Polish déjà vu

Monday, September 28 2020, 13:00, Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska

40 years ago Poland was on the crossroads to take finally a highway to independence. An independent trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) was officially recognized on August 31, 1980. In Central and Eastern Europe, which lived under a communist regime, it was unprecedented. Solidarność soon became a national political movement with 10 million members. This unique movement played a key role in the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. After 9 turbulent years, the leaders of Solidarność managed to put an end to communist rule through negotiations. A few months later, the Berlin Wall fell.

40 years later the victory of president Duda with only 426 385 votes, the ongoing debate on Polish Rule of Law, violation of LGBT -rights, increase of nationalism and social antagonism as well as the position and attitude of Poland in the European Union raise serious questions. The fatherland of Solidarity, the country which was a symbol of opposition against totalitarian system, against communism is on the crossroads again and feeling a sort of déjà vu.

Salami tactics

It is believed that Mátyás Rákosi Hungarian communist dictator from 1949-56 coined the term ‘’Salami tactics’’ to describe the actions of the communists intending to take over complete power by eliminating opposition, cutting them off like slices of salami, so that only fellow travellers remained in power.

Since 2015 we can observe a similar strategy in Poland. The slogan of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is ‘’good change’’. According to them the judiciary system has to be changed to make it work more efficient and to get rid of old communist collaborators.

As quickly as three weeks after the parliamentary elections in November 2015, the Sejm majority passed the new act on the Constitutional Tribunal. And then a few more times again, gradually slicing it bit by bit. The rest of judiciary system followed: merging of the functions of the Minister of Justice and the Public Prosecutor General and the appointment of the National Public Prosecutor's Office. This meant the end of the independence of the prosecution and its subordination to the government.

Slicing off went further, the act on the system of common courts, passed in July 2017, gave the minister of justice the right to dismiss the presidents and vice-presidents of all courts in Poland and to appoint new ones without consulting the National Council of the Judiciary.

Institutional pluralism in which institutions independent from the government control its actions and protect citizens against abuses of power and which has been created to protect the country from the domination of one political force, from monocentralism has been stripped gradually in Poland.

At the same time staff changes have been taking place, nominations followed for fellow travellers in the state administration, public media, the army, secret services, cultural institutions and state-owned companies.


Since Stalin’s arrival the situation of sexual minorities worsened in communist countries. Communist fellow travellers executing functions of lawyers, scientists, criminologists, psychiatrists - considered homosexuality as a social pathology and sexual minorities were seen as a remnant of bourgeois decadence. Homosexual circles were under the constant observation and personal files were kept on them. Hundreds of thousands of homosexuals were interned in labor camps during the Great Purge, where many of them were beaten to death. Conversion therapy, psychotropic drugs or confinement in psychiatric hospitals were also typical procedures.

Nowadays, under the rule of PiS Poland is ranked as the worst country of all the European Union countries as far as LGBT people human rights are concerned.

LGBT rights are a political battleground and an anti-LGBT rhetoric has been present in elections including presidential ones. President Andrzej Duda during his presidential campaign called the LGBT movement an “ideology more dangerous than communism’’.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS, called it “a threat to the very foundations of our civilization.” He also described it as a foreign import that threatens the identity of the Polish nation. During a meeting in the city of Wloclawek he stressed “everyone must accept Christianity and arguing that questioning the Catholic Church is unpatriotic’’. Krakow Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski called the LGBT movement a “rainbow plague. These views are supported by Poland’s Catholic episcopate advising ‘’conversion therapy’’ and suggesting opening of clinics to help people to regain their natural sexual orientation.

Sexual minorities are publically demonized and become scapegoats. They are a pathology again. LGBT- free zones have been introduced in about 100 municipalities and it is assessed that they encompass 30% of Polish territory.2 Anti-LGBT law introduced by local authorities has been declared by some provincial administrative courts as a breach of the provisions of the Constitution in the areas of equal treatment, dignity, freedom of speech or the right to education. The local authorities do not give in and intend to appeal. In the zones local authorities intend to promote and protect the ‘’traditional family’’ values. This ‘’protection’’ resembles more rhetoric of hate and leads to violence against sexual minorities.

On 7 August 2020 excessive arrests and police brutality reached international headlines. On this day Polish Stonewall took place: 48 LGBT activists were detained during a protest against the arrest of LGBT activist Margot.

European Union

In 2019 the European Parliament voted 463 to 107 to condemn LGBT-free zones in Poland and since July 2020, the European Union has denied to fund these municipalities from the Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund since they violate the EU charter of Fundamental Rights.

