What does the re-election of President Duda mean for Poland and the EU?

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda has been re-elected for a second term (Walker, 2020). In this article, I will investigate the effects of Duda’s electoral campaign on Polish society and the implications of his re-election for Poland and the EU.

In his electoral campaign, Duda made use of an anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric which had a polarizing effect and consolidated anti-European attitudes (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Among his voters, he reinforced the notion that “Polish values are under threat in Europe” (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The President thus instrumentalized European problems for his purposes. Voters that support his party share traditional and nationalist values. Therefore, his anti-European strategy resonated well with his electorate. However, Duda not only stirred up hatred against the EU but also against the LGBT+ community. In his electoral campaign, Duda propagated traditional family values and made use of a homophobic rhetoric (Walker, 2020). His party condemned LGBT+ rights as a “foreign import that threatened Polish identity” (Henley, 2020). The President’s rhetoric received a great deal of attention in the older and Catholic electorate (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020).  Krawkow’s Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski even warned of a “rainbow plague” (Chadwick, 2019). This shows that Duda’s anti- LGBT+ rhetoric was particularly welcomed in conservative Catholic circles. Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric thus further polarized the country. The societal division was especially clear due to the closeness of the election results. Duda’s opponent Rafal Trzaskowski secured 48,8% of the votes (Walker, 2020). The voter turnout was even above average with 68,18% showing the importance of the election (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020).

The Polish sociologist Maciej Gdula Duda is convinced that Duda’s welfare policy was a decisive factor for his electoral success (Broder, 2020). During his first term of office, Duda promoted direct benefit payments for families, which was highly appreciated (Broder, 2020). Furthermore, the PiS party was able to win voters from the working and middle class in rural areas by “promising to focus on their problems and to bring down the arrogant elites” (Ciobanu, 2020). Duda’s success was thus also based on his social policy and his positive attitude towards families.

Apart from its social policy, the President’s party, Law and Justice (PiS), characterized itself as fighting for Christianity “against foreign forces” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). The national conservative party argued that “Germany and other outside powers were trying to meddle into Poland’s affairs” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). This fight against foreign involvement was part of Duda’s strategy to distract from real problems.

In his campaign Duda was supported by public television (Walker, 2020). His liberal opponent, Trzaskowski, was frequently criticized or attacked, also for its positive attitude towards the LGBT+ community (Walker, 2020). The elections were thus held under an „unfair media environment“ (Tharoor, 2020). Despite these conditions, the opposition was able to secure a large amount of votes (around 48%). 

Duda’s re-election has several implications not only for Poland, but also for the European Union. Duda’s political agenda of the past years already suggests what he might plan for the future (Tharoor, 2020). He might adopt measures to further politicize and hollow out the judiciary and the media. The state’s system of checks and balances is expected to be further deteriorated and it is feared that democratic institutions are further dismantled as in Hungary (Henley, 2020). The re-election might thus put the Polish rule of law, judicial independence and media independence to the test. However, it also puts the European Union to the test (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The re-election makes it harder for the EU to guarantee that Polish citizens feel supported by the EU and to ensure the rule of law in the country (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Furthermore, it remains questionable whether President Duda will be able to persuade the European Union that minority rights are respected in Poland (Zerka & Buras, 2020). For the EU, Duda’s re-election raises important questions on how to respond to the politicisation of the judiciary and to the discrimination of minorities.

In conclusion, Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric further polarized and divided the country. The fact that Duda’s opponent was supported by 48,8% shows how deeply divided the country is. Furthermore, Duda’s re-election is expected to put the Polish rule of law and independence of Poland’s judiciary to the test. The European Union is also put to the test as it is asked to find a response to these developments.

