employment, realize their policies, the kind of winner takes all system that we currently have.

In a polarized society, it creates a very pernicious dynamic. Even in normal times, losing this handful of votes brings a political earthquake to a ruling party, so the motivation to overstate power, to rig the system, to make the system less competitive, remain in the centralized system very, very potent.

If you decentralize, and each side has its safe districts with their budgets, their powers, their social status, their political status for the Senate, the motivation to capture the system, to go into authoritarian direction would, in our view, be weaker. We often say that our task is, in many ways, to seduce conservatives back to democracy. To critics of our proposals, who are many, especially on the progressive side, who don't want to give an inch in any part of Poland, literally an inch, I say, so what's your plan? We now won. Is your plan that Tusk will win forever? That the right will never come back to power?

That's also not democracy, or healthy democracy. We need to have a right-wing party, in a fairly conservative society like Poland, or at least a society with a significant geographically concentrated fraction of strong conservatives, I am very progressive personally, but I don't think it's realistic to have a democracy where every time the election is the most historic and everything is at stake. And if the conservatives win, we not only are angry and disappointed about the policies they will introduce, but also we worry whether the judicial system will collapse, whether the next election will be free and fair.

We need to stop this madness because we can't operate like this. We can't operate on the presumption that democracy will be gone whenever we lose. It's not healthy. And the problem is of course that for that we need to somehow incentivize conservatives to recommit to democratic rules of the game. And I think it's a tough compromise because of course, human rights matter for democracy. But the question is that if we declare the entire progressive agenda as non-negotiable human rights, then what is in this system for conservatives, if the system does not allow them to implement any of their policies? Yeah, so there needs to be some balance and thinking about how we will make 21st century conservatives willing to play the game with us.

SR: Important general point about how to secure the future of democratic politics. And this is a very innovative suggestion you're making for Poland. Even in the coalition, which is now the democratic opposition, which has won because it's a coalition of a rather different group of parties. You have the Centric Civic Coalition, which is Tusk’s civic platform. Then you have the center right Third Way, the People's Party, the Poland 2050 party, the united Leftist Block, which brings together old socialists and young radicals. Two questions about this coalition – Turkey was a case where a very diverse group of oppositional parties tried to put together a coalition to defeat the right-wing incumbent and failed. You succeeded in Poland. And the question is, what holds this coalition together? How would they view this kind of constitutional change that you are proposing? And how will they manage to continue to function well together? Do they really have a strong common platform that they will try and implement in the course of the next few years? 

MK: It's a very important question, and to the cases that you mentioned, we should also maybe add another cautionary tale of a broad coalition that actually won power in Israel in 2021. And remember what happened after it, because it lacked common platform, it actually collapsed. So the story is not over and the history is not ending for Poland or for democracy. The authoritarians can come back more vicious, more determined with the benefit of learning from their mistakes, and that's why we are urging the leaders of the new government that hopefully will soon take over, not to commit that insanity, which is doing the same thing all over again, expecting different results, but to think about the differences that they have seen on the campaign trail.

Donald Tusk acknowledged that there is a palpable difference in his rallies in the West and in the East of Poland, even as he won. So, they have just gone through a very deep immersion all around the country. They see it in the results, but seeing and believing are two different things. I will say that our proposal is being considered by everybody very seriously. And we discuss with very senior people in all political parties. And the main risk is this risk of being drunk with triumphalism. This idea that now this is the last time this is a dying breath of PiS. Our biggest obstacle is a significant part of progressive commentators who are pushing triumphalism, revenge, overreach.

There is now a very strong push to radically introduce highly progressive ideas centrally to all public schools. But we see what is happening in the U. S. That this is the lightning rod for conservatives. This visceral fear of conservative parents that my kid will come and perhaps rightly tell to my face that I am a racist. And that I will lose some sort of emotional connection, intellectual connection, spiritual connection with my child. This is such a powerful motivator. We see this. This is not what those parents, what those conservative mothers are doing in those Southern school boards. The level of effort they put; this is not some sort of rational political constellation. This is visceral. And I am warning my progressive friends: progress slowly, believe in democracy, believe in the power of persuasion, not forced enlightenment. The proposal that we have put together is an optimistic proposal for progressives, because we would immediately have very highly progressive regions and cities, who can be models of good progressive governments.

