Poland’s Law and Justice government, which came to power in October last year, has carried out a number of reforms which have attracted international attention, notably judicial and media reforms which have been the subject of an inquiry by the European Commission. Magdalena Mikulak argues that the government’s vision of change has left little room for alternative views and values, noting that there are now legitimate concerns about the effects of these reforms on Polish society and women in particular.
Following its election victory in October 2015, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has been on an offensive that has left many people, both inside and outside of the country, concerned about the future of Polish democracy. The blitzkrieg of ‘good change’ (PiS’s campaign slogan) included effectively paralysing the Constitutional Tribunal – which sparked protests across the country – taking over the public media, and a major reshuffling of the administration.
The constitutional crisis around the Tribunal continues and it can only be described as a political stalemate where the compromise called for by the Venice Commission that ruled on the issue on 11 March is nowhere in sight and the attitude of Jarosław Kaczyński, the party’s leader, can best be described by a line from one of the most famous Polish comedies of all times, Sami swoi (All Friends Here): ‘Sąd sądem, a sprawiedliwość musi być po naszej stronie’ which loosely translates as ‘No matter what the court orders, justice must be on our side’. For now, the drama and the protests continue.
In between the political battles around the Tribunal, the effects of the ‘too good to be true’ change are becoming more and more apparent. The government has found time to:
- Cut the funding to the Commissioner For Human Rights office, by 7 million zlotys (£1.25 million);
- advocate the removal from the rankings of academic journals ‘some lesbian and gay studies’;
- encourage single mothers ‘to stabilise their family situation and have more children’ in order to become eligible for certain benefits (the so called 500+ programme);
- allocate 26 million zlotys (£4.7 million) to Lux Veritatis, a foundation co-founded and chaired by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a man behind the ultra-conservative Catholic radio (Radio Maryja) and TV (Telewizja Trwam) stations, both of which frequently host members of PiS;
- call for further restrictions in the current abortion law, for as Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a PiS MP, opined: ‘The vast majority of MPs expressed a clear position that it [the abortion law] should be limited’; with a newly proposed civic bill this might soon become a reality;
- announce that the morning after pill will no longer be available prescription-free.
At the same time, the social promises – according to many a deciding factor behind the PiS victory in the election – are yet to be fulfilled. In her first speech as Prime Minister, Beata Szydło promised to increase minimal pensions, the 2016 pensions valorisation has been predicted to be at the 0.24 per cent level. This is all in a context where low pensions are a real problem that affect many, with women being particularly vulnerable to what has been branded ‘retirement poverty‘
The average pension in 2014 in Poland was worth 1,653,03 zlotys (£300) for a woman and 2,394,84 zlotys (£435) for a man per month. Such disparity in pension benefits is a result of many factors, including the gender pay gap which was 12 per cent for 2012, the disproportionate burden of care work that women bear as well as, and directly related to, the overall lower employment rate of women – in 2013 the employment rate for working age women was 62.2 per cent and 70.4 per cent for working age men.
It is also evident, that PiS’s flagship initiative, the hotly debated Rodzina 500+ (Family 500+) programme, which was instrumental in the party’s election success, will do little to improve the situation of women in the labour market. Arguably, it will also do very little to address the issue it was designed to tackle. Nevertheless, its consequences will be far-reaching. Family 500+, is PiS’s response to the problem of Poland’s low fertility rate (one of the lowest in the EU, 1.32 vs. 1.58 EU average) and it is to go live in April.
The initiative started off as promising ‘500 zlotys (around £90) a month for every child’. This has since been downgraded to 500 zlotys for every second and next child, unless your income is lower than 800 zlotys (around £145) per family member per month (1,200 zlotys, or around £218, in case of a child with disability). In this case you would receive the 500 zlotys for every child, including the first one.
According to the government, as well as increasing the birth rate, the programme is also aimed at supporting Polish families. However, with the addition of an income threshold, in effect, a single parent (still most often a woman) with one child, who earns anything above 1,600 zlotys (around £290) a month will not be entitled to the new benefit, while a couple with 3 children will receive 1,000 zlotys per month regardless of their income per family member.
One of the predicted results of 500+ will also be a decrease of the female employment rate as for low-income families it might make more sense for the parent earning less (usually the mother) to stay at home – currently the minimum wage is 1,850 zlotys (£340) per month before tax, but for people entering the job market it can be as low as 1,480 zlotys (£270) per month. This in turn will affect women’s ability to save up for their pensions as well as diminishing their future employment prospects. In the election campaign, PiS also promised to bring the retirement age down to 60 years for women and 65 for men, returning to what it was before the current 67 years for both genders was established in 2013; this would further deepen the retirement poverty problem for women.
