Why are you a liberal despite the fact a large majority of Polish citizens are conservative?
“This is a good question. There is much behind it. I would say my political formation happened in the last years of high school. Back then I connected with many people who were very involved with the Polish democratic opposition in the late 80’s. Back then there was a different liberal party. It was called the Freedom Union and it was created by top figures of the anti-communist opposition, including the first democratic prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and prof. Bronisław Geremek. The Freedom Union was also a member of ALDE [Alliance of Liberals and Democrats] and in the end even had four MEP’s [members of European parliament] in the ALDE group in the European Parliament. There for the first time I met people who labelled themselves as liberals. And these people really knew what it meant to fight freedom, as they were fighting against communism in the late 80’s. Later, in the early 1990s they were fighting for the Polish democracy and the market economy. It was because of these important people that I understood that freedom is the most important value to protect. That is why I called myself a liberal.”
You just mentioned that you see freedom as the ultimate value that you want to protect. How are liberal and democratic values, like freedom of speech, right now under pressure in Poland?
“Since the last years all forms of freedom are in decline Poland. The current government does not like freedoms, they do not understand the importance of freedoms. PiS, the conservative and populist ruling party and party of current President Andrzej Duda, believes that everything should be under their control. Rule of one party instead of the rule of law. We are failing so miserably in protecting liberal values around us. Poland is falling in all freedom rankings and indexes. It is really terrible, especially to us liberals, as these freedom values are part of our DNA and we can only observe this decline. There is not much we can do. Currently, PiS want to rule every aspect of the country, they won the Sejm , the Senate, the president. They took control over courts and media. Now they want to politicize the last independent constitutional institution, the Ombudsman.
What is the current position of Nowoczesna in Poland?
“We are part of the Civic Coalition (KO). This is a broad opposition block, which is the biggest opposition force in Poland. Also, part of this block is Civic Platform, Donald Tusk’s party. Besides Nowoczesna there is also the Green Party and the left-wing Polish Initiative. We created this coalition, because the Polish election systems promotes big parties or big blocks; a 30% block gets far more seats in the parliament then three parties that receive all three 10%. We needed to combine our forces because we could not waste a single vote or a single percent to PiS. We are the second biggest party in this coalition. Even though we are quite small, we have a significant role in this coalition.
The coalition was established in 2018, before the regional elections, and because of that we are now co-governing in most of the big cities in Poland and half of the regions in Poland. So, this is a permanent coalition that we are building. This also important when we look back at the presidential elections. Rafał Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw and the opponent of current Polish President Andrzej Duda at the elections of Poland in July, was the Civic Coalition’s candidate. He only missed 400.000 votes to become elected. Trzaskowski is going to announce his new political project in Septmeber; a new strategy for ourcoalition. Nowoczesna knows that it belongs to the democratic center, to a broad anti-populist block that is the only political power that can win against PiS. Nowoczesna also knows that its role in this block to guard liberal values.
You have a long work relationship with the VVD. What are according to you the biggest differences between the VVD and Nowoczesna?
“For me is the biggest difference between us and the VVD is that the VVD is power party. It is a big, well established ruling party. Therefore, the VVD needed to compromise far more than Nowoczesna. We always have been an opposition party. We are a value-based party. We never had to compromise in the government, and we have never had the goal to win general elections. So of course, there are some visible differences between the agenda of the VVD and Nowoczesna, but this is also due to the different political landscapes we are active in. Still, we share so many values together, especially when it comes to the economy and protection of the rule of law. Besides all this, there is also very big difference in shared values in Poland and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands LGBT+ rights are accepted as universal and in Poland you are immediately labelled as leftist if you fight for them.
The Polish political landscape is very different indeed compared to that of the Netherlands. For example, there seem to be more conservative parties in Poland than in the Netherlands. Why does Poland have so many different conservative parties and why are the conservatives supported by so many Poles?
“There are a few things here. First of all, Poland has a rather conservative society, and this had a lot to do with the important role of the church. During the communist era, the church was seen as one of the main enemies of the communist party. After the 1989 revolution, catholic church became very powerful as the former opposition came to power. The world of politics and the church started to be intertwined.
To answer your question why so many conservative parties emerged, it is also important to understand that the church in Poland is homogeneous. There are many streams inside the church that wanted to be represented politically. For example, the most conservative stream supports the PiS party and the more liberal stream supports Civic Platform. PiS and Civic Platform are both kind of Christian Democratic parties, but both on a very different level. In addition, for example PiS is even not a traditional conservative party. Their society-based values are very conservative, but their policy and politics on the economy is again very left. In the end PiS, is a big mix between conservative and populist ideas.”
You mentioned earlier all these restrictions in all forms of freedom. Is Poland already an illiberal democracy? If not: how much is needed to become one?
“Poland has for sure an illiberal government. This government has the goal to establish an illiberal democracy. Are we there yet? It is hard to tell, but we are close. So many institutions are damaged or destroyed. However, I do not think we are a lost case. We are far behind Hungary for example. In Poland we still have independent media, organized civil society and a strong opposition. This is different in Hungary. We have an illiberal regime. But our block can still win the elections and reverse policies that harmed the democracy and liberal values of Poland.”
In conclusion, has Nowoczesna a bright future in Poland and how do you think next elections will go?
“I strongly believe that there is a future for Nowoczesna in Poland because there is future for liberal and progressive ideas in Poland. There is clearly space for a party that represents liberal values economically, but also socially. We want to be this double liberal party. If you would ask me: is it time to leave this coalition? No, I do not think so. Our number one goal is to kick out the PiS government and we can only do that together with this broad coalition. At first, because of our electoral system, but also because our voters desire from us that we work together with other parties in this block. Once we win, when this government has been defeated, then we can work on rebuilding our party and strengthen the liberal agenda. However, right now our number one goal is to get rid of this government as soon as possible. “