A less polarized Poland? Not yet, the election results suggest. | ET REALITY


With three years of age difference, brother and sister grew up in a small town in eastern Poland, helping on the family farm and attending church every Sunday under pressure from their parents.

Today, siblings Monika Zochowska, 38, and her brother, Szymon, 41, are separated by a wide chasm opened by politics and perspectives, examples of the many chasms dividing Poland as it grapples with the results of a recent general election that handed a narrow majority in Parliament to opponents of the ruling nationalist party.

Monika and Szymon find themselves on opposite sides of what is perhaps the deepest of those divisions: the gap between villages and small towns, which voted heavily for nationalist forces, and urban centres, which gave overwhelming support to their larger opponents. centrists and liberals, particularly the Civic Coalition. the main opposition party.

Drozdowo, the town where the brothers grew up but which Monika left as a teenager, gave 66 percent of its votes to the ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, and to a second, more radical right-wing group, Confederation.

In Mokotow, the upper-class district of Warsaw where Monika, a successful businesswoman and supporter of the Civic Coalition, now lives, the two right-wing parties accounted for only 25 percent.

“She left. I stayed. Maybe that’s why we see things differently,” Szymon, who voted for the Confederation, said during lunch last week in Drozdowo with his parents and visiting sister.

The urban-rural divide is reinforced by a generational gap that also helped shape the outcome of the October 15 election. For the first time, Poles under 29, who often move to cities and lead what the The Roman Catholic Church in Poland recently mourned as the country’s “rampant” secularization, they voted in greater numbers than people over 60, many of whom still go to church and tend to lean conservative.

With a record overall turnout of 74 percent, women also voted in greater numbers than before, although exit polls indicated that they split their vote fairly evenly between Law and Justice and the Civic Coalition. The New Left, the only party to put gender equality and abortion rights at the center of its campaign, fared poorly.

However, wherever they stand on these geographic, gender and generational divides, many voters yearn for a less polarized country after a brutal campaign in which Law and Justice and the Civic Coalition attacked each other as a mortal threat to the future. from Poland.

It may be a difficult task. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, president of Law and Justice and de facto leader of Poland for the past eight years, has called Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Coalition, the “personification of pure evil” bent on undermining the faith and selling out his country to German interests. .

Piotr Zochowski, younger brother of Monika and Szymon, said he was displeased with the two main parties and voted for the Third Way, a centrist alliance that finished third with its promises to calm Poland’s bad-tempered divisions. “They are the least dangerous,” he said.

The demonization of Mr. Tusk as a traitor by the ruling party and the public broadcasting system it controls helped rally Law and Justice’s core supporters. But he alienated others in a country increasingly secular, connected to the outside world and increasingly resistant to divisive nationalist messages.

The father of old-school nationalism is Roman Dmowski, an early 20th-century politician who, after years of railing against Jews and Germany, died in Drozdowo in 1939. He is commemorated in a village museum displaying his death mask. The museum has been renovated and expanded with money from Law and Justice, which during the election campaign transferred many of Dmowski’s phobias, particularly his claims of internal enemies conspiring with Germany, to Mr. Tusk.

“Fang, fang, fang. That’s all they talk about. “I can’t take it anymore,” said the brothers’ father, Leszek Zochowski. A conservative but open-minded farmer, he voted for the Third Way to support one of its components, the Polish People’s Party, a stolid center-right element of Polish politics since the 19th century.

Monika left Drozdowo as a teenager to study, first in Warsaw and then in the United States and Spain. She now runs her own beauty products company. glov, in Warsaw, where he lives with his partner and their 3-year-old son. His company’s main product is a patented fiber cloth she developed for removing makeup.

Pregnant with a second child, she was worried about another victory for Law and Justice, which in 2020 pushed for a near-total ban on abortion that forced doctors to put the lives of unborn fetuses before the health of mothers. “I’m not young. I don’t feel safe having a child here,” she said. “They are fighting for the fetuses, not for me.”

But the main reason he voted for the Civic Coalition, he said, was that it “focuses on the future, rather than always focusing on the past,” meaning Poland’s painful history of occupation and dismemberment by foreign powers and the grievances fueled by the trauma of those events. They have left.

“If you tell people all the time that they are victims, they don’t see opportunities, only enemies,” he said.

Szymon also moved for a time to Warsaw, but then returned to Drozdowo to grow leeks on the family farm.

The farm is successful but it put him in a different world than his sister, who recently appeared in “The Wives of Warsaw a Polish version of an American reality show.

Szymon lives with his wife and three children in a house next to a yard the family uses to store farm equipment. He attends mass regularly.

His main political concern is protecting Polish farmers, which is why he voted for the Confederation, a right-wing rebel alliance that attacked Ukrainian grain imports, even though he had previously stood in local elections for Law and Justice.

Law and Justice banned the import of Ukrainian grain in September, but Szymon said it should have acted sooner rather than waiting until the final month of the campaign.

The farm is not a big grain producer, but what it produced this year is sitting unsold in a barn because the market price has dropped due to Ukrainian imports, he said.

Szymon also distrusts the European Union. He said he stayed away from stores like German-owned Lidl and French-owned Carrefour because he “prefers Polish products.” His sister, who sells his products in dozens of countries, has no problems shopping in foreign supermarkets.

Despite political differences, Monika tries to see and maintain good relations with her family. She visits Drozdowo regularly, convinced that one of Poland’s biggest problems is that much of the population has stopped communicating with each other.

“I’m very proud of where I come from,” she said, “I want to show people that a girl from a small town in eastern Poland can achieve something big in an ethical and hard-working way.”

One of the main reasons Law and Justice managed to win the previous two elections, he said, was that the liberal opposition, centered in Warsaw, showed “enormous arrogance” toward conservative voters.

In a mistake similar to Hillary Clinton’s description of Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables,” Tusk offended millions of Poles in 2005 by dismissing conservatives as a “mohair coalition,” a reference to berets. mohair that many older women wear to church. . Tusk apologized, but struggled for years to shake off an image of haughty contempt for much of the population.

Resentment persists among some in Drozdowo. Monika and Szymon’s cousin, Magda Zakrzewska, 42, married a local resident and lives opposite the village church with her three children. She said she would never vote for Tusk or his allies because “they can’t be trusted” and “they look down on people like us.”

She and her husband, Sylwester, 45, voted for Law and Justice.

Sylwester said he understood why Monika supported the opposition and its promises to repair deteriorated relations with Brussels. “Everyone looks out for their own interests,” he said.

Monika’s father and her mother, Elzbieta, 62, do not agree with their daughter’s politics, but are very proud of her success in Warsaw. Seeing little to like about Law and Justice, despite sharing many of their conservative views, they say Poland would be a much healthier democracy if people accepted their differences rather than turning politics into an existential struggle between the good and evil.

“As you can see,” Leszek said, “there is no party discipline in this family.”

Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting from Warsaw.

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