The total cost of the 500+ initiative for 2016 is estimated to be over 17 billion zlotys (over £3 billion) and since the programme will begin from the second quarter of the year, it will increase to 22 billion zlotys in 2017. At the same time, there is no evidence that direct cash transfers have any significant effect on actual birth rate: rather, what works and what Poland needs is gender equality in the workplace and in society at large. However, with such a high cost of the 500+ programme there will be little left to invest in solutions that would promote the latter.
The evidence suggests that ‘women in societies that promote traditional values towards family and gender equality ironically postpone or abstain from childbearing’ – the effects of which are visible in Poland. Of course evidence only matters when someone is actually trying to increase the birth rate, which makes it irrelevant to PiS’s project. There is no doubt that the programme, rather than addressing a pressing demographic issue, is yet another tool in an ideological toolkit that promotes and rewards a very traditional model of a patriarchal family which envisions women in a heterosexual marriage, at home, with children – the plans to take away what little reproductive rights they have will surely help to achieve this.
Thus, five months after the elections it is painfully clear that PiS’s vision of Poland is a radical one that leaves no room for alternative views and values. That PiS throws money at religious fanatics, shuns single mothers, has no regard for women’s reproductive rights and no interest in LGBT issues is perhaps less surprising than its attempts to dismantle the rule of law; calling this ‘good change’ adds insult to injury.
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Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
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Magdalena Mikulak – LSE
Magdalena Mikulak is a PhD Candidate at the Gender Institute at LSE conducting research on religiously motivated sexual orientation conversion therapy and LGBT movement in contemporary Poland. She is an editor for Engenderings. Her research interests include sexuality, religion, post-socialism, LGBTQI activism, Central and Eastern Europe, social change and class.
What is wrong with encouraging Polish women to have more children? Poland averages 1.3 children per woman, a long way toward replacement of the existing population. If children are not born, there will be no one to work for the retirees. Does the author of this article not understand simple aritmethics? Has political correctness so clouded her mind that she does not see the revitalizing role the present government plays in Poland’s survival?
There is nothing wrong with women wanting more children.
Only when it’s done for the wrong intentions.
Poland is well known for this action.
Children growing up without a father due to corrupt law system and judges.
Poor quality article and one with an agenda of discrediting the current government thorough misinformation.. The 500+ program is not even operational at this moment. It starts on April 1. It is too early to speculate what its consequences will be. In any way, the Law and Justice government will be monitoring these consequences and reacting if any unbeneficial trends appear. The author is too much ideologically influenced. Most of the policies that the author tries to scare us with are not in operation as well, they are not even on the agenda of the government. They are just pronouncements of various private citizens.
Sometimes, I get the impression that the author would like the Poles to starve to death, hence the vicious critique of 500+ program. People in Poland are fed up with this kind of scorn towards working families.
I do not see a future in Poland for parties like PO (Civic Platform) or Nowoczesna (the Modern) if all they can do is to manage international campaigns of hate against the current Polish government. Nature does not tolerate vacuum and hopefully some new forces emerge that will be able to accept democratic rules of game and play a fair opposition vis a vis the Law and Justice government. Total opposition that is destructive and on a rope of foreign interest exercised now by the opposition will not relate to the Polish public. People do not want PO or Nowoczesna (old politicians in new uniforms), these politicians were in power for the last 20 years and blew they chances. They have shown on many occasions that they do not care about the welfare of the Polish people. And this is why the Law and Justice is in power because the Law and Justice proves that it has a welfare program for the Poles and it has hard working people ready to work and implement economically developmental, welfare and better law schemes. It seems that the Law and Justice will be for a long time in power in Poland considering that there is intellectual emptiness and corruption among the parties of the opposition. People see that the Law and Justice work hard and care about the rank and file Poles while the rest of poetical body, except Kukiz 15 Party, exercise unconstructive ‘total opposition’.
Nobody in Poland cares about the Constitutional Court, its judges have proved that they are an old post-communist judges.The Polish Constitution promises social justice, the Constitutional Court has failed and has never investigated any law passed that ran against social justice. Why? These are fat cats that earn 20 thousand zl per month and do nothing. The opposition parties like PO or Nowoczesna wanted to make a third chamber of parliament out of the Constitutional Tribunal and paralyse the new government. Now, it seems that the Tribunal paralysed itself by betraying its mission and trying to play politics.
A good article would have to point out that not all parties of the opposition play the game of ‘total opposition’. Kukiz 15 is in opposition but nonetheless, has a legal and political program and behaves like a normal political party.
What a wonderful analysis! Hope this opens the eyes of the very ppl that sit and think like a frog inside a well! Dziękuję Pani za post! Teraz wszyscy anglojęzycznych będą w stanie zrozumieć co się dzieje w Polsce.
Very well put. The protest actions against the TK changes have meant several other issues are not being addressed, notably women’s and LGBT rights
Kind of surprised by the reaction from Mr Franz. I see more facts in the article itself then in his reaction. Not to mention “the agenda” he is talking about.
