Why Poland's Male-Run, Far-Right Party Is Popular With Educated Women
Similar to recent breakthroughs of right-wing parties in other countries, Poland's anti-immigrant political party has a somewhat different formula that has found surprising support among professional women. And Konfederacja may be decisive in next fall's national elections.
For years, Polish politics has largely been a head-to-head battle between the Catholic, conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, and its pro-European centrist rival, Civic Platform (PO). But now a young far-right party has broken through ahead of next fall's national elections, promising to shake up both politics and society at large.
The emerging party is called Konfederacja, and its rise since launching six years ago largely echos other recent right-wing upstarts in Italy, Greece, Spain and beyond. Yet experts note that this is also a uniquely Polish phenomenon, where everything from family policy to the war in Ukraine follows its own particular logic.
Since regaining the presidency in 2015, the conservative PiS has passed some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws, and clashed with the European Union on climate action and LGBTQ+ rights. But among these controversial policies, there has been the widely popular "500+" program, which provides a stipend of 500 zloty ($119) for every child within a family, and has become a staple of the party’s platform.
In response, the PO opposition has introduced its own social programs, including monthly allowances to women returning from maternity leave, which was a stark departure from the centrist party that had first emerged as a stern defender of the free market. Another small left-wing party has also proposed generous new paternity leave benefits.
At a PiS convention on May 14, longtime party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced that the government will be increasing childcare benefits from 500 zloty to 800 ($119 to $191), and that medication will be free for Poles under 18 and over the age of 65. In the same statement, the party leader also promised to remove tolls along national highways.
This rush to allocate social spending has created an opening for Konfederacja, which describes itself as an “anti-system,” nationalist and right-wing party — but also decidedly pro-free-market and opposed to government subsidies. The party's positioning has now begun to pay off, just ahead of the elections slated for either October or November.
Rising in the polls
For the majority of its almost six-year history, Konfederacja had maintained a fringe but vocal presence in Polish politics. In the most recent elections, which took place in 2019, the far-right party received 6.8% of the vote, and obtained 11 seats in the Polish Sejm.
Estimates from March by political scientist Ben Stanley show Konfederacja more than doubling its number of seats in Parliament, predicting that the right-wing nationalist party will take 24 seats. Support for the party has pushed it up to third place in the polls, surpassing the left-wing coalition Lewica, and Polska 2050, a centrist party founded in 2020 by television personality Szymon Holownia.
Man holding an anti-EU flag at a Konfederacja demonstration
A history of anti-Ukrainian views
On the foreign policy front, Konfederacja has also carved out its own stance that contrasts major players in Polish politics. From the early days of the invasion of Ukraine, it was the only Polish party to criticize the government for its active support of its neighbor, including the fact that it welcomes more Ukrainian refugees than any other country.
Indeed, Konfederacja’s opposition to immigration from Ukraine pre-dates Russia's full-scale invasion in Feb. 2022. Back in 2019, two party leaders spoke out against what they believed to be a threat to the country's “ethnic cohesion”, which remains the least ethnically diverse nation in the EU. Konfederacja’s member of Parliament Krzysztof Bosak stated explicitly that Poland “cannot become a multicultural, multinational state” in an interview with daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita, and Catholic radio station Siódma 9.
Even if, according to 2021 census data, 97.4% of the population declared Polish as their primary identity, the party has launched as its latest slogan: “Give Poland Back to the People.” Still, anti-Ukrainian sentiment has not resonated among the Polish public (an anti-Ukrainian protest planned by party members last September attracted nearly zero participants), leading the party to distance itself from party members who were especially outspoken about the country’s growing Ukrainian population.
Notable among those sidelined by the party was Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a controversial figure who has served in the Sejm as well as the European Parliament. Korwin-Mikke has had numerous scandals in the press, having stated that women "must earn less than men because they are weaker, smaller and less intelligent" in a debate on the European Parliament's gender pay gap. In 2015, he was also sanctioned for 10 days by the European Parliament for doing the Nazi salute while speaking out against European migration policies.
By replacing the 80 year-old Korwin-Mikke and another controversial leader, Gregorz Braun, with the younger Slawomir Mentzen, the party hopes that it will be able to clean up its public image and appeal to a broader audience of Poles.
The 36 year-old Mentzen has also employed specific tactics to gain popularity among younger Poles, including amassing more than 750,000 followers on TikTok, more than any other Polish politician. Most of his posts are pro free-market content — accusing rival party PiS of “stealing his hard-earned money” through taxes to “buy voters”, and blaming rising inflation on the existing government.
But in spite of his supposed cleaner image compared to older party veterans, Mentzen himself has subscribed to many of the same ideologies as his predecessors. In a 2019 lecture on political marketing, he stated that the best way to get to Konfederacja voters is with the sentiment: “we don’t want Jews, homosexuals, abortion, taxes, or the EU”.
Janusz Korwin-Mikke, Grzegorz Braun and other members of Konfederacja at their demonstration
Surprising female support
Though the party's main flank is found among young, rural men, an unexpected number of educated, professional women, doubting the success of 500+, have also flocked to its support.
“The government promotes pathology: laziness, rather than entrepreneurship, obedience, rather than creativity”, Julia Polakowska — a 25-year-old consultant who has supported Konfederacja since she was in high school — told Gazeta Wyborcza, adding that they “subsidize all forms of helplessness.”
However, unlike far-right parties like Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy or Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National in France, Konfederacja currently has no women leaders. Even so, an Ipsos polls suggest that about 11% of women under 40 support Konfederacja.
It remains to be seen if the party will be able to win enough support to sway national elections in Poland. Elsewhere, over the past few years, similar once fringe parties have moved into positions of power. Beyond Italy and France, Spain’s far-right Vox has announced its openness to pursuing local and national coalitions with the center-right People’s Party, which has the potential to unseat Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
As polls continue to fluctuate in Poland, the most recent numbers show that without the far-right's support, ruling party PiS would be unable to gain a majority coalition.
Konfederacja leaders have declared that they will not pursue a coalition with either of the two major parties — no doubt a way to attract more voters fed up with the status quo. Such a potential opportunity, however, may force the party to decide once and for all if it wants to move beyond the fringe.
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