Poland’s Far-Right Advances on Anti-Ukraine Sentiment (2024)

Support for the governing right-wing party is stalling as radical populists attack Ukraine and the cost of living.

Since the beginning of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, Poland has emerged as a bedrock of support for Ukraine and a key partner on NATO’s Eastern Flank and — as the analyst Chels Michta has noted — enjoys increasing strategic influence. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has received much of the credit for its response, both at home and in the international community.

Yet over the past six months, support for Poland’s radical right-wing Konfederacja party has nearly doubled to around 10%, with the party now polling third for the first time since it was founded in 2019. Although the right has long been the dominant political force in Poland, the rise of Konfederacja marks a sharp departure from the norm.

It is questioning of bedrock policies like the country’s “unconditional support” for Ukraine, and even Poland’s transatlantic ties remain firmly a fringe position and conflict with the beliefs held by Polish society as a whole. But its support profile gives the lie to the notion that only the old support such parties — 20% of under-30s voted for Konfederacja in 2019.

Despite the largely successful government-led response to Russia, multiple crises are taking a toll on Poland, and putting pressure on its leadership. PiS is currently polling around 34%, well below what is required to form a majority government. Meanwhile, a soaring cost of living driven by high inflation, the influx of Ukrainian refugees, and fear that the war will escalate, are all being exploited by Konfederacja. Notable too, are widespread protests from farmers — one of PiS’ main sources of support — about competition for cheap Ukrainian grain. Poland’s agriculture minister resigned on April 5 after the European Union (EU) extended the tariff relaxation to 2024.

In its electoral manifesto, “On Poland’s Side,” geared toward this year’s October parliamentary elections, Konfederacja lays out a novel approach to Ukraine. In contrast to PiS policy, the program stipulates the need for Ukraine to “guarantee Polish companies participate in the reconstruction of Ukraine on preferential terms,” in exchange for aid. Likewise, they criticize the ruling party as “servants of the Ukrainian people” for accepting and caring for refugees at the expense of Polish society (around 1.6 million Ukrainian refugees have registered in Poland and costs in 2022 were around $9bn, although the EU refunded some of that.) At best, this may seem tone-deaf cynicism, but given Konfederacja’s history, this rhetoric betrays a more fundamental conflict with Ukraine and Western solidarity.

The party has long expressed anti-Ukrainian views, drawing largely on historical grievances, and these remain an integral part of its platform. MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, 80, a central figure in Konfederacja and a Putin apologist, was recently reprimanded for “suggesting to the public that Ukrainian citizens, not Russian soldiers, may have been responsible for the massacre of the Bucha residents,” after he tweeted his own take on the mass killings by Russian troops. In a similar vein, Mikke implied that the US was at fault for the all-out invasion stating that “arming Ukraine provoked the Russian Federation.” He has previously referred to the inferiority of women and suggested rabbis may have provoked pogroms to improve Jewish genetic stock.

Predictably perhaps, the party also questions Poland’s transatlantic ties, which party representatives have cast in terms of “American imperialism.” Konfederacja MP Robert Winnicki, speaking to far-right media, accused the ruling Law and Justice party of “liquidating Poland’s sovereignty” through “vassalization to Washington.” Similarly, Konfederacja MP Grzegorz Braun described the US-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2020, as “colonization-plus or maybe even occupation-plus” at a parliamentary press conference.

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Since the all-out war, Konfederacja has taken steps to tone down its rhetoric, shifting attention to younger and less controversial party leaders such as its 2019 Presidential candidate Krzysztof Bosak, and chairman Sławomir Mentzen. (This may reflect a recognition of popular support for Ukraine against Russia, the old enemy — 77.5% support sending weaponry, though few back financial aid.) Yet Konfederacja’s surface-level rebranding does little to change the party’s underlying principles.

The radical right’s surge in the polls has more to do with PiS’s electoral shortcomings, and its need to bolster support than it does with Konfederacja itself. It is possible that Konfederacja will find itself in the position of kingmaker if PiS is unable to open a significant lead against the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), which currently polls around 25%. It would once have been unthinkable to imagine a coalition, formal or otherwise, between PiS and Konfederacja, but some on both sides have floated the idea. It might give the governing party a significant electoral boost in the Sejm but would pull Polish politics further to the right.

Debate has already shifted to discussing what compromises would be necessary for this possible coalition. While there are leading voices in each party that still flatly reject the possibility of cooperation, there are signs of change. MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, for all his controversial bravado, suggested that “we can rule even with PiS,” in an interview in March.

From the side of PiS, the decision to join Konfedercja would be more complicated. The government is far from unified and would face resistance from its moderate wing, loosely headed by PM Mateusz Morawiecki. The EU, already at loggerheads with Poland over rule of law and other issues, would no doubt be appalled by the prospect of a more illiberal government, and the US will want continuing support for Ukraine from one of its most determined backers. NATO not only supplies Ukraine through the critically important Rzeszów air base, but Poland’s plans to double defense expenditure will make it one of the alliance’s biggest military powers.

However, the government’s right-wing camp, led by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, has already indicated a willingness to cooperate with Konfederacja. Deputy Minister Janusz Kowalski stated in March that “there are no enemies on the right,” and further that “Mentzen would be a good experiment as finance minister.”

