Sławomir Mentzen: The Tiktok Star Leading Poland’s Rising Far-Right Party
With Poland's parliamentary election approaching, a controversial far-right political alliance, Konfederacja, has made its way to third place in national opinion polls. With a series of past scandals, a strong presence on social media and steadily increasing numbers in the polls, Konfederacja and party leader Sławomir Mentzen may be headed for a king-making role.
Sławomir Mentzen, a 36-year old former tax advisor and one of the leaders of far right Polish political alliance Konfederacja, has emerged as a star personality ahead of Polish parliamentary elections, scheduled for autumn 2023.
As his party has risen from the margins of Polish politics to a potential kingmaker, Mentzen's image has shifted from that of a relative unknown to a burgeoning force within the country’s current political climate.
He has never held any elected government office, but has been active in the far-right political scene since 2017, when he served as vice chairman of Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s New Hope party. Mentzen took hold of Konfederacja in Oct. 2022, after then-leader Korwin-Mikke announced his resignation as the party’s chair. Korwin-Mikke made international headlines for doing a Nazi salute in the European Parliament, referring to migrants as “human garbage" and for justifying the gender wage gap by saying that women are “weaker” and “less intelligent” than men.
Konfederacja has become a major player in Poland, rising from around 7% support to as much as 14.5%, based on recent polls published in the national newspaper Rzeczpospolita. Some of Mentzen's success can be attributed to his strong presence on TikTok, where he currently has the largest following of any Polish politician on the platform, with over 770 million followers. Many of his short videos are viewed millions of times.
Increasing support for the right-wing politician
His party has become especially popular among young, rural men, who are interested in his free-market economics and approachable online presence and campaign events, known as “Beer With Mentzen” (Piwo z Mentzenem).
Gazeta Wyborczajournalist Marcin Rybak attended the last leg of these events, which took place in Wrocław, in the southwest of Poland.
Oskar and Krystian, two high school students at the event, are fans of Mentzen’s “ease” and his “approach to young people," they explained. "We like what he says about taxes and about the economy," they told Wyborcza, adding that they did not agree with all of his social ideologies.
Mentzen has also gained popularity among younger voters for his social media outreach: “I like how Mentzen speaks, and that, unlike many, he speaks on the internet and social media, like influencers do," Adrian, a student, told Gazeta Wyborcza at a “Beer With Mentzen” event in Kraków.
Although leaders like Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and European Council president, as well as current Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have ventured into the social media sphere, they present themselves more like typical politicians than online influencers. And at the ages of 66 and 55, and both with long and recognizable careers in Polish politics, they cannot use age or “outsider status” as part of their campaign narratives.
This is something that Mentzen himself has campaigned on, noting the ages of Tusk and current Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, 73. "Both are older than my parents," Mentzen said in a TikTok video. “It’s about time to send them all to retirement, so that they can stop affecting young people’s lives."
This sentiment is shared by many of the party’s supporters, who argue that the political establishment does not share the concerns of a younger generation. “This moldy generation of politicians, Tusk and Kaczyński types, will argue to death about some old news from the Communist Era, about the Church and the Pope, as if they don’t understand that people don’t give a shit about that anymore. At least the young don’t," Karolina, a 30-year-old secretary, told Wyborcza. As of yet, she is still an undecided voter, but many of Mentzen’s points — especially about the Polish market economy — have managed to pique her interest.
Though Krystian, the student from Wrocław, is still undecided about how to cast his vote, he admits that he cares more about economic policies than social ones, which may explain the party’s appeal. “The business world is ruled not by those from the (Polish Parliament) Sejm, but by entrepreneurs who have businesses, which fuel the stock market," he told Wyborcza.
The "Konfederacja Five"
For many voters, especially young people who connect with the free-market message, Mentzen’s economic viewpoints can lead them to overlook some of his — and the party’s — more controversial moments. Perhaps most notable among these is the “Konfederacja Five”, in which Mentzen summed up his party’s platform by saying “We don’t want Jews, homosexuals, abortion, the European Union or taxes”.
Karolina doesn’t agree with all of these points, and personally believes that only women MPs should be able to vote on matters of abortion. But this has not stopped her from coming to Mentzen's defense, telling Wyborcza that “He was talking about what keywords are breaking through online," and adding that “It was journalists who turned this into his alleged political program."
He is now, quite literally, a politician you “could have a beer with."
Even Mentzen himself has since retracted this statement, claiming that his remarks were taken out of context. But evidence points to the contrary: the speech, delivered in 2019, was given at a campaign event in Kraków, while Mentzen was running for a seat in the European Parliament.
Sławomir Mentzen walking to one of his 'beer campaign events' with Polish entrepreneur Dariusz Szumilo.
