Ideas

Polexit Is Path To Dictatorship, A Cry To Keep Poland Free

EU membership is not in line with Poland's values, say the current ruling party. Will that mean Poland's Exit (Polexit) from the European Union? Everything is riding on where the long-serving conservative government of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński will do as they run counter to popular opinion on the EU question.

Polexit Is Path To Dictatorship, A Cry To Keep Poland Free

Protest Against Changes In Justice System In Poland

Marek Beylin

-OpEd-

WARSAW — They left it to Julia Przyłębska, President of Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, to state where the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) stands: the country should no longer be in the European Union since EU values are contrary to the party's rule.

This was the decision reached by this pseudo-Constitutional Tribunal last week, while nearly 90% of the public wants to remain in the EU — according to a recent Ipsos poll for Gazeta Wyborcza and OKO.press. It means that on this fundamental issue in Poland, the PiS is looking to bypass the absolute majority of Poles.

According to the same Ipsos poll, more than half of us fear that the PiS is preparing a Polexit for us. After the decision of the pseudo-CT, this fear is likely to grow.


So if at least some of us, out of this large majority, publicly express our fear and anger, the power of PiS, already shaky, will begin to lose ground even faster. For it is impossible, in the long run, to rule against a majority of voters without openly spreading terror.

Pro EU Demonstration In Krakow, Poland

Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA

Kaczynski's catch-22

This, of course, leaves PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński facing a historic choice. He can preserve his power in one of two ways: either with concessions and dialogue with the Poles and the EU; or by maintaining the Polexit scenario and escalating the conflict with society. Today, neither Kaczyński nor the rest of the PiS leadership are ready for either of these solutions. But sooner or later, they will have to pick one.

If the PiS chooses Polexit, it will have to use more violence against its own citizens.

If the PiS chooses Polexit, it will have to use more and more violence against its own pro-EU citizens. That would inevitably steer the party towards dictatorship — a bloody yet poor one, lacking EU resources. If the PiS backs off and chooses dialogue, its power is bound to eventually recede; but at least it will not be disgraced by violence and bloodshed, nor be eternally considered as traitors.

The future is still uncertain. But the time of the "dictatorship of immobility" is certainly coming to an end. Because this electroshock and crisis are just beginning, and their results remain impossible to predict. These results depend on us, on whether we take to the streets. The more we stand up for Poland remaining in the EU, the more difficult it will be for the PiS to maintain the path towards Polexit. Because now, finally Kaczyński too has something to fear.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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