Confederation, the ultra anti-Ukrainian party that may hold the key to the next Polish Government | International
Political scientist Aleks Szczerbiak only regrets one thing about following the Polish elections on October 15 from a distance: not being able to attend in person a rally of Konfederacja Wolnosc i Niepodleglosc (Confederation, Freedom and Independence). “They are very particular. Like motivational speeches from entrepreneurs who seek to inspire, and they are full of young people dressed in suits,” explains this professor from the University of Sussex via video call. Confederation, as it is known, is an anti-establishment far-right party that has risen in the polls to third place with an anti-Ukrainian and economically libertarian discourse. In your hands may be the key to the next Polish Government and decide whether the ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS), in power, gets a third term, or if it is the turn of the liberal opposition, led by the center-right Civic Platform party. .
Confederación is an amalgam of three ultra movements led by radicals that came together in 2018 to form a party. The first is above all nationalist and revolves around Krzysztof Bosak. The 41-year-old co-leader of the group, who participated in the Polish edition of dancing with the starshas become the face of the party on television and in electoral debates. Then there are the followers of Grzegorz Braun (56 years old), a documentary producer who promotes conspiracy theories against Ukraine, Jews, homosexuals, Freemasons and Covid vaccines. The third faction was led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, known for statements such as that Hitler knew nothing about the Holocaust or that women should earn less than men because they are “less intelligent.” But this former MEP, 80, was dethroned by Slawomir Mentzen, 36, the Polish politician who, according to political scientist Szczerbiak, best handles social networks and the internet, including TikTok.
The ultra-nationalist Confederation has questioned bilateral relations with Ukraine due to the ethnic cleansing in which some 100,000 Poles died in Volhynia between 1943 and 1945, a painful issue for many Polish families. The party has taken advantage of the diplomatic crisis that has opened between Warsaw and Kiev, until now strong allies, due to the veto on the import of Ukrainian agricultural products, with messages such as that Ukraine is ungrateful and attacks on the Government, which they accuse of having disarmed Poland to help its neighbor. He has also attacked aid to Ukrainian refugees, a message that has resonated and which the Executive echoed by starting to charge them for accommodation.
In Brussels they will closely observe the electoral result. Confederation is eurosceptic, although it avoids clarifying whether it is in favor of Poland remaining in the EU. “Managing foreign policy with the Confederation, even if it supports a government from outside, will be very difficult,” says Michal Baranowski, executive director of the Eastern European branch of the think tank American German Marshal Fund. This analyst adds: “Enlargement to Ukraine will be strongly opposed in the debate on the future of Europe and may interfere with reforms related to the rule of law, especially those that would allow Poland to access blocked recovery funds.” Warsaw's relations with the EU are already strained. But, as Anna Paczesniak of the University of Wrocław points out, these relations “could only get worse” in a third PiS government with the support, external or internal, of the Confederation.
The party has focused its election campaign on the economy. Anna Wokciuk, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw and an expert on populism and authoritarianism, explains that they are libertarians. It is “traditional right-wing neoliberalism taken to the extreme,” she adds, and she gives as an example the proposal to eliminate Social Security and for each citizen to receive 1,000 euros to manage their health expenses. Economically, the expert details by videoconference, they compete more with the Civic Platform, because one of the pillars of PiS are the policies of wealth redistribution with social aid, among others, to families and pensioners. This profound difference makes any agreement between them difficult, but “we must ask ourselves if this neoliberal discourse is real or an electoral tactic,” says Paczesniak, in a videoconference from Wrocław.
Socially, the party is extremely conservative, more similar to Law and Justice. “It is xenophobic and openly anti-Ukrainian, and very nostalgic for the past: the family, the homeland, etc.,” develops Wokciuk. There is little room to be further to the right of PiS on issues such as abortion, women's rights or the LGTBI community, but the Confederation achieves this in some cases by proposing to prohibit the interruption of pregnancy, even in the case of rape, or by advocating to liberalize the sale of weapons. In immigration, it joins what has actually become “the hegemonic narrative that defends greater border control,” says the political scientist.
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Mentzen claimed in 2019 that his voters were “against Jews, gays, abortion, taxes and the European Union.” Today he assures that that was a joke and the party tries not to make too much noise on these issues, focusing on the economic proposals. But also in Poland's support for Ukraine, where they have managed to open a gap by taking advantage of a certain fatigue in Polish society.
“The first principle of Jaroslaw Kaczynski [el presidente del partido y líder de facto del Gobierno] is not allowing anyone to occupy the space to the right of PiS,” says Wokciuk. Traditionally, the Confederation has brought together the protest vote, with around 6% or 7% of ballots. This year, however, it reached 14% voting intention in July, and there the ruling party began to see it as competition. “PiS started with its agenda and some anti-Ukraine rhetoric in the summer, especially in July, on the anniversary of ethnic cleansing,” says Wokciuk. “Now, with the grain crisis, he not only feels threatened by the Confederation, but also by the agrarian party (PSL) and the Civic Platform,” he explains.
The Confederation voter is young, predominantly male. They tend to live more in rural areas and small towns and are tired of seeing the same old faces and fights: Kaczynski against the opposition leader, former Prime Minister Donald Tusk. “There is a real social base of voters, especially for their proposals related to the free market, tax cuts and state aid, the privatization of public services, the reduction of bureaucracy and regulation…”, details Szczerbiak. Many are businessmen who see the State as a hindrance, who do not have children, do not need education, pensions and prefer private healthcare. These voters are socially liberal, regarding abortion, LGTBI rights, in contrast to their leaders, but they are attracted to economic proposals, says the political scientist.
Since the peak of voting intention in July, Confederación has fallen to approximately 10%, according to the average of national surveys collected Political. “It is possible, although not certain, that they have the key to the Government,” says Wokciuk. “PiS is almost certainly not going to have a majority,” he adds. The question is how far it is from the 230 seats it needs, stresses Szczerbiak from the United Kingdom. If there are a handful of seats, you can try to seduce turncoats and the ultra party will be a good quarry. If there are more, he will have to reach agreements, but as Wokciuk says, “Kaczynski is generous when he negotiates.”
The leaders of the Confederation, as the anti-system party that they are, have refused to enter any government coalition. They assure that they do not want to be part of a PiS Executive, which leads the polls with 38% support. Nor with the liberal opposition led by Donald Tusk's Civic Platform - which this Sunday has called a march in Warsaw to boost the 30% voting intention it registers -, together with The Left and the centrist Third Way coalition, which are also around 10% voting intention.
The director of the German Marshal Fund believes that Confederation leaders “may be more open to supporting a majority for an opposition government.” Civic Platform would be open to this possibility, he believes, despite the party's extreme right-wing aims. “They are motivated by their desire to remove PiS from power, to clean up and throw out people loyal to the Government placed in state companies and public television. It could be the basis for new elections next year,” he explains by phone.
Szczerbiak also sees this option as feasible: “The opposition can say that the priority is to recapture the State,” although he recognizes that “for the Left it would be more difficult.” “If Lucifer shows up, they would be able to sign an agreement too,” he jokes. The possibility of a repeat election could be behind the savings in electoral spending by the parties that some experts are observing.
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