Photo by kyryll ushakov on Unsplash


Broder, D. (2020, July 16). Poland’s Far Right Is Distorting the Debate on Welfare – and Winning. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://jacobinmag.com/2020/07/poland-law-justice-party-andrzej-duda-lgbt

Chadwick, L. (2019, August 03). Archbishop warns of ‘rainbow plague’ amid LGBT tensions in Poland. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://www.euronews.com/2019/08/02/archbishop-warns-of-rainbow-plague-amid-lgbt-tensions-in-poland

Ciobanu, C. (2020, July 22). Election Blues: Why Poland’s Opposition Keeps Losing. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/22/election-blues-why-polands-opposition-keeps-losing/

Henley, J. (2020, July 13). Andrzej Duda’s re-election set to intensify Poland-EU tensions. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/13/andrzej-dudas-re-election-set-to-intensify-poland-eu-tensions

Pronczuk, M., & Santora, M. (2020, July 13). After tight race for Polish president, Andrzej Duda wins 2nd term. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/13/world/europe/poland-president-elections-Andrzej-Duda.html

Tharoor, I. (2020, July 15). Poland’s narrow election has big consequences for its democratic future. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/07/15/poland-election-duda-trump/

Walker, S. (2020, July 13). Duda narrowly re-elected in Poland in boost for ruling nationalists. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/13/incumbent-andrzej-duda-wins-polish-presidential-election-commission

Zerka, P., & Buras, P. (2020, July 14). Poland under Duda: A divided country, dividing Europe. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_poland_under_duda_a_divided_country_dividing_europe

Antisemitism in Poland

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

    In 2018, after the introduction of Poland’s contested Holocaust law, Jews faced a wave of antisemitism. The law aimed at legally prohibiting statements accusing Poland of collaboration with the Nazis (Santora, 2018). Due to the international protest, the Polish government decided to weaken the Holocaust law by amending the punishments in case of violations of the law; the amended Holocaust law refrains from a three-year prison sentence (Zeit Online, 2018). In Poland, antisemitic beliefs are adopted both by people with poor educational backgrounds and by people with high educational backgrounds (Krzeminski, 2002, p. 25). Even young people agree with antisemitic ideas. A study of 566 young poles conducted in 2011 showed that “more than 30% of young Poles think that Jews abuse Polish feelings of guilt” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2813). Antisemitism is represented in the left and right political spectrum (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p. 831). However, studies have shown that a significant percentage of voters of the Law and Justice (PiS) party and the conservative-nationalist party (PSL) share antisemitic attitudes (Zuk, 2017, p. 85). The scholar Werner Bergman (2008) also claims that antisemitism is highly correlated with right-wing national attitudes which can be illustrated by the fear about the Holocaust’s negative repercussions on the national prestige and self-confidence (p. 358). Furthermore, he evokes that “the Holocaust and the collaboration of certain sections of the nation during the Nazi persecution were initially suppressed from public consciousness after 1945 in Eastern European countries” (Bergmann, 2008, p. 359). Bergman (2008) emphasizes that the Holocaust was first addressed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, so that the country started struggling with questions about the national self-identification and self-esteem after 1989 (p. 359).  Before the Second World War, more than three million Jews lived in Poland. However, after the Holocaust, only a small number of Jewish survivors and repatriates remained in the country (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2802). Despite the small size of the Jewish community, there is an increase in antisemitism. Some scholars call this phenomenon “anti-Semitism without Jews” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p.823). The question thus arises why this phenomenon is still so prevalent in a country which faced the cruelties of the Holocaust and in which Jews only represent a small ethnic minority.

    There are different forms of antisemitism in Poland. The most widespread form is modern antisemitism which is rather secular form of antisemitism and appears to be a relic from the political ideology of the Polish nationalist movement. It comprises secondary antisemitism (claiming that Jews themselves are responsible for antisemitism) and Jewish conspiracy theories (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p.823).  Secondary antisemites are “willing to forget about the Holocaust and actively oppose compensation or restitution to the victims” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2813)

