Event Summary: Elections Have Consequences

Rebecca Ruhl, MAERES ’17, presents a discussion of “Elections Have Consequences: A Look at Poland,” an event hosted by the Wilson Center.

On Tuesday November 29th, the Wilson Center hosted “Elections Have Consequences: A Look at Poland.” The purpose of the panel was to discuss the 2015 ascendancy of the Law and Justice Party to power in Poland, first winning the Presidency and then 51% of the Parliament. This victory has resulted in changes of direction in Poland, a country that was the poster child for economic and democratic transition as it emerged from the communist period. Current policies toward state security, public media, economic policy and the courts have been politically divisive. The event sought to address the question: “What is the meaning of these changes for Poland’s future, for the group of Central/Eastern countries and for the EU, where Poland has aspired to leadership?” This event—one of the many hosted by the Wilson Center related to our region—featured two sessions. In the first, Leszek Balcerowicz spoke on economic transitions, while Prezemyslaw Zurawski vel Grajewski and Slawomir Sierakowski offered differing opinions on the state of politics in Poland.

The first speaker was Leszek Balcerowicz, a Professor of Economics at the Warsaw School of Economics, as well as former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Furthermore, Dr. Balcerowicz was a leader in Poland’s own transition to capitalism. He spoke on the topic of good and bad economic transitions, and what differentiates the two. Interestingly, Balcerowicz rejects the idea of a backlash to globalism as a cause for Poland’s current, “bad” economic transition. Instead, he cites “errors” made by the previous political party including political scandals, the poor election campaign of the previous president, the issue of refugees in Poland, and the lack of political competition for the Law and Justice Party.

Next, Prezemyslaw Zurawski vel Grajewski, advisor to the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke from point of view of the Law and Justice Party. vel Grajewski argued against the critics of the current Polish administration, saying that Polish people now have access to a wider variety of media and that the country is in a better position in its foreign affairs. Also on the panel was Slawomir Sierakowski, a Polish sociologist, political commentator, and critic of the current Polish administration. At first, Mr. Sierakowski seemed troubled by the comments of Vel Grajewski, arguing that they were political propaganda rather than part of an intellectual discussion. Sierakowski used his own experience as a commentator in Poland to demonstrate the curtailing of press freedom, saying that he had been barred from speaking on major television channels since Law and Justice’s ascension to power. He continued to explain his take on why Polish politics have changed so drastically. Citing the concept of “social deprivation,” Sierakowski said that people did not feel the effects of Poland’s positive economic indicators, they were driven to vote for the populists.

“Elections Have Consequences” offered a fascinating glimpse at the current political debates in Poland. Particularly in the second panel, the current political polarization in Polish society was on full display. Audience members’ questions showed how that the conversation about Polish politics has great resonance with the recent American elections.