How A Controversial 72-Year-Old Seduces Poland's Youth
Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who has made outrageous comments about women and the disabled, has managed to gain a following among disenchanted, young Poles.
WARSAW — "The European Commission's building would make a great whorehouse."
This is just one example from the "hit parade" of wildly inappropriate comments from Poland's newly elected European Parliament Member Janusz Korwin-Mikke.
The controversial 72-year-old right-wing leader has said the Paralympics were like "chess matches for morons." And there was this one: "If you knew something about women, you would realize that men always rape a bit."
Korwin-Mikke, who served in Poland's Parliament in the early 1990s, has spent most of the the past two decades running unsuccessfully in every parliamentary and presidential election.
He finally returned to the spotlight when his New Right party finished fourth place in last month's European Parliament elections, assuring him a seat in Strasbourg. But particularly baffling about his success are the demographics of his party's electorate, with a majority of his support coming from voters between 18 and 25 years old.
So what has attracted Poland's young people to an elderly man who is a declared monarchist?
The members of the party's youth from Warsaw and Krakow are all different and yet seem remarkably the same. They speak quickly, with an unshakeable self-confidence, and are more than keen to meet a reporter to talk politics.
Anna, 24, would be the oldest of the group we met if not for 29-year-old Konrad. With their cheerful and relaxed demeanor, these young people seem fairly typical, except for their support of a man who has declared that political views can be transferred to women via spermatozoids.
Krzysztof Bieda, 22, is a student of political science. As a teenager, he supported the current governing Civic Platform, but the increasing number of unfulfilled campaign promises led him to become disenchanted. "I understood that all their talking was nothing more than opportunism," he says.
Jordan, 18, believes that honesty is the key to Korwin-Mikke's success. "His views have not changed in the past 25 years," he says.
Even though he doesn't share some of the "private and controversial" opinions of his political leader, Jordan is loyal to the party's economic liberalism. The New Right calls for significantly limiting the state's role in social services and financial markets.
"In a welfare system, poor people are condemned to be poor," Konrad says. "On the one hand, they get easy charity. On the other, too many formalities and rules stop them from starting a business."
Konrad appears to be a born leader. He is tall, handsome, well-dressed — much like his political mentor — and always wearing a bowtie. After graduating with a degree in computer science, he began to study philosophy. His admiration for Korwin-Mikke is utterly uncritical.
Just like Korwin-Mikke, Konrad is hostile to public institutions aimed at leveling the playing field for all citizens, and is just as apt to cite some rather bizarre examples. "It is obvious that a handsome man will conquer a beautiful woman more easily than an unattractive one," Konrad says. "Sponsoring plastic surgery for the second one goes against nature."
The only female at the table, Agata, is quiet. She doesn't like talking with the press, and has no political ambitions of her own. "I would like to be a special advisor," she says.
It has been four years since she joined the party, and she is now on the central committee. Paradoxically, the leader of the New Right has repeatedly said that he would withdraw women's right to vote because he believes they know nothing about politics and are not interested in it.
"Mr. Korwin-Mikke expressed his private opinion, but in no way does our party discriminate against women," Agata insists. On the contrary, she says, women from the New Right will be promoted to positions of party leadership. When asked for an example, she says, "For instance, if somebody had to prepare a tea right now, it would certainly not be me."
Marcin, 20, became involved with the party two years ago when his attempts to start a small trucking business were stalled by new government regulations. After repeated attempts to get officials to take up his case, he finally contacted Korwin-Mikke, who "was shocked" by his story and offered help.
"The majority of the party supporters recruit from people who got stuck in some bureaucratic turpitude," says Bartlomiej, 21, the leader of Warsaw's New Right youth. "Their particular causes were ignored by everybody, apart from us."