On Sunday, July 12th, Poland’s conservative president Andrzej Duda was reelected for another five-year term, beating Warsaw’s liberal mayor Rafał Trzaskowski in the second round of elections by a small margin of 2.06 percent.
Not everyone is pleased with the election results, particularly those on the left, both in Poland and in Western Europe and North America. Duda and his party, Law and Justice, are routinely compared to all sorts of colorful dictatorial figures. I got the biggest belly laugh, though, out of a recent article on the leftist website OKO.press, which compares Duda to Hugo Chavez, warning that his excessive welfare spending will lead to a Venezuelan-style tragedy. One reason the international left dislikes Duda is the fact that he is not only a practicing Catholic (right after his election he went to pray at Jasna Góra, Poland’s most important Catholic shrine), but unlike, say, many Catholic politicians in the US, he allows the Judeo-Christian values that created the West to influence his policy. It is no secret that many leftists, both in Poland and internationally, dream of the country becoming like Ireland, Quebec, or Spain—rejecting its Catholic heritage in favor of the nihilistic dictatorship of relativism. Andrzej Duda’s reelection is a serious setback to those hopes.
Unlike Spain’s Popular Party or Britain’s Tories, conservatism as defined by the Law and Justice party is not limited to lowering taxes. This is especially evident in Duda’s defense of marriage. His main rival, Rafał Trzaskowski, has been mayor of Warsaw since 2018. In 2005-2007, his Civic Platform party was ideologically similar to the American Republicans: moderately conservative on social issues and Thatcherite on economics. Since, though, the party has moved closer to the European left on both fronts, and Trzaskowski is considered to be part of Civic Platform’s left flank. He became the first Warsaw mayor to become a patron of the city’s annual “gay pride” parade, and before his election he said in an interview that his dream is to become the first mayor of Warsaw to grant a marriage license to a same-sex couple.
Andrzej Duda, however, boldly stood up in favor of the family during his campaign, suggesting constitutional amendments that would ban adoption by homosexual couples (same-sex “marriage” already contradicts Article 18 of Poland’s 1997 Constitution) and preclude LGBT-themed lessons in public schools without parents’ permission. Duda’s views are consistent with the sentiments of the great majority of Poles: according to one recent survey, Poles reject same-sex “marriage” (by a margin of 64.6 to 27.2 percent), adoption by gay couples (73.1 versus just 16.7 percent), and domestic partnership rights for same-sex couples (50 percent; the proportion in favor is not given).
Tellingly, during his campaign Trzaskowski distanced himself from his previous actions and statements, saying that he opposes same-sex marriage and adoption. Meanwhile, growing numbers of Civic Platforms MPs are blaming their recent defeat on having chosen a candidate who was much more liberal than the great majority of Poles.
In recent days, the Western media has depicted the election of Andrzej Duda as something like Kristallnacht for Poland’s homosexuals. One typical article was by Anne Applebaum in the Atlantic. In it, the Washington Post pundit (privately, the wife of a former Civic Platform minister) claims that the 2020 elections in Poland “hinge[d] on a single issue”: hatred of gays. Wrong. The culture wars were definitely a major part of the campaign, but there were plenty of other issues that were just as prominent: spending on social welfare, the recession caused by the pandemic and lockdown, Poland’s relations with the European Union and United States, and many others.
Applebaum quotes President Duda as saying that “LGBT are not people; they are an ideology.” Such a statement is indeed un-Christian and is contrary to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states about treatment of those who struggle with “homosexual tendencies” and “inclination” (see CCC 2357-58). The problem is that, contrary to what Applebaum writes, this quote comes not from Andrzej Duda, but Jacek Żalek, a Law and Justice MP. (That Duda did not correct him is a separate issue.) Undoubtedly, such rhetoric as that of Żalek is hurtful, especially to sincere Catholics who struggle living chastely with a homosexual inclination. However, Law and Justice and Andrzej Duda have no intention of creating a bedroom Stasi; rather, in accordance with the wishes of most Poles (including many of Trzaskowski’s voters) they reject the cultural imperialism coming from the West that is based on anthropological lies about marriage and the family.
Another common accusation against Duda and Poland’s government is that they are xenophobic. The title of one typical 2017 article consisted of the rhetorical question: “Is Poland Becoming the European Capital of Xenophobia?” Undeniably, there has been a strong anti-immigrant political trend in Europe and North America in recent years. However, whereas Viktor Orban’s government has built a fence on the Hungarian border to keep out illegal migrants, for example, in 2018, Poland took in more non-EU immigrants than any other European country in absolute numbers, even though it is only the sixth most-populous country in the European Union.
