Poland’s generational shift

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The 21 October election in Poland was of historical significance as it was the first in which the 18-year-old first-time voters were born after the end of communist rule in 1989, writes Krzysztof Bobinski for Open Democracy.

The main consequence of this is that “the legitimacy which most politicians […] derive from their record in the struggle against communism is becoming an abstraction”, he adds. 

The November analysis remarks that there is a lingering euphoria in Poland after the election, which got rid of the Law and Justice (PiS) government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski. 

Bobinski argues that the election of Civic Platform (PO) “lifted the gloom” among those who hoped that Poland’s EU accession would lead to a “modern, outward-looking society”, and that the president Lech Kaczynski’s “sullen silence” following the result will “be enough to demolish [his] chances of re-election” in 2010. 

However, he warns that there must also be “a touch of caution”, describing the PO’s victory as a reflection of “a desire to get rid of the incumbents” rather than a conviction that the PO comprises higher quality politicians. 

Moreover, he claims that the PO has “never been very strong on the need to combat corruption” and must not now let the issue slip from its agenda. 

Bobinski predicts that the period of economic growth that Poland is enjoying will continue “for another year or two”. As EU structural funds for 2007-2013 begin to take effect, if the government introduces a “coherent programme involving cost-cutting public-spending reforms, privatisation and more foreign investment”, then the boom could continue and “deliver an election victory in 2011”, he adds. 

In this election, the mobilisation of young people was unprecedented, Bobinski claims, citing the notion that the PiS’s “traditionalist, xenophobic approach in domestic and foreign policy” threatened their future as citizens of “a normal European country in a normal Europe” as a motivation. 

The author believes that “this new generation has yet to articulate its detailed concerns and its leaders have yet to emerge”. However, the election did provide them with an opportunity to show that that “they don’t want their elders to blight their future with their complexes about the outside world and their anachronistic feuds”. 

Bobinski concludes that the security of EU membership was the decisive factor in this phenomenon, and thus the choices of young people in places like Moldova, Ukraine and Russia may be more authoritarian. 

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