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Poland’s conservative Catholic President Andrzej Duda bested his challenger, liberal Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski by a razor thin margin of 2% earlier this month in the final round of the country’s presidential election.
Winning a free and fair election with a historically high turnout is a testament to the strength of Poland’s democracy, which only a few decades ago broke free from the grasp of communist dictatorship under the Soviet Union. No matter what the liberal and corporate media around the world, particularly pro-EU sources may say (The Economist called Duda’s victory a “win for intolerance) it reveals a high level of public engagement by Poland’s citizens, as well as high and enthusiastic approval of Duda’s government among Poles.
From a fair outsider’s appraisal, President Duda and his Law and Justice Party were well-deserving of re-election. For one, the country has done a comparatively good job containing the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Since the beginning of the outbreak, Poland has held a consistent and stable rate of mortality from the virus and infection below that of more ‘prosperous’ and financially wealthy Western European countries like the United Kingdom and France. This is thanks in part to the Duda government’s shrewd decision to close borders and institute a two week quarantine for foreign visitors soon after the virus entered Europe.
The Polish government under Duda has also prioritized sustainable economic growth, tempering the country’s miracle economic recovery since Soviet rule with responsible regulatory measures. This will prevent a potentially catastrophic boom-and-bust paradigm which has afflicted much of the liberal West. Since 2015, when Duda and his Law and Justice Party took both the presidency and the Sejm (the nation’s legislature,) Poland has continued to see unemployment rates shrink.
Despite the assertions of Brussels bureaucrats and New York newsrooms, this success is not a foil or exception from the government’s orthodoxly Catholic stances on cultural issues. Rather it appears to be part and parcel of a larger philosophy of government founded in Catholic Social Teaching. This philosophy has proven itself popular with Polish citizens and voters because it reflects the country’s history and Catholic faith.
During this election, the Law and Justice Party issued a ‘Family Card’ outlining social policies it promises to uphold in government. All of these policies are in line with Catholic teaching on the dignity of life and the primacy of the traditional family in Polish society. The card pledged that a Law and Justice government would go farther than many countries including the United States in supporting seniors, families, and single parents. It also boasted about the successes of the pro-life “Families 500 Plus” program instituted to enable parents to raise large families.
However, particularly controversial in Europe and the United States’ media outlets as well as left-wing pressure groups,was a guarantee that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and that the administration would fight against any redefinition of marriage. Ultimately, the family policy espoused by the card reflects a belief that the family is the fundamental unit of human society. This belief is taken seriously in Poland.
Poland has also been countercultural in its construction of church-state relations. While other countries have seen attendance at religious services decline alongside influence of faith in the public sphere, Poland increasingly takes the Church seriously and bases its governance on the teachings of Christ. The country even acknowledges Jesus’ kingship, having garnered international attention in 2016 after holding a quasi-official, massive event crowning Christ the ‘King of Poland.’
Whether Poland can stand firm against the steadily progressing tide of secularism and liberal governance which continuously attempts to sweep eastward in Europe is an open question the next decades will answer. But President Duda’s reelection shows that authentic Catholic politics can work in the country. The successes underlying his victory provides some insights into how Political Catholicism can become a viable social force not only in Poland, but in any majority Catholic country.