poland

The rise of Poland's conservative middle class

At a summer country house, in a hipster joint, a bank or a law firm. Supporters of Kaczyński’s party, well-educated and well-off, are in every social group.

The grass on Wojciech’s allotment looks like in a gardening magazine: perfectly trimmed and green. It makes you want to walk on it barefoot. Stately thuja trees grow in front of an equally stately holiday cottage in the Finnish style. Two Labradors are frolicking between a small pond and flower beds, hamburgers sizzling on the barbecue will be ready any minute. This is what almost every summer weekend of Wojciech and his family looks like. Far from the hustle and bustle of the big city and the world of finance. And far from politics. Wojciech is a banker. A husband and father of three children, expecting a fourth. A Catholic. Even here, during the weekend in the region of Kujawia-Pomerania, he takes his family to the church he used to go to with his grandparents. Frequent postings abroad, including several months recently spent at his company’s Dutch branch, have made him realize how good it is to live in Poland now. And things are changing for the better at last. All thanks to the Law and Justice party (PiS).

Though a longstanding supporter of Kaczyński’s party, he was too embarrassed to admit it. “I didn’t want to talk about it at work or with my friends. They would have called me a mohair [after church-going elderly women wearing mohair berets]. The laughter and stupid jokes. Even my family wouldn’t have understood my political choices, with my sister and brother strongly opposed to Law and Justice. They are of the sort who march in KOD [Committee for the Defence of Democracy] demonstrations and point out the slightest mistake made by the right-wing parties,” he says. There was a brief moment after the elections when Wojciech wanted to come out with his political allegiance. But he had thought better of it, as each day the situation around him would get worse. At the bank, the wave of criticism would issue from department after department, rushing past his desk, and cumulating in the common room. Sitting at a family dinner once, he let slip who he had voted for at the election, which earned him the you-moron look of his siblings. He will readily concede that PiS’s hot-headed approach to political opponents is not always to his liking, and that Father Rydzyk is not exactly the party’s drawcard. Still, he prefers Kaczyński over Tusk.

He won’t pretend either that Civic Platform’s time in power was bad for him. He managed to take out a loan, land a good job, and start a family. But that’s where the good things end. His blood pressure races up the moment he remembers the struggle against the healthcare system or the time he wondered whether the police were protecting the citizens or just selected individuals.

And on top of that, his wife and he worried whether they could afford to have children. “A lot has changed for the better since autumn. My hopes related to PiS have realised so far. Finally ordinary people are beginning to count and money from the budget is allocated not stashed away for bonuses for the very rich. I hope that my children’s lives will now be made easier. That they will get into the kindergarten, because there will be more places, that they will have a real childhood not a rat race,” he adds.  “I want the old school system to return and the unfortunate middle school that only did harm to children to disappear. Why change something that functioned well?

The almost 40-year-old Wojciech shuns away from discussions with people who see no positive change and say that it was better in the past. “I sometimes hear at work people admitting that PiS isn’t as bad as they paint it, but it is always easier to criticise, hence I hear more negative opinions. I could get involved in debates, but work is not a speaker’s platform. I try not to discuss politics and not to wear my opinions on the sleeve. I prefer to be valued or criticised for the quality of my work, not my views. Anyway, I see people finger pointing those that admitted to being PiS supporters: look, a pisior (a negative term for PiS follower) is coming. Today’s Friday, I am sure he is praying in the men’s room and has a vegetarian lunch. Or they turn on Trwam television channel, as a joke. I may one day do a political coming out without being afraid. But that will be possible when the tension subsides. When PiS finally starts to be treated by the opposition as a partner in talks and not a punch bag, as it is now. Right now, if I had declared my PiS sympathies today, I would sentence myself to ostracism in my environment.

What hate?

Warsaw’s Zbawiciela square. A stretch of fashionable cafes, people, good food and music. Aleksandra celebrates with friends winning a bid for marketing services from a foreign company in Poland.  Her group is impressively diverse: a Jewish girl, two Egyptians and a gay man. They are drinking wine, joking, taking pictures with their smartphones and making plans to go to the seashore next weekend. Kitesurfing.

The 27-year-old Aleksandra, an attractive brunette with red manicure has recently been married. She is not thinking about a bigger family, as yet. For now she is planning a trip to China with her husband, or perhaps to go trekking around the world for six months. The time for children will come. She is not following developments at home on a regular basis, but her views are strongly pro-government. She has always been drawn to the right. This is how she was brought up. To respect the Church and the family. She compares Platform-run government to communism.

