Poland has previously been the most promising of new EU members. What made it change course in recent years?

  • 4
    Good question and I don't know the answer, but I have to think that European heavy-handedness during the Syrian refugee crisis and Poland's refusal to go along with it has to play a pretty big role.
    – Jim Clay
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 15:54
  • 4
    @JimClay, the timing is wrong for that explanation. PIS rose a decade earlier.
    – o.m.
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 16:36
  • 1
    There is definitely an increase of nationalism, but I doubt there's an increase of euroscepticism. That's 2 different thigns. Pretty much everything the last 20 years was paid by Europe, so any affirmation that there's an increase of euroscepticism needs to be backed with sources. Also Poland has previously been the most promising of new EU members. Why previously ?
    – Bregalad
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 7:23
  • As for the rise of nationalism, I don't have an exact answer, but grim economic perspectives, unemployement, low salaries and very high emigration to western Europe (and to a lesser extent the US), are a clue. In Poland I saw entiere streets with shops "selling" jobs in Germany, The Netherlands, etc... that's pretty much incredible.
    – Bregalad
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 7:35
  • @o.m. No, your timing is wrong. PiS was ruling (as largest party but achieving majority only in coalition) in 2005-2007 an got ousted by snap election leading to two terms of PO. PiS has returned with vengeance in 2015 and became the first post-iron-curtain party in Poland to have parliamentary majority. Nowadays, highly nationalistic and populistic PiS has full control of public media and makes full use of that in traditions of Fox News and RT.com. Causea of current state of events happened during last term of PO: 2011-2015, not decade ago as you claim.
    – M i ech
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 8:40

4 Answers 4


When the citizens and leaders of Poland made the decision to leave the Soviet/Russian sphere of influence and to join "the West" in the late 80s and early 90s, "the West" looked much as it had during the 70 and 80s: a free trade and free travel union with subsidies for the poorer members.

But changes had already been set in place to transform the EU into an ever closer union. Those who read the treaties would have been intellectually aware of this, but the gut feeling wasn't there. This change accelerated with the Eurozone and the Schengen treaty. By the time Poland actually joined the EU in 2004, many changes were in place, but the benefits of EU membership were irresistible.

Like the Brits the Poles complain about this change, but their "Leave" option looks even worse than it does for the Brits. So they try to change the EU culture.

  • 2
    @Marko36, it is not just one change, it is one thing after another. Banning inefficient lightbulbs. Abortion rights. Budget oversight. Emission caps. LGBTQ rights. GDPR. The EU is somewhere between a federation of states and a federated state, and moving closer.
    – o.m.
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 5:48
  • 1
    Yes, but all the things you mention are the expected bi-products, and some even the essence of joining a union such as the EU. So why Poland (and Hungary), and why now? Hm. This leads me to another question which I am about to post: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/41328/…
    – marko-36
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 9:00
  • 1
    @Marko36 Not expected for everyone. Many people did consider it only as a trade union - likely also because it was sold to them primarily based on its economic benefits rather than its drive for a political union based on the "western" set of ("not-so-conservative") values. Commented May 9, 2019 at 9:24
  • 1
    @o.m. Will you stop lying? PiS did not leap in 2005. They were founded in 2001, half a year before elections. Their performance in first elections was consistent with their current largest opponent; PO. Both started half a year before 2001 elections, both got ~50 seats (PO ~60, PiS ~40). Their increase in power in 2005 is because of dissolution of older established parties and the fact that they consolidate themselves. PO did exact freaking same thing and got 155(PiS)-133(PO) seats. Since then, PiS had consistent "performance" of 130-150 seats until 2015.
    – M i ech
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 10:06
  • 1
    @o.m. according to wikipedia PiS increased their seats in Parliament from 157 to 235 between 2011 and 2015. That seems a significant increase, not roughly constant. 2005 to 2015 shows seat numbers as 155, 166, 157, 235. That's a definite uptick. Equally the Polish Senate swings from 31 PiS to 61 PiS seats between 2011 and 2015.
    – Jontia
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 12:14

There isn't really an increase in Euroscepticism - what there is is an increase of scepticism for the way the EU is currently being run, and that's by no means unique to Poland, it's common across most of Europe (see the results of almost every election in Europe over the last few years).

