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Poland’s Nationalism Threatens Europe’s Values, and Cohesion

But more than money, Law and Justice thrives on cultural and identity politics. It has contrasted a conservative, Catholic Poland and its family values with a godless, freethinking, gender-bending Western Europe.

It accuses past governments, the opposition and the urban elites, of hankering after European approval and acceptance to the detriment of Polish interests.

Sniadowo district, a collection of villages northeast of Warsaw with roughly 5,500 people, reflects that support. While the pre-World War II population was about 40 percent Jewish, today it is Kaczynski country.

The area is profoundly Roman Catholic and deeply affected by its proximity to Belarus and the memories of the Soviet occupation of World War II. In 2015, roughly 70 percent of voters in the region supported Law and Justice.

People go to church several times a week, priests tend to give passionate, political sermons, and state and church media give a partisan version of events.


Krzysztof Mieczkowski runs a dairy farm with his wife, Malgorzata, and his father. “Religion, patriotism, fatherland is our foundation in Poland,’’ Mr. Mieczkowski said. “Every Sunday we need to go to church.’’ Credit Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

“Promoting same-sex marriage will not go down well here,” said Marek Adam Komorowski, 58, a local councilman in nearby Lomza. “If you are in Europe, you can’t speak against it, but it is not a norm here. Here, family means something else.”

Rafal Pstragowski, the 37-year-old mayor of Sniadowo, an independent in his seventh year in office, echoed the sentiments. “Poland is a traditional Christian country and Poland respects other religions,” he said, “but we want our culture to be respected, too.”

“There is a fear among people that Western secularism is a threat to our traditional culture,” he added. “If things in Europe keep going in the same direction, people think that the migration crisis and terrorist attacks could start here, too.’’

Slawomir Zgrzywa, 55, a local historian, said that Poland’s long history of conflict with Russia had made it skeptical of “any sort of left-wing or liberal politics,” and had enhanced the standing of a deeply conservative and politicized Roman Catholic priesthood.

As for the fight with the European Union over the government’s control of the judiciary, that “seems abstract,” said Agnieszka Walczuk, 45, the director of the town’s elementary school. “The people here are poor, and they feel they have been helped by a government seen as protecting them,” she said.


Graves of World War II soldiers renovated by the district with the support of European Union funding. Credit Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

The recent squabble over Poland’s new law about history and the Holocaust is another example of the government offending Western European sensibilities about free speech for domestic gain. It is seen at home as an effort to protect Poland against all those angry, upset foreigners — including Jews and Western Europeans. It was telling that the opposition abstained on the vote, rather than voting against.

While firmly in favor of membership, Law and Justice has a vision of the European Union similar to the British one — a union of nation states trading freely with one another but not interfering in domestic politics or national culture.

At the same time, Poland sees an emerging vision for Europe, under the proposals of France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, as reviving French-German domination of the bloc, which would leave Poland more sidelined.

In Poland’s view, talk of restricting the rights of foreign workers in France is protectionist and aimed at the new member states, but wrapped in pro-European language. Poland rejects a “multilevel” or “two-speed” Europe, with an inner core of eurozone states and an outer ring of lesser members. But it sees Brussels heading that way regardless.

In general, Mr. Kaczynski’s priority is domestic, “and for control of the judiciary, he’s ready to pay almost any price,” said Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He is slowly using mostly democratic means, amassing so much power that the party’s position is unassailable.’’

Source: NYT > World

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