“Scam chasing scam. No respect for family traditions, stealing public money and long-sitting old farts employed full-time for 30 years. Nothing for young people, nothing for the family or the Church, she rebukes.

Aleksandra is proud of the autumn good change and the fact that her vote has contributed to it. The Polish flag hangs in her living room year round. Yet, she is open about having concerns about certain PiS politicians, e.g. Anto­ni Macierewicz and that he could make relations with Russia worse or even bring war. But she believes in the PiS politicians’ common sense and that they want to take care of the common people. She is confident that deep down the majority of people support the new government. But they prefer to hold their tongues because they are afraid of the media smear campaign. “Since the last elections something that should not have happened, happened. Now people are being persecuted for their opinions. And I am not referring to PO supporters, but to people like me. My two friends after they said some positive things about PiS online were reported in the social media and their accounts have been blocked,” she stresses.

She thinks she is a very tolerant person and as an example shows her friends with whom she is spending this evening in June.

“I have friends from different walks of life, different backgrounds. I am not biased against people of different colour or religion,” she declares. “I get terribly upset with stereotypes. That those who support PiS are racists, mohairs, uneducated. That they follow Kaczyński mindlessly like sheep to the slaughterhouse. But opponents of partner unions exist among those who for years have voted for PO or the left. It really irritates me. And I don’t pray from morning till night and do not rule out contraception. I want to have two or three children, not fifteen,” she argues.

She and her husband have been anticipating very much for some time now that the PiS government will create somewhat less “rip-off” conditions for buying an apartment. “The Poland predecessors have left us with was a country of the rich and the poor, without a middle class.  Without an adequate family policy, without support for young people. Fortunately, this is beginning to change. I am now waiting for tax breaks for small business. I hope that thanks to changes, I won’t have to look for a job once in a few years in a completely different profession,” she adds.

The meeting is over. I am going back home. Two blocks down, while Aleksandra is still drinking wine with friends, a teenager in a hood is spraying on the wall “F…k PiS.”

It will not fall from the sky

A good company car leased one month ago and always on the road.  The 40-year-old Paweł usually only makes short stops in Warsaw. Lunch, a couple of meetings and he hits the road again. As an English language interpreter he is often hired for different foreign visits and delegations by corporations. And, as he says, he has heard a lot bad things about PiS supporters, how much damage they have done to the country.

“I’m a professional; I have a family to support, so I cannot let emotions get the better of me. But when I hear how bad things are now, I get really mad. Because it’s best just to complain and hope that something will fall from the sky. And I believe that now is time for people who want to move ahead. There are lots of reshuffles in big corporations connected with the State Treasury. The same is true about the media industry. We are now hearing about people who used to live in the grey zone, because they were not connected to anyone from the PO or didn’t have big money. Things have become fairer now. Forms of employment have begun to change; less and less employers employ people on short-term contracts. And, most importantly, we don’t have the euro. I hope that the government will never agree to adopt the common EU currency. Euro was close during the PO-led government. The same with refugees,” he says.

Paweł doesn’t want refugees in Poland. He is afraid of Islamic radicalism. He is not interested in the fact that there are also children among the refugees. Those children, according to Paweł, will also become terrorists when they grow up.  “It’s enough to look at France or Belgium. At what has happened with these countries. Their problem with jihadists is the price they pay for being too open. These countries have themselves to blame,” he speaks in a louder voice.

Maybe he does not agree with PiS about everything, because he thinks the Church should be a little more separated from the state, but he is not sorry for having voted for Kaczyński’ party. And he would do it again. But at work he hears negative opinions about the government, so he does not speak his mind. “Now you take a beating being a PiS supporter more than if you are not. All the time I hear that there is no tolerance for PiS supporters, that Kaczyński’s voters are farmers, uneducated, ignorant 18-year-olds. But I myself know many people who have supported the government change and they are not unemployed people form the countryside, without education or prospects. They are people well-off,” he stresses. “I care about the country where I live, I want to have a say in what is going on. Earlier I did not feel that my opinion mattered one way or another. Now finally, it does.

