rostowski21_Beata ZawrzelNurPhoto via Getty Images_trzaskowski Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Lessons from the Polish Opposition

After years of misrule under Poland's Law and Justice party, a candidate representing the mainstream opposition almost managed to wrest back control of the presidency. In fact, anti-populists everywhere should see Rafał Trzaskowski's near-miss campaign as a model for their own efforts.

LONDON – Although Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski did not come out on top in Poland’s presidential election, the result represents a turning point in European politics. The nationalist-populist tide has peaked. To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous quip following the Second Battle of El-Alamein in 1942, this may not be the beginning of the end of contemporary authoritarian nationalism, but is at least the end of the beginning.

To be sure, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party will continue its conflict with the European Union over its efforts to undermine judicial independence and the rule of law at home. And PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński will doubtless pursue a takeover of Poland’s remaining independent media – the next big item on his authoritarian agenda. Moreover, spared from having to engage in political trench warfare with a new, hostile president, the PiS government will be able to keep frustrating the European project from within.

Nevertheless, anti-populists can take comfort in the fact that Polish President Andrzej Duda only narrowly managed to win re-election, despite having the full force of taxpayer-funded state media on his side. In fact, the Polish opposition’s surprisingly strong performance offers several lessons for all who still believe in constitutional democracy and the rule of law, regardless of where they live.