This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.
Project Syndicate: Last year, you celebrated the relative victory of opposition forces in Poland’s parliamentary elections, suggesting that if they could prove themselves, they might be able to secure a victory for a common opposition candidate over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in the May presidential election. Is that still likely? How do you think the COVID-19 coronavirus – which Poland’s government quickly took drastic measures to keep in check – will affect the opposition’s chances?
Sławomir Sierakowski: The situation in Poland is reminiscent of a political thriller. A pandemic is raging, a strict quarantine has been introduced, and gatherings are limited to two people. (Up to five can gather in church, reflecting Polish famous version of “ideological neutrality of the state.”) The PiS-controlled Sejm – the lower chamber of Poland’s parliament – just passed a law that will enable it to carry out its work remotely. Anyone caught breaking the rules faces heavy fines.
Meanwhile, Poland’s PiS leadership has excluded the possibility of postponing the presidential election, scheduled for May 10, which is very soon after the COVID-19 outbreak’s likely peak in Poland. This decision – which clashes with that of more than 20 other countries to postpone elections or referendums – could risk the health of thousands of voters and electoral officials. But, as the PiS’s strongman leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, well knows, it will practically guarantee victory for the PiS-backed incumbent, President Andrzej Duda.
Over the last two weeks, the opposition has effectively had little choice but to suspend its electoral campaign. By contrast, Duda has been visiting factories, posing for photos, and positioning himself as a source of stability and comfort. And Duda’s poll numbers are rising. This trend is unlikely to be reversed as long as the outbreak persists.
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We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Sierakowski's picks:
by Ivan Turgenev
Speaking of intergenerational conflict as a condition of progress, this impressive nineteenth-century Russian classic describes the clash of generations within the Eastern European intelligentsia. It is an excellent book to read (or re-read) as we isolate ourselves during this pandemic, not least for the line: “a person who gets angry at his own illness is sure to overcome it.”
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A spectacular answer to Turgenev, this is an ideal second book to read during this time of social isolation. The catastrophe that we are now enduring is one of cold reason. Dostoyevsky examines this trap better than anyone (though Nietzsche is perhaps on par with him). And the opening line, “I am a sick man…” could not be more apt.
by Paul Kennedy
I am currently reading this monumental classic. It may provide a good primer for understanding the changes in geopolitics and geo-economics that are sure to follow the current pandemic.
by Olga Tokarczuk
This book – the English translation of which will be published next year – paints for readers a stunning portrait of the eighteenth century in a place where empires, religions, cultures, languages, and customs mixed. In examining unusual events, previously undescribed, taking place somewhere at the edge of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Habsburg Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, Tokarczuk, the 2018 Nobel laureate in literature, gives a voice to those who have been ignored by historiography. Go there when you are not allowed to leave your house. And if you aren’t able to read the Polish edition, you can try one of Tokarczuk’s other prize-winning works, such as Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
From the PS Archive
Sierakowski reflects on why women have emerged as a powerful opponent of populists in the West. Read the commentary.
In this On Point Insider Interview, it is Sierakowski who does the interviewing, discussing Poland’s law proscribing references to Polish complicity in the Holocaust with Princeton’s Jan T. Gross. Read the transcript.
Around the web
In a 2014 New York Times op-ed, Sierakowski warned that the absence of peacekeepers in Poland and the Baltics was a concession to Russia. Read the commentary.
In a piece for the Berlin Policy Journal, Sierakowski distinguishes among the versions of populist politics that dominate different Eastern European countries. Read the commentary.