Ordinary people across the continent (and further - see the US!) are getting more and more upset by increasing inequality, particularly with the perception that the 'elite' and their 'cronies' are getting richer, while normal people are getting poorer - especially those in rural and industrial areas, who don't tend to see the results of a lot of the investment that tends to be concentrated in the big cities. They are therefore voting for whoever they see to be the 'alternative' - the anti-establishment, different party/candidate, whoever that may be - often someone with less or no political experience such as last month's elections in Ukraine and Slovakia (and of course Trump, who, IMHO, only got in because he wasn't Clinton, who was very much seen as "yet more of the same")

These alternatives tend to be portrayed as 'far-right' or 'far-left' by the mass media - as several Poles have told me "the concepts of left and right don't really fit in Polish politics, we have Tories (PO) and small-c conservatives (PiS)"

PiS got in to power for three main reasons:

  • disillusionment with PO and it's policies, which were seen to be only benefiting themselves, big multinational/foreign businesses and the metropolitan elites, and leaving the rest of the country behind.
  • Several scandals involving key PO politicians (Amber Gold, Pensions)
  • PiS policies promising better conditions for ordinary people - e.g. the 500+ child benefit programme. These policies seem to be working - Poland's growth last quarter was 4.5%, one of the highest in Europe.

The same Poles have also told me that there hasn't really been an increase in nationalism either - merely that they are, only now, freely able to express themselves. Bear in mind that for most of the past 300 years, Poland has been occupied by someone else, and the Germans, Russians, Austro-Hungarians and Soviets heavily repressed Polish identity, so they take their new-found national identity very seriously (rightly so IMHO - I don't see what's wrong with being proud of who you are).

I don't see the racism and xenophobia that the western media portray either - as a Brit married to a Pole, I've never been made to feel unwelcome there, and one of my wife's best friends is an American who has happily lived in Poland for decades - in a conservative rural area, not a cosmopolitan city. The impression I always get is that as long as you are prepared to respect the Polish culture and don't try to belittle them or repress them, then you will be made more than welcome.

  • and has been occupied by someone else, and the Germans, Russians, Austro-Hungarians and Soviets heavily repressed Polish identity Except the austro-hungarians didn't. Also the soviets (and communist poles) repressed freedom of thought but not polish identity. Still that's a great answer, +1
    – Bregalad
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 20:28
  • Would your American living in Poland feel as welcomed if he happened to be gay? Should we accept gay-bashing as a valid expression of the Polish culture worth celebrating? Commented Jul 20, 2021 at 16:40

It's part of the reaction against the global discontent with neoliberal globalisation spear-headed by the United States and which has been capitalised by the return of the fast (and loose talking) strong men such as Orban, Trump and Bolsanaro (and strong woman - Marine Le Pen). In particular, Poland, in common with Hungary, are not keen about the liberal social rights endorsed by the EU treaty. That of the free movement of people and the protection of asylum-seekers and refugees. Though, of course, they seem to be very quiet about the million Polish citizens who moved to Britain to seek a better life and better economic opportunities.

  • 1
    Citations needed. And frankly, since you cite Hungary you ought to cite the Hungarian diaspora as well. It's on the same order if not larger (proportionally to the total population) than that of the Polish diaspora. Commented May 9, 2019 at 19:07
  • @DenisdeBernardy Not only hungarians have a large diaspora due to emigration, but they also have large diasporas of hungarians continuously living in places that are outside Hungary since 1918, in pretty much all of their neigbours. Poland doesn't have that (outside a few Czech villages west of Cieszyn).
    – Bregalad
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 20:34

TL;DR: PiS is the first post war democratically elected party to have parliamentary majority without entering coalitions. PiS is nationalistic and populistic party, thus PiS uses public media to spread it's propaganda.

Proper timeline of current ruling party.

  • 2001 - Party "Prawo i Sprawiedliwość" ("Law and Justice", but more accurately lawlesness and injustice if you ask me) is founded.
  • 2005-2007 PiS is the largest party in parliament, but doesn't have majority without entering into coalition with other parties ("Samoobrona" - populistic farmer's party with platform based primarily on vengeance for Leszek Balcerowicz's decisions as minister of finance in 1989-1991 and "Liga Polskich Rodzin" - extreme right wing party, so deeply in bed with Church that when their chairman became minister of education, he planned to have Catholic religion as one of the secondary education final exams by 2010)
  • 2005 - PiS candidate, Lech Kaczyński (twin brother of party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński), wins presidential elections
  • 2007 - due to erosion of numbers of member of coalition parties and fracture in PiS itself, opposition passed a vote calling for snap election
  • 2007-2015 - Main political opponent of PiS, PO becomes largest party for two consecutive terms, each time ruling as part of coalition
  • 2010 - Lech Kaczyński and 90 other people (mostly politicians) die in plane crash in Smolensk. Jarosław (twin brother) from now on, will forever insist that Lech was assassinated by Putin.
  • 2015-today(2019) - PiS becomes first post iron-curtain party to win elections with majority, without need for coalitions, this results with PiS basically doing whatever they want, breaking rules and laws about separation of powers and subverting judiciary (because they own executive and legislative).