I am a foreigner living in Poland and therefor very much interested in the political situation here. I try to talk with every side of the political spectrum, read as much comments from both sides. All to get my own opinion about what is happening here and why.
Let me tell you what i noticed in the last few months and i will try to be objective:
– The government got absolute power by aprox 19% of the electorate. Means that 3/4 of all person who are allowed to vote did not vote for PiS
– A president should be the president of all Poles and eventual foreign citizens. I see a president which defends only his own supporters.
– EU rules are taken only 1 way: take our rights and refuse our obligations
– Discrimination: women, gays, fugitives, foreigners,……..
– Abusive language used by governmental bodies towards KOD and opposition.
– The mentioned 500+ program changed after the elections > mandate?
– Credit rating S&P downgraded.
– Did the government receive a mandate for the changes they do now? I cant find them anywhere, please help here
As you can see it is hard for me to understand the reason behind this all. Why do i see an abusive government? Why do they try to take full control? Why they change so many people? They are really better? The only answer i received was that “they did it in the past as well”.
Based on your 19% electorate mental gymnastics I instantly know you have an agenda. Pis got 37,5% votes and majority in parliament. DEAL WITH IT. No mental gymnastics are going to change it. Like for example claiming that everyone who did not vote for them is somehow ultra leftist lgbt activist. Most of the country is right wing.
EU rules broken, let me guess. Refugees? That is not eu rule. That is dictatorship of one old crazy german woman breaking the law and flooding EU with illegals againt the will of at least half of EU population.
Blatant lie about discrimination. No special treatment does not mean discrimination. It is called equality you leftist. True equality, not the one the left promotes where white men are removed from the world.
It is the previous government and their militia (KOD) that brought all the hate into politics. Do I need to remind you how they gloated about presidents accident? They are the ones in total offensive mode with their media and their hate. Insulting everything that is polish and has any value. There is nothing left sacred for them that they have not insulted.
They change so many people because Poland had insane levels of corruption for past 8 years. When there is cancer you cut it all out.
Your post is a wall of lies. Poland is right wing. Deal with it. That is how we like it. Left is tiny minority and they will not get in power for a long time. Leftists like you claim to respect many cultures. Well then respect ours.
Thanks for your reaction. It is always good to get input from all sides. Only wonder why you put so much hate between the lines.
Your government is elected in a democratic way. Majority, electoral rules and – how pity it is for Poland- a very low % of people who came to vote. A higher percentage would make the mandate for your government much bigger (or smaller of course).
I fully agree that in the last years the government made mistakes. (as well in the previous PiS government years). Corruption level was high, but changing persons on high public positions to friends of the party is not so much different, or? Do not have this wishful thinking please that there wont be corruption now, like there is in all other countries.
One of the biggest mistakes what i see, again from the outside world, in the last few years, is that the Polish hard working lower and middle class did not benefit from the great economical growth in Poland. Remember: you were one of the best performing countries lately.
Coming back to your reply on my post: when you think that it was a wall of lies, then please have a close look in the media to find out whether you are correct in this. Listen to the interviews given by the PiS prominent politicians in the last few months and you will find out that there is no lie written above. Just facts.
To my agenda: yes….i have an agenda! Since 25 years i visit Poland for business as well private, which ended up by moving to Poland. . During all those years i saw this beautiful country growing to how it is now. Saw the people being more and more proud, Saw the signs of the economical growth. Saw the infrastructure getting better and better. Saw huge numbers of Poles working in other EU countries and they became an important part of the local society. Saw you football team getting stronger. Saw etc etc etc.
Let me be worried please, with or without a preference of what kind of government whatsoever! Let me be worried that to my opinion Poland is going to the wrong direction. That to my opinion the governments strategy is based on revenge. That to my opinion i see too much change of facts by the current government. That to my opinion the country i see as my 2nd home, the country i love so much, the country i present to everyone as one of the best ever, the country of which i am proud of…..that this country is making itself ridiculous in the world, that this country is on the way to go back 25 years in time. That is my opinion…deal with it.
How curious that suddenly there is all the care about the low election turnout in Poland. The turnouts were even lower in the past, but nobody seemed to worry about that. I guess, as long as your party wins, you do not care. If I was the opposition, I would not count so much for those that did not vote. If Poland had the compulsory voting system, the current opposition would have at most 10 seats, not more in the parliament. Those who do not vote are those who lost all hope. Poland went through a lot over the last 26 or so years.
The outrage about the last government is not even about its corruption but the fact that the previous government refused to investigate the cases of corruption. Nobody was investigated or punished. So I guess nothing happened according to the previous government. There is huge no pasaran on this in the Polish public.
