Poland’s ruling party chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, is trying to turn the country into a Roman Catholic dictatorship, Poland’s former foreign minister has said.
“He [Kaczyński] wants to create a Catholic state of the Polish nation. His vision is that of Salazar, or rather Franco, but adding strong support from the US,” Radek Sikorski, who is now an MEP with Polish opposition party Civic Platform, told EUobserver in an interview.
“He [Kaczyński] thinks he’s creating Bavaria [a German region] – strong traditions and a modern economy, but, actually, what might come out of this is Franco’s Spain,” Sikorski said.
António Salazar and Francisco Franco were far-right, authoritarian leaders in Portugal and Spain, respectively, until the 1970s.
Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister from 2007 to 2014, also compared Kaczyński to Edward Gierek, a 1970s Polish communist leader.
“He [Kaczyński] is anachronistic … he’s very 1970s”, Sikorski said.
“He’s a kind of Gierek, who was a communist-nationalist, soft, spendthrift, although Gierek was actually a moderniser, whereas this guy [Kaczyński] isn’t,” Sikorski added.
“Do you know how weird Kaczyński is?”, Sikorski said.
“He doesn’t have an internet account. He doesn’t have a driver’s licence. He’s never been abroad, except as prime minister, and he lives alone with his cat,” Sikorski said, of the 70-year old Law and Justice (PiS) party chairman.
Sikorski spoke to EUobserver on Thursday (7 May), shortly before Poland was to hold a presidential election on Sunday.
Kaczyński had wanted to “ram through the election” by postal vote, Sikorski said, because the coronavirus lockdown would have helped PiS-loyalist and incumbent Andrzej Duda retain office.
“If you were an OSCE observer, as I have been in other places, going to monitor the Polish election, first of all, you’d say: ‘There’s no level playing field in the media’. Secondly, you’d say: ‘The candidates have been unable to campaign’,” Sikorski said, referring to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a multilateral body based in Vienna.
“This election never had a chance to be democratic,” he said.
Sunday’s vote was abruptly cancelled this week, amid PiS talk it might take place in July.
It was cancelled not because the EU had voiced concern, but because a PiS coalition partner had rebelled and because the Polish post office could not deliver 30m ballots at short notice, Sikorski said.
“It was certainly not [due to] international pressure,” he said.
The postponement was itself handled in an undemocratic way, Sikorski noted, showing how things worked in Kaczyński’s “Catholic state of the Polish nation”.
“What’s happened, is that two [PiS] members of parliament have issued statements [saying the elections were off]. That’s all. Technically speaking, nothing has changed,” he said.
“Under the law, we’re still holding an election on Sunday, and tomorrow will be the start of the pre-election ‘quiet period’, when people like me can’t speak to press. Afterwards, the Supreme Court is meant to invalidate the election, because it didn’t happen … it’s a complete shambles,” Sikorski added.
“We’re in triumph-of-the-will territory,” he said.
If the Polish vote cannot take place before August, due to the pandemic, or other factors, Duda’s term will expire, creating a ghost president, and more “shambles”.
The sane thing to do would be to declare a “natural disaster”, which constitutionally mandated a vote 90 days after the disaster ended, Sikorski said.
For its part, the European Commission, on Thursday, pledged to monitor how Poland, and other EU states, handled elections during the virus emergency.
“Voters should be both shielded from health risks and their democratic rights should be protected,” a commission spokesman said.
Kaczyński’s Poland has also clashed with the EU centre on judicial reform, migration, climate, and use of xenophobic and homophobic hate speech by PiS politicians.
The commission has sued Poland in the EU courts and threatened sanctions over the judicial reforms, which, critics say, are turning Polish judges into PiS marionettes.
But the commission had “no instruments” that could really stop the Kaczyński machine, Sikorski said.
Asked by EUobserver why Kaczyński’s vision was winning votes in Poland, one of the most pro-European societies in the EU, Sikorski said the “traditionalist and provincial” Polish Catholic church had played a role.
Kaczyński was “well organised” and had created a “Bolshevik sect” around himself, while the Polish opposition was divided, Sikorski added, referring to a radical Russian movement, which seized power in the 1917 Russian revolution.
And the fact Polish voting laws gave winning parties bonus seats in parliament distorted the picture, Sikorski said.
“Kaczyński does not represent the majority of Polish society,” Sikorski noted.
The nationalist-populist wave in Poland was part of a global tide, Sikorski also said.
“In Brussels, there’s a thinking that says: ‘Oh, this is Eastern European politics. This is somehow different’,” the Polish MEP said.
“No. He [Kaczyński] is riding the same wave of backlash against meritocracy, against globalisation, against integration that all the other political entrepreneurs have been exploiting,” Sikorski said.
“Kaczyński led the way,” Sikorski noted, putting to one side Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, another EU authoritarian, as a special case.
“Chronologically, it was first Kaczyński, then Brexit, then Trump,” Sikorski said, referring to a PiS election victory in 2015, the Brexit referendum in 2016, and US president Donald Trump, who came to power that same year, and who had also “given up on democracy”, Sikorski said.