Poland just elected Europe’s most right-wing president with known anti-Russian foreign policy views. What will the consequences be for Russia?
Opposition candidate Andrzej Duda celebrates with supporters his victory, as first exit polls in the presidential runoff voting are announced in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Photo: AP
After two rounds of balloting on May 10 and 24, the presidential elections in Poland have confirmed the country’s unofficial status as possessing the greatest amount of right-wing public sentiment in the European Union. Whereas in the European elections of 2014, 80 percent of Polish voters cast their ballot for a right-wing party, this time, in the first round of the presidential elections, candidates representing the various right-wing parties picked up more than 90 percent of the vote between them.
Unsurprisingly, the second round of elections saw the incumbent president Bronislaw Komorowski of the center-right party Civic Platform go head-to-head with right-wing conservative Law and Justice candidate Andrzej Duda, who had edged his rival in the first round two weeks previously.
The second round of elections showed that Duda was able to attract more floating voters to his cause. As a result, he prevailed over the incumbent head of state by four percentage points. Since in European circles, Law and Justice is considered a firm ally of Britain’s Conservatives, we can safely assume that the EU’s most right-wing country will be headed by its most conservative president.
Poland’s political coexistence on the right
The upshot of Duda’s victory is that Poland once again faces a period of “political coexistence” between a center-right government and a right-wing conservative president. However, that state of affairs is unlikely to last long, since Law and Justice is the obvious favorite in the upcoming parliamentary campaign on the back of its recent victory.
It is curious that when Law and Justice announced Duda for president, his approval rating lagged way behind Komorowski’s. However, despite the fact that Civic Platform coped adequately during the crisis years, Duda’s victory points to growing discontent within Polish society.
Economic growth and relatively low unemployment are important factors, but when push came to shove, the majority of Poles opted for the opposition candidate.
This is largely because Law and Justice has a more “social” profile than Civic Platform, as evidenced by Duda’s electoral promise to reduce the retirement age and raise the non-taxable income threshold.
Riding an anti-Russian wave
While Komorowski and Duda do indeed differ on certain social issues, in foreign policy there are few, if any, conceptual differences between Civic Platform and Law and Justice to speak of. Debate between Poland’s political leaders here often centers on who is more committed to the country’s Atlanticist foreign policy.
Be it the Kaczynski brothers (who founded Law and Justice) or Civic Platform, the Polish government has consistently positioned itself as the United States’ main ally in Eastern Europe and a NATO bastion on the “Russian frontier.”
Warsaw sees itself as the defender and “champion” of the interests of those former Soviet republics intending to join the EU and move closer to the United States, and a true friend and even “protector” of the Baltic countries. Not surprisingly, the “Atlanticist dimension” loomed large in both presidential candidates’ election campaigns.
For instance, Komorowski reported that Poland was set to buy $5 billion worth of U.S. Patriot missiles, while his rival Duda spoke of siting permanent NATO military bases and U.S. troops on Polish soil.
Poland’s leading conservative parties also see eye-to-eye on Russia — “six to one, half a dozen to the other,” as the saying goes. As Poland’s president, Komorowski established himself as the latest in the line of crusaders against “Russian imperialism.”
Back in 2014 he stated that Poland’s aim was to fight for a complete withdrawal of Russian occupying forces from Crimea and Donbas, and last year Warsaw unilaterally canceled the Year of Poland in Russia and the Year of Russia in Poland, scheduled for 2015. Moreover, Komorowski opposes EU-Russia cooperation on the “same terms as before.”
Duda’s party is known as an even greater anti-Russian force in Polish politics. In recent years Law and Justice has subjected successive Civic Platform cabinets to criticism for Donald Tusk’s pre-2014 attempts to normalize relations with Moscow.
And after Crimea, the right-wing conservatives embarked on another “anti-Russian” offensive. According to Duda, “Modern Russia still openly violates international law and has nothing in common with democracy.”
In 2014 one of the slogans of the right-wing conservatives was: “Today Ukraine, tomorrow Poland.”
Consequently, progress in Russian-Polish relations after the change of administration in Poland is not in the cards — more likely the opposite.
But that will hardly serve the interests of the Russian and Polish people. In 2014 Russian-Polish trade turnover fell compared to 2013 by 17.5 percent, harming producers and consumers in both nations.
Even though the Soviet Union is no more, the Kaliningrad region of Russia still neighbors Poland. Therefore, it is to be hoped that the restoration of normal relations between Warsaw and Moscow is just a matter of time.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.