Populist Party Campaigns On Making Poland Great Again

Nov 15, 2016

Poland elected a right-wing, populist government last year. And Polish leaders have voiced anti-globalization and anti-abortion themes that are not so different from those embraced by the Trump campaign.

The ruling Law and Justice Party has vowed to restore and protect traditional Polish identity and values.

But even Poles on the right of the political spectrum have concerns about Trump and what they perceive as his cozy relationship with Russia. They say Russia can't be trusted and are especially nervous after Russia's land grab in Ukraine.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Neighboring Poland elected its own right-wing populist government last year, and Polish leaders have voiced anti-globalization and anti-abortion themes that are not so different from those embraced by the Trump campaign. But as Joanna Kakissis reports from Warsaw, even Poles on the right of the political spectrum have concerns about Trump and Russia.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Last Friday as Poland celebrated its Independence Day, tens of thousands of Polish nationalists marched through Warsaw.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Polish).

KAKISSIS: Most were young men setting off flares and chanting slogans like, God, fatherland, honor and, no Islam in Poland.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

KAKISSIS: In the crowd is Mieszko Wojtowicz, a long-haired 17 year old.

What do you think of Donald Trump?

MIESZKO WOJTOWICZ: Oh, he's great. He's a great leader. He has so very good ideas how to improve the life of Americans.

KAKISSIS: Barbara Dluzewska stands out in the sea of young men, a physics teacher in her 50s. She's a supporter of the ruling Law and Justice party which wants a complete ban on abortion and strict limits on refugees.

BARBARA DLUZEWSKA: (Speaking Polish).

KAKISSIS: Dluzewska says tradition Polish family values must be protected. This Poland first agenda may sound like Trump's America first slogan, but Dluzewska still has her doubts about Donald Trump.

DLUZEWSKA: (Speaking Polish).

KAKISSIS: She's heard he's cozy with Vladimir Putin, who she thinks is undemocratic and bent on building an empire. The Polish government shares Dluzewska's concerns. Last week, Poland's president, Andrzej Duda, reminded Trump that Poland and the United States have a strategic relationship.

Together with NATO, the U.S. has pledged to beef up the defense of Poland and its neighbors who are nervous after Russia's land grab in Ukraine. Government spokesman Marek Magierowski told Polish radio that he hopes Trump will not change that course.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAREK MAGIEROWSKI: (Through interpreter) Changing U.S. foreign policy is not like steering a little motorboat. It's like an aircraft carrier. Even Donald Trump can't change direction dramatically on his own.

KAKISSIS: Editor Jacek Karnowski runs a conservative weekly. He says Russia cannot be trusted and hopes Trump soon realizes that.

JACEK KARNOWSKI: When you have no illusions, you could have dialogue with Russia. But if they feel weakness, they will exploit it to the end.

KAKISSIS: And as we chat in a Warsaw cafe, Karnowski tells me Trump tapped into frustration with what he calls the liberal elite.

KARNOWSKI: In Poland, we've had the same situation. It was revolt against arrogance, revolt for justice, social justice, economic justice, for chances for poorer regions, villages, small cities.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Polish).

KAKISSIS: The nationalists were not the only ones celebrating Independence Day. Agata Czarnacka sang resistance songs with the leftists. The young academic says she hopes any Trump-Putin connection won't set Poland back decades.

AGATA CZARNACKA: Fingers crossed nothing happens. I hope that we are all attached to the peace, of global peace and global community.

KAKISSIS: But she does fear that dealing with the new American president will distract the EU which up till now has been pressuring the Polish government to preserve civil liberties and democracy. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Warsaw. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.