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Disillusionment Sets In: Young Poles Question New Government’s Promises

Hope fueled the ballot boxes as countless young Polish voted against the Law and Justice party in the parliamentary election in Poland. The promise of a new political landscape, one that prioritised crucial areas like human rights, healthcare and education reforms, resonated deeply. Now, however, a sense of disillusionment hangs heavy in the air. With promises seemingly unfulfilled and frustration mounting, many young Polish women are left questioning the direction of the new government and their own faith in the political system.
Krytyka Polityczna

On my way to an interview with one of my interviewees, I made the decision not to allow myself even a second of scrolling. No posts on Instagram, no reports from friends, no hilarious tiktoks. For the first few hours I was still holding on. I just read quickly the coalition agreement – in the photo everyone happy, from ear to ear smiling. Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? Nothing at all.

But … they will come for you. Posts, reports, tweets, headlines. Suddenly a whole avalanche of them descended. Without going into the problem of trading emotions, which still remain the most valuable digital currency, I want to listen to this feminist energy of mobilizing anger. For years we have been reproached for being “radical,” but what does that actually mean?

Several people – the youngest is 18 and the oldest 24 – told me what kind of Poland they voted for and how they feel about the new political reality. And would they definitely call it “new”? Knowing that private is political, they have been protesting and acting since they were teenagers, and yet no one is particularly interested in them. Well, unless publicists. “Snowflakes”, jobless and dependent on their parents, are still a great excuse to show the naivety or shallowness of leftist demands, because, after all, it is only the voice of a privileged, socially unrepresentative group.

All about us without us

The biggest outrage is over what is not in the coalition agreement. The word “abortion” does not fall there even once. There is the euphemistic “self-determination” and the promise of a return to the ban written into one of Europe’s harshest laws, that of 1993. There is no mention of liberalizing the right to abortion, although it was this demand that brought Polish women to the streets in 2020; there is not even a word about decriminalization, that is, abolishing Article 152 of the Penal Code, which punishes aiding and abetting pregnancy.

If the invalidation of the Constitutional Court’s verdict of three years ago is the only thing that politicians, men in power, are able to agree to, it only proves that they are still deaf and blind to reality: every year, women in Poland abort their pregnancies between 100,000 and 200,000 times (Guttmacher Institute and Federa data). This is a purely symbolic change. It restores the old patriarchal order. It divides Polish women into good and bad, Catholic and left-wing Polish women, needy and irresponsible Polish women.

In Marta Nowak and Magdalena Malinska’s podcast Tender Points Natalia Broniarczyk of the Abortion Dream Team says: “The mere disagreement with the situation, the fact that you feel that it’s not something you want, that you’re planning, that you’re happy about that’s when abortion begins. […] The important statistic is that one in three women in Poland has had an abortion, from CBOS, from 2013, but there are actually more of us. All those women who lived to see their period also, in some sense, however, thought about what they would do. This is an experience that we all have very much in common, this fear.”

– The fact that any politician from the democratic parties can now think of coalitions, of new power, of new positions, is to our credit. If anyone in Poland has saved democracy, it is us. – says Dominika Lasota, a climate activist representing Initiative East. The same organization is behind the high-profile ” We’ve BeenQuiet ” spot, which encouraged women to cast their vote in the parliamentary elections.

Evil lurks somewhere around the corner, so don’t walk alone at night, change your blouse, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance. Choose your words carefully, be careful what you do. If something happens to you, you probably could have done something better. Girls are socialized to live in fear. Anyone who has watched Netflix ‘s Zoomer series Sex Education, beautiful feminist scenes of girl talk, reconciliation, mutual support, knows what I’m talking about.
For the Zetas, the demand for the legalization of abortion is something they don’t need to talk over with each other, and the endless expectation of women’s freedom and subjectivity is monstrously frustrating.

Initiative East views the coalition agreement mediocrely. He appreciates the exclusion of 20 percent. the most valuable forests from logging, the emergence of provisions for a green transition and support for budgeting. He excoriates the lack of specifics on housing, the lack of concrete percentages of GDP for science and health care, and the lack of a declaration to decriminalize abortion. Lasota goes a step further: he calls all omissions from the agreement political cowardice.