There is still much to play for with elections five months away, so a lot can change. But these are happy days for Poland’s radical right.

Nathan Alan-Lee is a doctoral researcher at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, and is a commentator on Polish and regional affairs.

Europe’s Edgeis CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewsof the institutions they representor the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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Poland’s Far-Right Advances on Anti-Ukraine Sentiment (2024)

FAQs

Poland’s Far-Right Advances on Anti-Ukraine Sentiment? ›

Support for the governing right-wing party is stalling as radical populists attack Ukraine and the cost of living.

What is Poland's opinion on Ukraine? ›

The Polish government has campaigned for Ukraine in the European Union and is a supporter of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. Poland has declared that they will never recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

What is the far right party in Poland? ›

The Confederation Liberty and Independence (Polish: Konfederacja Wolność i Niepodległość), frequently shortened to just Confederation (Konfederacja), is a far-right political alliance in Poland.

How is Poland handling Ukraine refugees? ›

In 2022, Poland's right-wing government welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open arms, driven in part by a shared history and fear of Russian expansion. But by 2023, the Polish government began to clash with the Ukrainian government over contested versions of history, agricultural exports, and more.

What was the agreement between Poland and Ukraine? ›

In exchange for agreeing to a border along the Zbruch River, recognizing Poland's annexation of western Ukraine, which included Galicia as well as the western portions of Volhynian Governorate, Kholm Governorate, and other territories (Article II), Poland recognized the Ukrainian People's Republic as an independent ...

How does Poland feel about Russia? ›

In September 2022, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia decided to close entry for Russian citizens with Schengen visas, including those issued by third countries. In October 2022, the Senate of Poland recognized Russia as a terrorist state.

What is Poland's foreign policy with Ukraine? ›

Poland on an unprecedented scale engaged to provide all kind of a assistance; military and political support, as well as humanitarian aid for Ukraine after the launch of a full-scale invasion on Ukraine by Russia. Polish and Ukrainian NGOs and scientific and cultural exchanges are extremely vibrant, too.

Is communism illegal in Poland? ›

While the "promotion of communist ideas" remains illegal in Poland, the display of communist symbols is no longer explicitly prohibited.

What is the Polish left-wing party? ›

The New Left (Polish: Nowa Lewica, Polish pronunciation: [ˈnɔva lɛˈvi. t͡sa]; NL) is a social-democratic political party in Poland. It is positioned on the centre-left on the political spectrum. Its leaders are Włodzimierz Czarzasty and Robert Biedroń.

When did the communist party fall in Poland? ›

On 27 October 1991, the 1991 Polish parliamentary election, the first democratic election since the 1920s. This completed Poland's transition from a communist party rule to a Western-style liberal democratic political system. The last post-Soviet troops left Poland on 18 September 1993.

What country is helping Ukrainian refugees the most? ›

According to Eurostat, the most popular destinations for Ukrainian refugees are: Germany, which received the largest number of people (1,235,960 or 28.9% of the total number in the EU); Poland, where 955,110 people found refuge (22.3%); The Czech Republic, which received 369,330 refugees (8.6%).

Are Ukrainians allowed to enter Poland? ›

Do Ukrainian citizens need a visa to enter Poland? No, no visa is required. Ukrainian citizens have a visa-free regime with Poland.

Why are people migrating from Ukraine to Poland? ›

Then, in 2014, conflict sparked by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine drove more Ukrainian migrants to Poland. Before the 2022 Russian invasion, roughly 2 million foreigners lived in Poland – some 1.35 million of them Ukrainians.

Is Poland affected by the Ukraine war? ›

The outbreak of war in Ukraine has impacted many spheres of political, economic and social life. In particular, the flight from war zones drastically changed the migratory situation in Ukraine itself as well as in many countries of the EU, including Poland.

What did Ukraine do to Poland in WWII? ›

On several occasions, Ukrainian units committed mass atrocities against Poles. On 1 October 1943, an unknown number of them were killed in the village of Dabrowa, and on 3 October, 18 people were killed in Malice.

When did Poland rule Ukraine? ›

Direct Polish rule in Ukraine in the 1340s and for two centuries thereafter was limited to Galicia.

What is Poland's opinion on NATO? ›

Ninety percent of Poles supported NATO membership, while opponents of the alliance membership accounted for only two percent of all respondents as of February 2024. Support for Poland's membership in NATO was the highest in 2022.

Do Polish people speak Ukraine? ›

The majority of Poles in Ukraine assimilated into the Ukrainian culture. By 1959, 69% spoke the Ukrainian language, 19 percent spoke Polish and 12 percent spoke Russian.

What are the benefits of Ukraine in Poland? ›

Ukrainian refugees in Poland have the opportunity to apply for financial assistance in the amount of more than 800 zlotys for three months. Registration will last until March 29, yavp.pl reports.

Can I help Ukraine in Poland? ›

Volunteer with HelpUkraine.

Contribute to our efforts as we send humanitarian and medical aid to Ukraine. If you're eager to lend a pair of helping hands, join us in Poland. We need volunteers to assist with sorting or transporting supplies, hygiene products, and food. Several business owners in Ukraine ...

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