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The Redemocratization of Poland

In recent years, one democratic country after another has been tempted – sometimes fatefully so – by the allure of authoritarian populists promising to defend voters’ economic security and “traditional” values. Since its general election in October, Poland has moved in the opposite direction, though restoring the rule of law and reinvigorating liberal democracy after eight years of right-wing populist misrule is unlikely to be a straightforward process.

Irena Grudzińska Gross: With the arrival of 2024, Poland has a new coalition government, but the ousted Law and Justice party (PiS) doesn’t seem to have come to terms with their loss. Why?

Adam Michnik: It’s very difficult to admit defeat when you are convinced that you will be in power until the end of the world. The arrogance, megalomania, and lack of imagination of the PiS leadership is in full view again. PiS had a very good electoral result – over 35% of the vote. After what they did while in power, they shouldn’t have had a fifth of those votes. But the result of this election is transparent – they got a red card. They were unable to form a government.

Yet this is just the beginning of the ride, because PiS will try to rock the boat as much as possible in an effort to overturn the new government. Now everything depends on the extent to which the new government can change Poland and attract some of the PiS electorate. It can be said that the worst is behind us but the toughest lies ahead.

IGG: How different is the current political change from the exit from communism in 1989?

AM: Radically different. Back then, the regime was collapsing; it was a constitutional, historical moment. The dictatorship was headed by people who knew that the project of socialism or communism had lost. They wondered how to find a place for themselves in the new reality and were ready to respect the rules of the game.