Where are they

At a summer country house, in a hipster joint, a bank or a law firm. Supporters of Kaczyński’s party, well-educated and well-off, are in every social group. But they are completely invisible.  “It is not about being ashamed, but I have the impression that now politics divides people like it has not done in a long time. I don’t want my children to be stigmatised and that’s why I won’t show my face,” explains Wojciech.

Paradoxically people got criticised for their views less in the past than they are now. And the most vocal are the ones who were removed from power.

A recent TNS Polska poll shows that 40 percent of Poles who vote in elections would again vote for PiS, which is 1 percent more than in May and additional percentage points more than in previous months. There are many young people in this group. What do they see in PiS? The “Apartment plus” programme, increase of the hourly rate. A lot of job offers. “My sister will soon be 18 years old; she will go to college and for sure would not want to leave the country. She has already received offers of paid in-house training and then work in Poland,” says Aleksandra.

“Young people are beginning to believe in our country that they are able to have a career here, to have a family here. For the past few years they had been encouraged to leave the country rather than to stay. “

Patriotism was dying. They tried to scare us with the low birth rate and the fact that no one will give us a mortgage loan. Nothing was done to change it. Now things are different. And even though you can laugh at the “Apartment plus” programme, because it’s easier, if the idea works even in a limited scope, young people will get the feeling that the government is at least trying. That it is not leaving those who cannot afford a loan on their own.

But isn’t she bitter that to give something, you first have to take it away from someone? She only shrugs when she hears this question. “Rich people perhaps should worry, but the world is so organised that if someone has more, he has to pay more taxes. The state should support those who have less, instead of making those who have a lot even richer. The state cares about senior citizens. It has proven it with the free-of-charge drugs for pensioners. But repairing the pension system damaged by predecessors will take time,” says Alek­sandra. “I am not worried about my retirement pension, I am hopeful that things can still be sorted out. PiS will rule a long time. It is counting on young people. And they will not forget it.

Nothing blindly

A tenement house in Mokotow district. Marcin is getting ready to go to a party at friends’ house. Today is an important night. The official Polish football team is playing against Germany at Euro 2016. Dressed in national colours with his face painted, Marcin is bursting with pride. “It doesn’t matter whether we will win or not, but competing against Germany is a big event. Not only a sporting but also a historic event,” he emphasises.

As a successful computer designer he cooperates with many western companies. A wife, two kids and a passion that is stronger than common sense. Gliding. He graduated from college, spent many months abroad and, as he says, it was there that his views became set. “The right cares more about people, the left, unfortunately, is concentrated on power and what it can win once it gets that power. I read, I know history and I care about Poland. He met his wife in college. Not in a Catholic religious movement, as their friends sometimes like to joke. But religion and views are important for them both.

“We are practicing Catholics, but it does not categorise us as obscurantist and blind followers of PiS. We have our views and principles. We don’t’ like to be lied to, as was the case during the previous government. But we are not camping out in churches, we go abroad and we have dark-skinned friends. And for some this does not fit with their image of a PiS follower. Because we should be burning gay people at the stakes, right? I am not saying this to show off, I really think that way,” he says.

Family is very important for Marcin and his wife. If they could not have children for some medical reason, then for sure they would have adopted. “If you cannot have a baby the natural way, you should not cheat biology. We are against in vitro. There are so many needy, orphaned children, that you can satisfy your parental instinct and at the same time do something good. If someone can afford it, she can try artificial insemination, but the state should not subsidise it, as it was done in the past. But contraception is very much ok. It is not true that religious people only use the spousal calendar,” Marcin gets upset.

He gets affirmative nods from friends who have just joined in coming directly from a squash game. And they are arguing to dissipate myths surrounding PiS supporters. “Followers of every party are divided into liberals and radicals. Dislike of refugees, homosexuals or vehement demands on settling historical scores happens just as often in our group as in others. The problem is that we are now attracting more attention. Because that is what the media want to report now,” adds Marcin.

When I add that perhaps this is due to the fact that there is sympathy between PiS and ONR [National Radical Camp - Polish far-right movement], Marcin is indignant. “And this is another example of putting everyone in the same bag,” he finishes, turning to face the TV set. Polish national team walks out onto the pitch. The first notes of the Polish national anthem are heard. Marcin and his friends jump to their feet and place their hands on their hearts.

JOANNA PASZTELAŃSKA

Source: Dziennik Gazeta Prawna

04.07.2016