Can Europe Make It?

It's not the end of the world as we know it (yet)

Marzena Sadowska
6 June 2014

I have trouble summing up these elections and everything that led to them. There was a boring campaign, skimming over important issues (which was to be expected, I think) and the lowest turnout ever. Once again, right-wing parties completely dominated the Polish elections, while left-wing parties hit rock bottom. Only one left-wing party won any seats, and less than last time, while another didn’t even cross the election threshold. It could always be worse; thankfully the far-right radicals didn’t win any seats.

But Kongres Nowej Prawicy (Congress of the New Right), led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, won four. This party is libertarian and conservative, does not have a concise political programme and up to this point has existed in the margins of Polish politics: more a bit of political folklore than a real alternative for people disappointed with the mainstream. KNP was not very well known before the elections, I doubt most people could name two of its members (other than Janusz Korwin-Mikke, that is).

Everyone has heard about Janusz Korwin-Mikke, however. Among other things, he said that: Hitler didn’t know about the Holocaust, that women should not have voting rights because they are too stupid to have opinions and only copy their husbands’ or fathers’, and, during the campaign, when asked whether he thinks women want to be raped, he replied that women always resist and that’s normal.

This is a quote of his from a high school meeting: “Democracy means that if this man, you Miss, and I are trapped on an island, then if we have a majority of votes we can decide that you have to sleep with both of us. That's democracy. And with 2/3 votes we can even put that in the constitution.” As summed up by one right-wing publicist in a tweet: The essence of Korwinism consists of two sentences: “JKM didn’t say that” and “well yes, but he also says a lot of wise things”. One of the commentators on Facebook added to the last one: This is taken out of context. This is not a joke. This is how his supporters talk about his statements and opinions. Almost half of his voters were 18-25 years old, among them 25.8% were women. There is so much irony in a woman voting for someone who openly says that she shouldn’t have a right to vote.

Why did so many young people vote for him? There are at least a few theories, blaming low turnout (which is the case with every election in Poland), the lack of an alternative (another party that tried to pose as an alternative to the mainstream won seats in previous elections to European Parliament, but in this – they didn’t get even one) or the educational system.

As Antoni Michnik wrote, there might be a correlation between what is taught in schools and political choices reflected here. Polish schools don’t teach cooperation but individual work, every success is also individual, and cheating during tests is common and hardly punished. After all, it’s more important to get higher grades than to actually learn things. Students learn about free market and freedom in general as a very important value, but nothing about social responsibility and the importance of cooperation.

During twelve years of primary, middle and high school I didn’t learn how to work with a group. I too was sure that I could do everything on my own, better and possibly faster. At no point did the school discourage this idea. I learned how to play well with others only at university, when we were given bigger tasks for group work that I could never have comfortably handled on my own. Studying in general, and studying social sciences in particular, is not something that every young person does.

After school, a lot of people simply don’t have the need and/or an opportunity to learn how to participate in any kind of common effort. Which is not to say that my studies were the greatest when it came to learning the basics of functioning in a society: I had classes both about marketing and management - social responsibility didn’t make an appearance, not even once.

Sadly given that background, and added to the historical conservatism that runs through Polish society, it’s not that difficult to see where JKM’s voters are coming from. They are in a way symptomatic of a bigger problem. But, on the plus side, the average age of his voters has stayed the same for years, which suggest that people grow out of his ideas or at least his rhetoric. There is possibly a better future for us all.

With this, a little hope for tomorrow, I’m ending my blogging adventure here. It was great – I learned a lot and I looked at many  things from a new perspective. Thanks for the ride!

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