In The Atlantic , historian Anne Applebaum offers a detailed and harrowing account of how Poland evolved from an emerging liberal-democratic country in the post-communist 1990s, to the quasi-authoritarian right-wing state that it is today. Applebaum has both a scholarly and personal perspective on the changes in Poland, as her husband served as the foreign minister of the country for a number of years during this period. In her account, Applebaum emphasizes how Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party rose to power by deploying highly polarizing conspiracy theories, and shows how the party has sought to reshape Polish society to reward party loyalty rather than competence or expertise. Here’s an excerpt:
This is not 1937. Nevertheless, a parallel transformation is taking place in my own time, in the Europe that I inhabit and in Poland, a country whose citizenship I have acquired. And it is taking place without the excuse of an economic crisis of the kind Europe suffered in the 1930s. Poland’s economy has been the most consistently successful in Europe over the past quarter century. Even after the global financial collapse in 2008, the country saw no recession. What’s more, the refugee wave that has hit other European countries has not been felt here at all. There are no migrant camps, and there is no Islamist terrorism, or terrorism of any kind.
More important, though the people I am writing about here, the nativist ideologues, are perhaps not all as successful as they would like to be (about which more in a minute), they are not poor and rural, they are not in any sense victims of the political transition, and they are not an impoverished underclass. On the contrary, they are educated, they speak foreign languages, and they travel abroad—just like Sebastian’s friends in the 1930s.
What has caused this transformation? Were some of our friends always closet authoritarians? Or have the people with whom we clinked glasses in the first minutes of the new millennium somehow changed over the subsequent two decades? My answer is a complicated one, because I think the explanation is universal. Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all societies eventually will.
Image via The Atlantic.