On August 18 2020, members of European Parliament expressed their concern about the deterioration of the situation in Poland since the Article 7 procedure was initiated in 2017 and they called the Council and the Commission to resume the Article 7 procedure against Poland. Rapporteur Juan Fernando López Aguilar said “What the Polish government has forgotten is that democracy is not about majority rule, but about respecting EU law, pluralism, the right to dissent and protecting minorities’’

But PiS does not accept being taught a lesson and it wants to be part of the European Union on its own conditions. European Union seen as a loose alliance of nation states. The sentiments for strong national feelings are stirred in Poland and European Union is presented as a force jeopardizing Polish sovereignty. Opposition is accused of choosing the interest of foreign countries over interests of own country.

The intention to limit the interference of the European Union is very clear in Poland in all fields besides economic relations, the financial support is this time welcome.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the interview for Gazeta Polska makes it very clear: ‘’If someone is not able to experience this feeling, which is called patriotism, then loyalty to Poland will not be there. The social pedagogy practiced over the last decades was aimed at the elimination of patriotic attitudes, and thus - loyalty to one's homeland. And probably to some extent these actions turned out to be effective. Today it fits mainly in this opposition: Poland-European Union. And yet it is completely artificial. Poland should be in the EU, but the Union is not a state - in any sense of the word - but an international organization whose member states give their sovereignty to a very small part - apart from economic relations -. It certainly does not have the slightest competence in matters related to the administration of justice. But if there are any practical conclusions to be drawn from all that we observe, they are as follows: The EU requires very serious reforms and changes. It must be an organization of sovereign European nations, based on the United Nations charter, stating that the member states, apart from strictly and precisely designated areas, deal with their own affairs and no one has the right to interfere in them. I am convinced that the ongoing crisis related to the epidemic has made many people aware of the EU's weakness and highlighted the key importance of nation states.’’

Class criteria and increase of consumption

Class criteria is an important element of the PiS politics. The party bringing ‘’good change’’ presents itself as a defender of a simple citizen, misunderstood, neglected and marginalized by the Third Polish Republic. The society is getting antagonized. There is always an enemy, always a suspicious class which is a traitor of national elements. The opposition and the people described as elite (meant as a pejorative term) who accumulated wealth, are educated, speak foreign languages according to PiS protect their own interests and old decayed order. And because they support EU and European measures against the situation in Poland they are additionally betraying their own country.

This propaganda is supported by various social generous programs. And here is another similarity with the totalitarian past. Edward Gierek’s slogan, (leader of communist Poland between 1970-1980) was ‘’for Poland to grow in strength and people to live more prosperously’’ and his rule focused on increasing consumption and wage. He promised building a "second Poland" and consumption on credit ended in an economic catastrophe and in fact Solidarity revolution.

Crossing point

The future of Poland is on an important crossing point. Which way would it go? Would it follow its present path and continue limitation of remaining rights and freedom? Or would opposition topple the status quo by agreeing on cooperation? The results of latest presidential elections show that President Duda won with only 426 385 votes over Rafal Trzaskowski. It means that the waves of change are reaching the shores. Rafal Trzaskowski who was supported by 10 million voters in the presidential elections does not want to disappoint his electorate and starts a new movement: New Solidarity. Trzaskowski points out that he does not want to create a party dividing opposition but a movement unifying it since as he said in the interview for a Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita ‘’the government is completely ruthless and if we do not agree, we will not win the next election’’.4

It seems though that the ruling coalition is facing problems. The Animal Protection Act5 and the so-called covid Act6 in Poland caused a stormy debate in Sejm and a crisis in the ruling coalition. PiS is threatening with early elections or ruling with a minority coalition. Talks within coalition will follow but the situation has proven that the ruling coalition is not that stable as one might think.


[1] https://www.ilga-europe.org/sites/default/files/Attachments/ilgaeurope-rainbowmap-2020-interactive.pdf

[2] Atlas of Hate: https://atlasnienawisci.pl/

[3] http://pis.org.pl/aktualnosci/wywiad-z-prezesem-pis-jaroslawem-kaczynskim-5

[4] https://www.rp.pl/Polityka/200909833-Rafal-Trzaskowski-Nowa-Solidarnosc-jest-juz-gotowa.html


Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska, a president of the European Institute on Communist Oppression (www.eioco.nl) founder of the Central and Eastern Europe Center (www.communications-unlimited.nl) and an author and international journalist expresses her concerns about some similarities between actions taken by the ruling party in Poland and totalitarian communist tactics. She stresses that Poland faces various issues and is on the crossroads again.