Acton Institute Powerblog

Poland’s young people love free markets, not fascism: A view from Poland

According to the international media, Poland’s March of Independence this weekend portends a growing threat of fascism in Eastern Europe. However, the media accounts may not be entirely accurate, and Polish young people fervently reject the underpinnings of fascism – because of their support for the free market.

Polish writer Marcin Rzegocki explores international media coverage of this weekend’s Polish Independence Day march in a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic. He finds that “Poland’s March of Independence was not like it’s being portrayed.” He writes:

The march has been portrayed by the mainstream media, both Polish and foreign, as a mass exercise in hatred and bigotry. This criticism was often based more on oversimplifications and stereotypes than a true accounting of all the facts. Indeed, some of the articles are not based on facts at all. … CNN and The Washington Post published articles suggesting that the march’s motto was “Pray for Islamic Holocaust,” something later shared on social media by former Hillary Clinton spokesman Jesse Lenrich. In fact, this phrase was taken from a banner hung at an entirely different rally, in the city of Poznań, in 2015.

The march is a fast-growing but relatively new phenomenon, he notes, one that has taken on an air of defiance as Poles who uphold traditional values and pro-liberty philosophies felt increasingly isolated:

The march, which takes place in Warsaw, has grown over the last decade from hundreds of participants to more than 70,000 in 2016. This year nearly 60,000 mostly young people and families participated. It has also grown into an ever-larger symbol of resistance by the younger generation to the ideologies of socialism, atheism, gender fluidity, multiculturalism, and new models to replace the traditional family. It is true that the march was originally organized by the National Radical Camp and All-Polish Youth, two nationalist associations, and some of the marchers held indefensible views. Nevertheless, since 2010 the March of Independence has attracted generally patriotic Poles who do not share those organizations’ agendas. It has instead become the marchers’ expression of their belief in the traditional values of faith, family, and patriotism (not nationalism). It grew into a protest against leftist culture during the most recent administration of the left-wing Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, or PO) from 2007 to 2015. This year’s march slogan was “We Want God” – the opening words of a famous Catholic hymn quoted by President Donald Trump during his speech in Warsaw earlier this year.

Poland has been presented as teetering on the edge of fascism due to the actions of its ruling Law and Justice Party. The party has been accused of threatening the independence of the judiciary and trying to curtail the freedom of the press.

There is clear reason for hope, Rzegocki writes. After analyzing copious amounts of polling data compiled over the course of 27 years, Marcin finds that young Polish voters reject the party heartily – and not just for civil libertarian reasons. Young Poles have shifted away from describing themselves as “on the Right” because of the party’s intervention in the economy.

Their love of the free market may help Poland stave off the allegedly growing threat of fascism.

Marcin writes:

This change is significant, if viewed through contemporary Polish politics. Young people in Poland shifting from “Right” to “undecided” is, by some observers, associated with the fact that the major party that is identified with the Right, Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), is de facto in favor of state intervention in economics. Young people who support the free market reject the party on these grounds. …  International observers concerned about the Law and Justice Party should be pleased that young people support free markets and, on that basis, other political options. Supporting the market distances voters from any historic form of fascism. Without that viewpoint, events may indeed push them one day to embrace the very political and cultural options that observers fear.

Read his full essay here.

(Photo credit: Cinematographer / Shutterstock.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.