A politician you can have a beer with
At his campaign events, the social media star flaunts his personal achievements. At his age, he has been able to achieve success in the business world, he has his own office, even a chauffeur. Now, he says, he wants everyone to share in his success. Everyone, he says, should have a house, a grill, a backyard, two cars and yearly holidays — everyone, that is, who is willing to work for it.
“In life, people should do what they like, and I really like drinking beer, organizing big events and talking about taxes and the economy," Mentzen wrote in a Facebook post ahead of his campaign events.
The purpose of these campaign events seems to be twofold. Not only do they bring him an image of approachability — he is now, quite literally, a politician you “could have a beer with" — but they are also an opportunity for the political leader to promote his own beer business. Mentzen currently owns a pub with an in-house brewery in the city of Toruń, which he has been using as one of many tools for his campaign.
The politics of his beer brand — Browar Mentzen — are less-than-subtle. With names that include “Polish Freedom”, “Inflation,” “Hate Speech" and “Do What You Want," the message behind them is clear, and reflects the platform that his party has been pushing all throughout its campaign. The most controversial of these, however, was a brew called “White IPA Matters," which included its own, equally controversial, advertising spot. The ad shows a Black bartender drinking the brew, while surrounded by Confederate flags and other imagery from the American deep South.
But, at least according to Mentzen, rather than being bad for business, the negative press he received resulted in an outpouring of support from his followers, and increased his revenue. The ad itself has 121,000 views on Mentzen’s YouTube channel.
The Power of the Free-Market Message
While not every Mentzen supporter is opposed to his anti-European, nationalist messages — and in fact, many openly espouse the same views — much of his newfound popularity seems to come from his economic messages.
Like much of the world, Poland was hit hard by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and by an energy crisis after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Inflation has also risen to to 18% over the same time period, and rising prices have prompted outcry among many in Poland.
"What we see is an irresponsible redistribution of money by the government, which causes inflation," Magdalena Tomkiewicz, a 25-year-old cashier, told Reuters. Tomkiewicz herself had attended a “Beer With Mentzen” event in Łódź. “I pay my bills and barely survive," she said.
Poland’s current ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), has implemented a policy known as “500 +” since they first came to power in 2015. The policy, which currently enjoys the support of over 70% of Poles, provides a monthly stipend of 500 złoty (about €112) for each child in a family. In May, the party proposed raising this amount to 800 złoty (about €180), which has since been approved by parliament.
Opposition parties have responded to the popularity of this program by proposing their own mechanisms of social welfare. In the process, Poland’s main centrist opposition, Koalicja Obywatelska (KO) has, in some ways, moved further away from its free-market roots and closer towards the ideals of a European welfare state. With these changes, Konfederacja stands nearly alone in terms of its free-market values, proposals for lower taxes, and openly business-centered platform. Mentzen notably also has a PhD in economics, which lends him some credibility on these matters among his base.
A Polish girl poses with her birthday gift, Sławomir Mentzen's book.
But aren’t young people moving to the left?
In the past, Poland’s youth seemed to be turning away from establishment politics and moving to the left of the political spectrum. This was supported by a 2021 CBOS poll, which showed that 30% percent of Poles between 18-24 supported left-wing politics. But a recent IPSOS electoral poll suggests that 33% of voters between 18-29 support Konfederacja over all other parties. PiS has a young voter problem, receiving only 8% support — the lowest of any of the major parties.
Konfederacja has created a bubble in which Sławomir Mentzen is the only economist.
Some Konfederacja supporters are combining the laissez-faire economics of the party’s platform with the social libertarianism of Poland’s Left (Lewica). “It would be best if the ruling coalition was Konfederacja and the Left. Then we would have legalized weed and abortions, low taxes and the Church wouldn’t be involved in everything," Marcin, a 27-year-old driver from Zielona Góra, told Wyborcza.
Mentzen is not invincible
Martyna Kuszyk, a 29-year-old video game developer, was only 17 when she decided to become an active member of the far-right party. She has since left the party, and tries to educate young people on the dangers of the far right by telling her story on social media.
“I didn’t feel accepted by my peers; I was having family problems," she told Wyborcza. She believes that many young people currently supporting the party, and the far right as a whole, are in similar situations. For Kuszyk, Konfederacja has “created a bubble in which Sławomir Mentzen is the only economist," and one who can answer complicated questions for young people, especially those working in sectors with poor pay. Kuszyk herself comes from the Lublin Voivodship, which, she notes, is "the poorest and most conservative region in Poland."
And as for Mentzen's own popularity, Kuszyk would like to remind people of what exactly they are voting for when they cast a ballot for his party: "Many people think that Konfederacja voters are people who vote for only this one person in particular, but this is not the case," she said in a video on TikTok. She warns against being swayed by a charismatic persona. "If you want to know what Konfederacja really stands for, don't look at public interviews, go on their own websites and read through the publications, which are meant specifically for party loyalists."
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