Most of these migrants come from Ukraine, Belarus, and other eastern neighbors, but there is a growing South Asian presence in Poland (there already were tens of thousands of Vietnamese in Poland under communism). In Warsaw, there is a big market on Bakalarska Street where most of the vendors are Asian and you can get authentic pho and even durian.
There is political nativism in Poland, but it does not come from Law and Justice, but rather the nationalist Confederation party, whose youthful presidential candidate Krzysztof Bosak came in fourth in the election (Confederation has also criticized Law and Justice for not banning eugenic abortion; thus, many pro-lifers voted for Bosak rather than Duda).
In an infamous Tweet, Bosak criticized Law and Justice for “promoting multiculturalism” rather than creating jobs for Poles, appalled at the sight of “an Indian in a turban pedaling on a bicycle” for Uber Eats in Warsaw (Grzegorz Kramer, SJ, a well-known Polish Jesuit, aptly responded to Bosak, a devout Catholic: “How can you reconcile demeaning people with the Gospel?”).
Law and Justice has also been accused by some in the West of anti-Semitism. In the third volume of his authoritative history of the Jews in Poland and Russia, Antony Polonsky writes that Law and Justice shares all the traditional traits of the Polish right—except anti-Semitism. The late President Lech Kaczyński, Duda’s political mentor, initiated the tradition of lighting Hanukkah candles in front of the Presidential Palace with members of the nation’s Jewish community each year. Kaczyński restored Polish citizenship to Polish Jews who, following a dehumanizing “anti-Zionist” campaign by the communist regime in 1968, were forced to emigrate; he unequivocally condemned anti-Semitism at that ceremony.
Andrzej Duda continues his predecessor’s policies in this regard. After his election, he was congratulated by the World Jewish Congress, which praised him for fighting against anti-Semitism and taking care of Jewish heritage sites in Poland.
It is true that in 2018 relations between Poland’s government and much of the Jewish world soured after a Law and Justice-led parliamentary majority voted to make it a crime to accuse the Polish state or nation of complicity in Nazi war crimes. (I offered my thoughts on this controversy here.) The law inspired some ugly anti-Semitic outbursts in the right-wing Polish press and social media, although it was eventually stripped of its criminal provisions under American pressure and is now a dead law.
However misguided it was, this legislation’s intention was not entirely ignoble. It is true that, as elsewhere during World War II, not all Poles risked their lives to save Jews. Some collaborated with the Germans; the overwhelming majority, though, were simply themselves trying to survive an occupation that was much more brutal than anywhere else in Europe. However, Poland did boast of the largest anti-Nazi resistance on the continent and, unlike most of Europe, neither a collaborationist government nor an SS division was formed there. Yet Poles frequently face unfair stereotypes presenting them as genetically anti-Semitic; the popular Holocaust-themed comic book Maus, for example, literally presents them as anthropomorphic swine, while Israel’s foreign minister has vulgarly said that “Poles suck anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk,” and refused to apologize. While not well thought-out, this law intended to combat such harmful stereotypes.
Andrzej Duda is a supporter of NATO, and this is not just empty talk. NATO’s members pledge to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Under Duda, Poland has remained one of just six European countries that meet that target; Germany, a very wealthy country that should have no problem devoting one-fiftieth of its economy to defense, is not. Frau Merkel has pledged to meet that goal only as late as the 2030s.
The good relationship between Presidents Duda and Trump has been a boost to NATO. Given Germany’s neglect of its NATO duties, Trump has decided to transfer part of the American military presence there to neighboring Poland.
Andrzej Duda is not a perfect politician. Since coming to power in 2015, he and his Law and Justice party have made numerous mistakes. Their lowering of the retirement age to 65 for men and just 60 for women is a looming economic catastrophe. While their attempts at reforming the justice system were well-intentioned, the judiciary is far from independent in today’s Poland, and the current Constitutional Court is filled with Law and Justice sycophants (and, in a few cases, even former MPs of the party). I could go on. What cannot be denied, however, is that the electoral victory of Andrzej Duda and Law and Justice is good news to those who believe the traditional family is the bedrock of any healthy society. Poland’s president and government are working to defend the West’s Judeo-Christian values, which are aggressively under attack today. Meanwhile, accusations that Poland’s current rulers are xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and incite violence against homosexuals are downright unfair and untruthful.
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