Warsaw Pride, 2008

Poland has not turned into Hungary. However, the country’s opposition leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, defeated in Sunday’s general election, told reporters on Sunday night that he still hoped to turn Warsaw into a second Budapest. To observers of Polish politics, such statements will hardly be surprising. The head of the rightist Law and Justice Party, and the brother of late President Lech Kaczynski, the surviving Kaczynski unfortunately shares Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s illiberal instincts.

Elected to a second term in office, Poland’s center-right Prime Minister, the EU-friendly Donald Tusk, received a renewed mandate to continue his market-oriented policies and program of privatization. Most surprising, however, was the success of the Palikot Movement, headed by a wealthy businessman from Lublin. A center-left party, campaigning on a program of secularism, soft drug legalization and gay rights, Palikot took 10.1% of the vote. Less fortunate was the post-Communist Democratic Left Alliance, who dropped to 8.2 %. Analysts credit the Alliance’s decline to Palikot.

You can understand why. The Palikot Movement’s parliamentary candidates include Eastern Europe’s most reknown gay activist, and founder of the Campaign Against Homophobia, Robert Biedron; transgender activist Anna Grodzka; and Poland’s leading pro-choice activist, Wanda Nowicka. That’s hard to beat. Similarly, Palikot was supported by Poland’s former presidents, Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski, and by many Poles disappointed by the conservatism of Tusk’s Civil Platform party.

Despite the fact that Poland has not succumbed to the recession afflicting the rest of the European Union, many Poles fear that Tusk’s laissez-fare policies have increased poverty in the country and created a larger underclass. Another concern is that Tusk will attempt to privatize health care and education, a move that can only exacerbate existing inequalities. Palikot’s program has clearly appealed to a number of longterm national anxieties.

Following the recent leftist electoral victory in Denmark, after equally significant progressive breakthroughs in Italy and France, it is clear that the much-vaunted rightward shift in the EU is not a permanent one. Even more encouraging is the fact that support for center-left parties crosses the boundaries that once divided eastern from western Europe. Palikot may not be the most radically progressive of parties. However, what it stands for is a harbinger of much better things to come. Especially if you take into consideration the political context of its emergence. Here’s to more victories like it.

Photograph courtesy of Pantera and Mateusz. Published under a Creative Commons license.