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Populism in Poland

Tuesday, 2 February 2021, 17:00 GMT

While populist political forces have gained ground throughout Europe, it is perhaps in Poland (along with Hungary) that they have achieved the greatest success. The populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) is the largest political party in the Polish parliament and the dominant party of the United Right ruling coalition. The aim of this seminar – the latest in the FATIGUE-POPREBEL Seminar Series – is to present cutting-edge research on the various strategies used by populists in Poland from researchers from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network on ‘Delayed Transformational Fatigue in Central and Eastern Europe: Responding to the Rise of Illiberalism/Populism’ (FATIGUE) and the Horizon 2020-funded project ‘Populist rebellion against modernity in 21st-century Eastern Europe: neo-traditionalism and neo-feudalism’ (POPREBEL).

Chair/discussant: Prof. Jan Kubik, UCL/Rutgers

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Alexandra Yatsyk: Biopolitical Populism in Poland: The Case of PiS

This presentation examines the discourse of PiS party in Poland as a form of biopolitical populism. I view this phenomenon as a specific style of political discourse rather than an ideology, that, first, focuses on bodily issues, including family and gender policy, sexual behaviour, etc., second, is inherently performative and as such it appeals to emotions, and, third, directly communicates with “people” while circumventing the existing institutional framework of the state. Based on the cases of PiS rhetoric on the Smolensk catastrophe, and its narratives on gender and anti-LGBTQ issues, I demonstrate how the latter could be used for political othering and for subverting the core democratic principles.

Alexandra Yatsyk is a Research Fellow at Free Russia Foundation. She received her PhD in Sociology from Kazan State University, Russia, and runs the Kazan Center for Cultural Studies of Post-Socialism. She has served as a researcher, a visiting fellow and a lecturer at Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu (Estonia), the University of Warsaw and the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies (Poland), the Uppsala Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (Sweden), the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (Austria), the University of Tampere (Finland), George Washington University (DC, USA) and the Center for Urban History of East-Central Europe at Lviv (Ukraine). Her areas of expertise are in post-Soviet nation building, Russian influence in Europe, sports and cultural mega-events, biopolitics and art. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including recently co-authored the Critical Biopolitics of the Post-Soviet: from Population to Nation (Lexington, 2019),  Lotman’s Cultural Semiotics and the Political (Rowman and Littlefield International, 2017), and co-edited Mega-Events in Post-Soviet Eurasia: Shifting Borderlines of Inclusion and Exclusion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), New and Old Vocabularies of International Relations After the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge, 2016) and Boris Nemtsov and Russian Politics: Power and Resistance (Ibidem & Columbia University, 2018).

Olena Yermakova (Jagiellonian): Deconstructing populist discourse in Poland. Looking for an uncommon enemy

The aim of this presentation is to explore how and why different groups are ‘othered’ by right-wing populist actors in contemporary Poland. Following the ideational approach to populism (Mudde and Kaltwasser), I see ‘othering’ as a tool to construct an ‘enemy/alien’, which is an element of right-wing populist discourse and worldview. The discourse producer that I focus on is the current ruling Polish party, Law and Justice (PiS), which has successfully utilised exclusionary populist discourse in multiple electoral campaigns. The groups that are the object of ‘othering’ discourse and therefore my research are LGBT Poles and immigrants. By conducting Critical Discourse Analysis (using Ruth Wodak and Martin Reisigl’s analytical framework) of selected texts and visuals from the party’s official website and the Twitter accounts of its prominent members, I analyse by which discursive means the party representatives ‘other’ LGBT Poles, how they frame anti-LGBT rhetoric within their broader populist discourse and instrumentalise it for political gains. I compare my findings to the findings from an analysis of Law and Justice’s anti-migration discourse ahead of the 2015 parliamentary election, and draw comparisons. The study is conducted within a larger study on ‘othering’ and enemisation as manifestations of contemporary right-wing populist discourse in Central and Eastern Europe.

Olena Yermakova is a FATIGUE Early Stage Researcher working on the topic ‘Escape from liberalism. The right-wing turn in Central and Eastern Europe and the problem of ‘otherness’’. She is currently based in Krakow, Poland, where she is studying for her PhD at the Jagiellonian University. Prior to her PhD, Olena studied languages at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. In addition to her studies, she was an active member of the European Youth Parliament NGO, was elected to the Board of the Ukrainian branch of the organisation twice and organised international educational conferences for young people. This experience sparked her interest in European affairs, prompting her to study for an MA in European Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of Europe in Natolin (Warsaw) and develop an interest in Central Europe as well as Migration Studies. In between her degrees, she worked for the press team of the Ukrainian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, gaining experience in government and political communications.

Łucja Piekarska-Duraj (Jagiellonian): Fingers crossed and bound by rosaries. Symbols and power in state-church relations in Poland.       

Religion and the national state have many connections which are mutually legitimizing. Yet for the power between them to be shared, a common vision structuring the diversity of the social world must first be established and transmitted. Populism supports a vision of the world based on traditionalist values, whereby extreme normativism (a form of politics where social norms should dominate over individual freedoms) is promoted as a means for sustaining social integration. Eventually a program of homogenizing identities constructed mainly with reference to so-called “shared” values becomes an effective means of managing the country. Such identity politics is applied inter alia to the discourse of heritage, where the past is sanctified and solidified so as to provide tools for attractive P.R. The aim of this presentation is to focus on some of the symbolic ways in which populism is strengthened by the mutual legitimization of the Polish state and the Catholic church.  I will discuss my working hypotheses, which highlight the processes of the mythologization of heritage, making it a timeless (and vulnerable) resource as well as a traditionalist worldview, where social roles seem to be non-negotiable and common sense becomes a crucial factor for collective identity formation. I will also examine two phenomena which directly combine Polishness with Catholicism: the prophecy and prayer movement (JP II Houses of Prayer) and the Temple of Providence, a site of “fulfilling the promise”. These two examples will shed light on how the national community is imagined, so that it can provide content for populist politics. Finally I will briefly mention some symbolic practices which support the homogenizing processes (prefiguration, simplified memorizing and metonymy).

Łucja Piekarska-Duraj, Ph.D. is a social anthropologist affiliated with Jagiellonian University (Krakow, PL) as well as independent consultant in heritage interpretation. In her recent book The Invisible Hand of Europe. The Museum as a Civilizing Tool (Peter Lang 2020) she examines processes of heritage Europeanization in museums with regard to Europe’s core metaphors. She is currently involved in research on populism in Poland and especially its connections with the Catholic Church as part of POPREBEL (H2020)