You write that lower class did not benefit for the positive changes in Poland. This is understatement. My father had worked for 50 years and died in poverty. I supported him when he was fragile, no government support. Meanwhile, as somebody note here, the communist murderers were living their last days in opulence. The communist thug that smashed my dad teeth in 1947 educated his grandchildren in Cambridge on a scholarship exchange administered by former communists, now big democrats (!?). I learned English just listening to jammed radio broadcasts but never had a chance to go to uni because my family was politically suspect and got a wolf’s ticket, if you know what this term means.
The current government is based on tapping into Poland’s resources like educated population and strong work ethic. The previous government strategy was to rely on the EU handouts and exporting people out of Poland.
Thank Zygmunt, nice to receive a reaction without blaiming:-).
Re the election turnout. A higher would give a better view how Poland really looks like.
Fyi: years ago i married a beautiful polish woman and the story you wrote about your father can be copied in her family. As someone from the western part of Europe it is hard to understand that this was your daily life.
I really do my best to understand the current situation in Poland. I agree that things must be improved, better. But why every discussion i have about this subject i hear that “in the past the others did worse”. “The previous government did also wrong”. “It is pay-back time….”. It seems like feelings of revenge. Thinking in the past, not about the future…the future of Poland.
Next to that when i discuss this subject face to face with my pro-government family members or friends i do not hear arguments which could justify the behavior of the current leadership in Poland, the things they say about the opposition, KOD group, people who protest in the streets etc.. But most important i do not hear arguments which could justify f.e. the media changes, not publishing the TK ruling, changing public management and so on. The only thing i hear is “that the others did the same, this is just a correction”.
I really really hope for the future of Poland that these revenge feelings, this living in the past, the blame games etc will be over soon.(both sides!) I hope that soon people come back to normal, not talking about winning or loosing and work together on Poland’s future. Now everybody is loosing and nobody wants that.
Thank you for this article. Please add to it the most drastic action of all – the logging of the Białowieża Primeval Forest, which can only be compared to the Taliban destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. More information here (Polish): http://naukatolubie.pl/o-wycince-puszczy-slow-kilka/ and here (English): http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/26/poland-approves-large-scale-logging-in-europes-last-primeval-forest?CMP=share_btn_fb
Yea, the logging of the Bialowieza forest and the Taliban. Another insult. Go to Bialowieza forest and help save the forest if you know how. The forest is dying in part as the winters there have been extremely mild and parts of the forest got infested. The forest did not get infested in a few months, so what were your left-wing governments doing over the last few years?
The forest can be saved exactly by cutting the most infested areas. The fate of the forest is in the hands of the local people and experts who have lived in the area for generations. They know better what to do now than you.
As for the Guardian, well in 1945 the official position of the Guardian was that Poland should be the 17th Soviet Republic. Luckily, there were true patriots in Poland in 1945-1951 who fought arms in their hands against the Soviet and Polish communist units and against the incorporation of Poland into the Soviet Union and the Soviets dropped the idea. I remind you that the bodies of those heroes still lie in unmarked, often hidden on purpose, dog holes and any of your post-1989 governments did not care about this. In contrast, the left-wing governments gave fat pensions to the executioners of these patriots.
Actually, no, the local people don’t know better than me, Franz. I have a doctorate in zoology from Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, and I really do have the credentials to speak up in this matter. I represent the voice of science (and I do not stand alone!) – but this voice seems to be completely ignored by the government. Unlike you, I am not afraid to sign my full name under my posts.
The beetle outbreak are recurring every few years and are a natural part of the forest processes. The difference between a plantation, grown purely for timber, and a primeval forest, is that the value of the latter comes from the fact that it has been untouched. It therefore needs to be managed completely differently.
Just one quick question for the author. Where is your data supporting the claims you are making? Article without supporting references and statistics is nothing but an opinion. Should you chose to present us with supporting factual informatio, please use Polish sources as it is the best practice in journalism to go to the source.
It’s so funny looking at what is now a piece of history.
2014 – 400,000 children had meat on the table only twice a week. Cool story, Liberal Democracy!
50,000 low end tenants were evicted in Warsaw alone in Europe’s biggest real estate scandal, engineered by Tusk’s legislation and put into practice by Liberal city administration in Warsaw and elsewhere. The scandal finished off the Liberal mayor of Warsaw Grontkiewicz-Waltz, as she stole a Holocaust asset! A tenants’ rights activist was murdered by the property mafia, who got away with massive theft (worth billions) thanks to corrupt judges and public officials.
It was discovered that GBP 50 billion went walkabouts under Liberal rule. Mostly to organised crime.
Donald Tusk’s close involvement in the Amber Gold scandal was made clear.
Tusk’s direct involvement in allowing massive illegal importation of Russian fuel in road tankers was made clear.
Poland’s economic growth figures were rebased – taking out all the false figures that Tusk used (Tusk: robust growth and 2 million emigrated, fleeing unemployment!!). Robust real growth was achieved.
I could go on.