As of today, PiS owns public media and runs them in maximally biased way possible.

The reasons why PiS won in 2015 are multiple. In no particular order:

  • Consolidation of power in party - Smolensk plane crash killed off most of notable party personalities that could threaten leadership, giving Jarosław Kaczyński room to become sole, iron-fisted chairman of the party.
  • Split on opposing side - PiS is the only conservative party that counts and is under strong leadership, meanwhile PO had both internal competition and to make matters worse for them, 6 months before 2015 elections, Ryszard Petru founded new party "Nowoczesna", vying for similar "slot" as PO.
  • Disillusionment with PO's economical liberalism - PO internal policies run along the lines of economical liberalism, which "improves" "economy" at the cost of working people, you can't put GDP in the pot, to paraphrase Polish saying, "good economical indicators" are not something you can actually eat, unless GDP translates to liveable wages, it's useless. And there was strong perception that during PO that exactly happened: working class kept getting increasingly shorter side of the stick in favour or Reaganomic's inspired breaks for rich people and large companies (reminder: Reaganomics/supply-side-economics/however-it's-rebranded-now don't work, or rater work excellently at making rich richer and poor poorer instead of stated goal of creating more jobs). Was this perception correct? Perhaps. Crisis caused by USA's banks hit Poland in 2009 causing slowdown in wage increases, however, wages slowed down even more in 2012, soon after PO's second term started. Was this deliberate by PO or caused by economy? I don't know and voters didn't care.
  • Church - PiS is the only party which counts and has support of Catholic Church (yes, it's unconstitutional, there's ostensible separation of church and state, in practice priests have a lot of influence)
  • economic exodus - As of right now, there's apparently 2.5 million economic expatriates as compared to 38 million population of Poland, people moving to Germany or UK in search of better paying jobs and more western life (disposable income in Germany is higher than average wage in Poland, go figure) are more likely to be from non-conservative voting base, when outside. What happens next? Voting while away is bothersome, furthermore there might be split into 1) those who would rather stay there and seek permanent residence taking more interest in politics of their new country of residence and 2) those who after exposure to other cultures and ethnicities become xenophobic prompting them to radicalise and come back to "only sane place".
  • ageing population - same as in entire developed world: average lifespan increases, births are at or below replacement leading to ageing population, old people tend to become more religious and those tend to become more conservative.
  • successful black propaganda - PiS managed to successfully brand themselves to their voters as "anti communist", despite housing multiple people who were infamous politicians and prosecutors before 1988. They also managed to successfully smear Lech Wałęsa, person instrumental in fall of communism. This means that they managed to fabricate narrative of "us the true patriots versus them the dirty commie collaborators" despite, if anything, reverse being true (PiS has much larger fraction of open and covert collaborators than other parties, mostly pretending to never have been to boot, PiS members who were in opposition to communist rule mostly were unimportant back in the day, fun fact: when communists arrested opposition activists in 1981, Jarosław Kaczyński wasn't arrested. Irrelevant person or double agent? We don't know).

And some personal speculation, if I may: - Russian influence? - Number of "patriots" quoting RT.com in arguments is staggering. For people who ostensibly hate Russia (because USSR and commies), they sure seem to love Putin's personal propaganda machine.

Now, what about actual nationalism? Well, IMO that's really simple. PiS feeds on nationalism, so of course they do everything in their power, since they are in power, they can do a lot (reminder: this is a first post-war democratically elected party to have majority without entering coalitions) to trump up nationalistic sentiment. Euroscepticism is something different in this context, as far as I know PiS doesn't actually want Poland to leave EU, benefits of staying in are too obvious, thus they need to walk the tightrope of "us vs them" rhetoric. They need someone to trump up nationalism, EU and especially migrant crisis being obvious "them"s, because nothing gets people to put away differences like external enemies do, but without being too strong about it. That leads more to rhetoric of "different EU" than one of leaving EU.

  • Some points can be disputable, especially ones that diverge from explaining the polish reality and into other subjects but overall quite informative and upvoted personally.
    – Leon
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 6:11
  • 3
    I agree with most of what you say, but I've downvoted you because of the political rants scattered through your answer - stick to the facts.
    – Nick C
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 13:24
  • @NickC Oh? You mean "stick only to facts comfortable to you", then? PiS IS breaking laws. PiS IS subverting judiciary. PiS already HAS subverted constitutional court. Polish public media under PiS-appointed director IS lying their ass off. Jarosław IS insisting that Smolensk was a hit job, he shuts up only before elections, because repeating this claim loses votes (yes, really). Raeganomics DON'T work. Campaign against Wałęsa IS aimed to replace him in public consciousness with irrelevants who happen to align with PiS.
    – M i ech
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 2:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .