The future of the “Third Republic” defines the second ballot in Poland | News from the world


It was an event – or rather two events – that marked the symbolic nadir of 30 years of spiteful political division in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989.On Monday evening, the conservative president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, and his challenger in the second round of Sunday’s presidential elections, the liberal mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, each held their own “presidential debate” in different parts of the country, each boycotting the other’s event and each questions on the ground next to an unmanned podium bearing the name of their rival.

Polish voters go to the polls on Sunday for the second time in two weeks, with Duda winning 43.5% of the vote in the first round. Trzaskowski obtained 30.5% but should receive the majority of the votes cast by the supporters of the candidates eliminated after the first round. Pollsters say the race is too close to call.

The campaign was exhausting for candidates and voters, held in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis and the vote having already been postponed from May, amid bitter complaints about the apparent determination of the Polish Law and Justice party (PiS) in power to vote for will be held before the economic consequences of the largely successful foreclosure of the country are felt.

Despite the difficult circumstances, there is a broad consensus that the Poles will be faced with a crucial decision on the future of the country, the elections serving as a referendum on the “Third Republic”, the liberal democratic constitutional order established after the disappearance of communism.

“Duda has been a central and active player in PiS ‘attempts to dismantle liberal democracy in Poland,” said Anna Wójcik, legal researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences, who heads an NGO that monitors government violations of the Rule of law. “The Poles will have to decide whether they want a pluralist democracy or a majority democracy without any effective constraint on the party in power.”

A supporter holds a poster of presidential candidate Rafał Trzaskowski at an election rally in Raciąż, Poland. Photography: Czarek Sokołowski / AP

It is a political choice perfectly embodied by the two candidates. Both 48 years of age, they were born four months apart. Both have attended prestigious high schools in major cities, and each has a doctorate from one of the two main universities in Poland. The two also represented the same parliamentary constituency in the hometown of Duda, the historic city of Krakow in the south.

Their origins, however, are distinctly different – illustrating the class, cultural and geographic cracks that perpetuate the political polarization of the country and lending an element of psychodrama to Sunday’s works.

“Simply put, Duda and Trzaskowski are the faces of the two Polands,” said Adam Szostkiewicz, a seasoned political commentator for Polityka, a political weekly newspaper.

Trzaskowski, the son of a famous jazz musician, grew up in Warsaw and spent a year in an American high school in Michigan in the early 1990s. A specialist in international relations with a degree in English philology, he studied at the College of ‘Europe in Warsaw and received scholarships from the University of Oxford and the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris before entering politics.

Duda, who studied and taught law at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, is the son of professors from the former Kraków Mining University and received a much more traditional – and, it is said, severe – education steeped in Catholicism and conservative values. In his youth, he was a member of the Polish scout movement, a pillar of the country’s patriotic tradition.

“Trzaskowski is identified with a Polish cosmopolitan liberal, internationalist and pro-European tradition, while Duda represents a provincial, conservative and polonocentric Poland,” said Szostkiewicz. “This is what separates us, this is what has always separated us, and we are all guilty of it. “

Posters of the two candidates on a house in the northeastern city of Tykocin

Posters of the two candidates on a house in the city of Tykocin, in the north-east of the country. Photography: Czarek Sokołowski / AP

Supporters of the two candidates attempted to use the different backgrounds of their rivals against each other. Trzaskowski’s supporters have largely insisted that their candidate speaks five European languages, unlike the quasi-monolingual Duda, who was ridiculed on social networks earlier this year after failing to speak English confidently during ‘a round table at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

In turn, PiS and his supporters sought to portray Trzaskowski as an agent of malicious foreign influence. The PiS-controlled state-run television program described the opposition candidate as working for a “powerful foreign lobby” linked to the Bilderberg group and the Judeo-American financier George Soros; ostensibly, Duda’s campaign slogan describes him as a “president of Polish interests”.

“For the cosmopolitan tradition of Polish culture, the social hierarchy is built on contempt for those who are considered less cultured, a deeply rooted attitude that finds its origin in the contempt felt by the gentry for the peasantry,” said Maciej Gdula, sociologist at the University of Warsaw specializing in the study of the Polish class system and left-wing deputy for the same district of Kraków formerly represented by Duda and Trzaskowski.

“For the right-wing tradition, on the other hand, the social hierarchy is based on ethnicity, manifesting itself as hostility towards minorities, whether they be Jews, Muslim migrants or, in the case of this campaign , from members of the LGBT community. We saw a clash between these two attitudes during the campaign. “

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At the center of the cultural divide is the contentious role played by the Catholic Church in public life in Poland. Duda made ostentatious displays of faith a hallmark of his presidency and was supported by the powerful Church hierarchy in Poland. He drew international condemnation last month for his remarks on the election campaign describing LGBT rights defenders as promoting an “ideology” that was “even more destructive to man” than communism imposed by the Soviets.

Aware of the need not to alienate the complex coalition of second choice voters he needs to achieve victory, which includes left-handers, moderate conservatives and even some far-right libertarians, Trzaskowski sought to avoid be drawn into a confrontation on religious and social issues. .

But observers say that the Liberal candidate’s reluctance to engage in cultural warfare, although understandable, illustrates a potentially crucial weakness.

“For his supporters, Duda is considered the ideal candidate, while the voters of Trzaskowski are more likely to see him as a reasonable compromise, the lesser of two evils,” said Szostkiewicz. “I suspect that in the final analysis, it could be his loss. “


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