    Different theories seek to explain the causes of antisemitism in Poland. Some scholars highlight situational aspects such as crisis or deprivation that promote antisemitic beliefs (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p. 824). The relative deprivation theory puts forward that ethnic prejudice results from a group’s “subjective perception of lower group status” (Bilewicz & Krzeminski, 2010, p.236). The ideological model of scapegoating developed by Peter Glick, however, claims that in times of “shared frustration”, people are more prone to ideologies that blame certain groups as responsible for the situation (Bilewicz & Krzeminski, 2010, p. 236). People who feel underprivileged are often frustrated and try to find someone they could blame for. Conspiracy beliefs provide a scapegoat, so that they can express their frustration in the aggression against the chosen scapegoat, which is in the Polish case the Jewish community (Bilewicz & Krzeminski, 2010, p. 242). Bilewicz, Winiewski and Radzik suggest that antisemitism not only has a scapegoating function for post-transitional problems, but also “allows the denial of the responsibility of historical crimes towards Jews” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2817). However, some studies proved that personality factors such as authoritarianism and nationalism are better at predicting antisemitism than situational factors such as financial or economic crisis (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p. 825).  Scholars putting forward the concept of competitive victimhood to explain antisemitism, suggest that if national identification is based on ideas moral superiority and a victimization history, people within this group are more likely to deny that other groups might also share the status of historical victimhood (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p.286). Competitive victimhood thus diminishes the capacity to feel empathy towards people outside of their own group (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2813). Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik (2012) suggest that especially relative victimhood (“the perception that Poles were more victimized in the past than the Jews”) fuels antisemitism in Poland (p. 2813). Other scholars explained anti-Semitism in Poland with the help of the idea of collective narcissism. According to Golec de Zavala and Cichocka (2011), collective narcissism leads to antisemitism as it provokes a negative stereotyping of Jews within the non-Jewish society. The concept of collective narcissism implies that the members of a group (in-group members) develop the perception of vulnerability to external threats from out-group members which is deemed to be hostile (p. 359). Out-group members (in the Polish case, Jews) are negatively stereotyped and due to the increasing amount of stereotypes and prejudices, antisemitic ideas are fuelled. 

    In conclusion, there are situational, personality factors, and identity-related factors which might explain the phenomenon of antisemitism in Poland. However, the phenomenon appears to be very exceptional due to the fact that only a very small minority of Jews lives in Poland. The increase in antisemitism definitely raises questions about democratic values, the dealing with the past and societal values and norms.  

Photo by Erica Magugliani on Unsplash


Bergmann, W. (2008). Anti‐Semitic attitudes in Europe: A comparative perspective. Journal of Social Issues, 64(2), 343-362.

Bilewicz, M., & Krzeminski, I. (2010). Anti-Semitism in Poland and Ukraine: The belief in Jewish control as a mechanism of scapegoating. International Journal of Conflict and Violence (IJCV), 4(2), 234-243.

Bilewicz, M., Winiewski, M., & Radzik, Z. (2012). Antisemitism in Poland: Economic, Religious, and Historical Aspects. Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, 4, 2801.

Bilewicz, M., Winiewski, M., Kofta, M., & Wójcik, A. (2013). Harmful Ideas, The Structure and Consequences of Anti‐Semitic Beliefs in Poland. Political Psychology, 34(6), 821-839.

Golec de Zavala, A., & Cichocka, A. (2012). Collective narcissism and anti-Semitism in Poland. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 15(2), 213-229.

Krzemiński, I. (2002). Polish-Jewish relations, anti-Semitism and national identity. Polish Sociological Review, 25-51.

Santora, M. (2018, February 7). Poland’s President Supports Making Some Holocaust Statements a Crime. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/world/europe/poland-holocaust-law.html 

Zeit online. (2018, June, 27). Polnische Regierung Entschärft Umstrittenes Holocaust-Gesetz. Retrieved from www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2018-06/polen-entschaerfung-holocaust-gesetz-mateusz-morawiecki

Żuk, P. (2017). Anti-Semitism in Poland, yesterday and today. Race & Class, 58(3), 81-86