Many since 2015 and the election of the Law and Justice (PiS) party to government in Poland have asked if the post-communist transition to liberal-democracy hadn’t been a detour and not a destination.
Defenders of the ‘Enlightenment Project’ in the region began to fret that Poland—like Hungary and Russia—was simply reverting to type: etatist, socially repressive, xenophobic. Not that many knew what an Eastern Europe or Polish ‘type’ might look like, except via James Bond movies, Borat or the stereotype of the Polish plumber.
Indeed, within 12 months of winning the October 2015 parliamentary election the new government under PiS had apparently launched assaults on three bastions of the post-89 order: liberal democracy, the liberal economy and liberal society.
The European Commission and others called in vain for PiS to rein in its perceived attacks on democracy. But, like Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, the more “the international elite” admonished rather than punished, the weaker it itself looked and the stronger the ‘strong men’ who had challenged it appeared to their populist domestic bases.
PiS also upset the EU by refusing to take in refugees, triggering the regurgitation of some old tropes in the Western media, some rehashing the perennial accusations of Polish racism, others the peripheral, backward, ‘wild’ East, others reporting on the simple ingratitude of it, after all that EU cash that had poured into new roads. But this also reinforced the party’s domestic message: Poland is