With the American analogy, maybe one way to better convince conservatives is to make states like California actually work so that people don't leave California for Texas. We believe, rightly so that our ideas are right, that they are in sync with fundamental human dignity, but maybe the ends not always justify the means, and maybe we need to have a more gradual process. We give a practical example. Australia never centralized abortion laws, and progressive bottom-up activists in Australia from the late 1990s to late 2010s went from state to state to varying extent liberalized those laws and abortion is now legal across Australia and I will make another prediction, Shalini, that that outcome will be more durable than the American approach through Roe v. Wade, which created this enormous backlash. So that's what we are trying to convince our progressive leaders, sit down with those conservatives and think about how we can have Poland that has space for all of us.

SR: Fascinating conversation on not only your analysis of the election results, but also of your intellectual journey as a political commentator, as someone who is thinking about very specific measures about the afterlife of authoritarian rule of anchoring deeply democratic norms and institutions in a society which is extremely diverse and finding ways of compromising on many levels through decentralization, for example, through incremental slower change than we would like to happen, with whom there are deep political differences. So, thank you very, very much for this fascinating talk and for the many predictions. And I'll come back to you in a couple of years, and we'll take a look together.

MK: Thank you so much, Shalini. And with all the risks and uncertainties, we should also learn how to savor moments like this and see that the future is not predetermined. And ultimately, what remains is this immense power of the people, the power of the people who waited in line into the wee hours on Monday after the election, three, four in the morning in some polling stations to cast their ballot. 

SR: The most important lesson we can learn from the recent Polish elections is this: a well-coordinated strategic effort by progressive forces can reverse democratic backsliding. Civil society mobilization and political party coalitions can succeed even against formidable odds and entrenched institutional obstacles.

Nevertheless, Maciej has just tempered our post-election euphoria with warnings about possible institutional and also constitutional roadblocks to peaceful transfers of power, not only in Poland. We've seen examples of this in the United States and Brazil in recent years too, but earlier instances in Poland of abuse of power using arbitrary presidential vetoes gives one sufficient reason for concern. Maciej pointed out that the electoral victory of the Democratic Opposition Coalition is not a quasi-automatic fresh start for a happy, linear, democratic development. Ultra conservative and far right parties enjoy considerable support from a sizable part of the Polish electorate, and they will continue to do so.

This is clearly reflected in the geographical and demographic patterns of polarization that he described. One of the biggest challenges ahead, therefore, lies in establishing modalities of coexistence with conservative political actors who accept the rules of competitive democracy. Losing elections cannot and should not be equated with the demise of democracy.

This is the minimum all sides should accept. He cautioned against considering anyone with xenophobic or even bigoted views to be an authoritarian by default. Instead, it's important to distinguish true authoritarians, so to speak, from those who still accept the basic democratic rules of the game irrespective of their political positions. Popular support for such views is not in the least likely to disappear, he reminded us, though it will possibly take new forms. One worrying example of this metamorphosis on the right is the replacement of traditional conservative ideologies grounded in religion by a blend of new social Darwinism and libertarian fundamentalism. This is a trend clearly not specific to Poland but can be observed in many other democracies worldwide. 

You've been listening to the ninth episode of season seven of Democracy in Question. Thank you very much. And do join us again in a fortnight for the next episode. My guest will be Paul Lendvai, the well-known Austrian-Hungarian journalist and public intellectual. I'll discuss with him the meandering trajectory of Austrian democracy since 1945 and the challenges that lie ahead of it. Please go back and listen to any episode that you might have missed. And of course, let your friends know about the podcast if you're enjoying it. You can stay in touch with the work of the Central European University at and the Albert Hirschman Center on Democracy at www.\democracy.



[i]  Kisilowski, M., Kisilowska, I., & Firmhofer, R. (2016). Administrategia: Jak Osiągnąć sukces osobisty zarządzając W Administracji publicznej. Wydawnictwo Studio “Emka.” 

[ii]Kisilowski, M., & Wojciuk, A. (2023). Umówmy Się na polskę. Znak.