It is the politicians who are not ready for change, not their voters and constituents. People in Poland are ready for a lot of changes: to make a just, green transformation in the economy, to legalize abortion on demand. If we were to accuse anyone of being radical, it would be the men in power, radical in their conservatism, he says.

This readiness also had to be developed. We have come a long and difficult way. Marching for women’s rights, the rights of the LGBT+ community, in defense of democracy, free courts, European values. We protested, we protested for years. By finding solidarity within ourselves, we have created a strong civil society. We are outraged by the world that politicians have put up for us, and they are only outraged that we do not accept such a world. That we don’t accept being silenced, the automatism of ex cathedra judgments and the patriarchal scheme in which a rational man explains to women why their emotionality is out of place. For Lasota, all of this is absurd.

Certain things should be, simply, some absolute normality. It’s not normal to have one of the toughest abortion laws in the world in 2023. It is not normal that in Poland, 75 percent. We base the economy on fossil fuels, on coal, and do nothing about it. What is normal is to raise alarm in the face of the total crisis, tragic problems we have in Poland. If someone complains that we dare to demand specifics, and for now, I guess he doesn’t have too many of these problems in his life. Because when certain issues affect you directly, you are not in a privileged position, you understand this anger and impatience.

Part of this change are young people whose political activism, as Justyna Suchecka argues , for simple demographic reasons sometimes simply not seen. The question “where were, where are the young?” is asked by the elders at their “serious” protests. The young are there, but do you want to hear them? To understand them? Sweeping, neither affirmative nor encouraging platitudes about opposition to “getting into our beds” are not enough, they mean nothing. They only prove that we have not grown up to have a mature conversation about sexuality, identity, the body and freedom – Issues of enormous importance to Generation Z.

It is not enough for me that you do not mind, I want active support

I’m afraid because I feel we are standing still or taking small steps backward. Because what else is a return to pre-2020 reality? I don’t even know why such a harsh law was called a compromise. And so no one looks at you as an adult, capable of making independent decisions, instead you are controlled, chastised and judged, Lex answers me when I ask about my first impression of reading the coalition agreement.

Lex is a non-binary activist person. She studies psychology and sings in a university choir. He belongs to the Rainbow Bialystok Association, which is part of the Coalition of Marching Cities and Open Umbrella, a local “equality group.” A participant in the First Bialystok Equality March of 2019, which was brutally attacked by the so-called “Equality March”. football fans and nationalists, descending from all over Poland for, self-proclaimed by them at the time, a spectacle of violence and hatred.

This year she co-organized the march with a group of people whose average age is about 20. – The old team quit because of activist burnout, she says. – 2019 has been a very tough year, a time of Andrzej Duda’s homophobic presidential campaign, police violence accompanying Margot‘s detention, a public media vilification, and the first march in my city where firecrackers and bottles were thrown at us.

She belonged to a youth group and two non-governmental associations. Her adventure in politics is a thing of the past, she now derives greater satisfaction from activism. He co-organizes equality marches, runs a Queer Book Club, and spends his summers doing activist workshops.

She hoped that there would be more female deputies, young politicians and female politicians in the Sejm. She finds it hard to imagine that a man in his fifties understands her problems. At most, he can string together a few nice sentences about how the future is in our hands.

She likes the provisions guaranteeing comprehensive maternity care, expansion of the nursery network. It’s easy to see, however, that the entire sixth point of the agreement focuses on the Polish woman who certainly wants to be that mother: the right to be pregnant, the right to enroll her child in a good nursery, the right to enforce child support. One gets the impression that for men in politics, there is no woman who does not fit into this traditional puzzle. Queer women, women with experience of violence, women redefining the concept of family and gender are not someone these men want to take care of, someone they want to give a platform to.

There are more important matters. Inflation! Expensive! Budget hole!

Girls who are afraid to speak out on topics related to the economy know more about it than they think. They talk a lot about a level playing field, question the capitalist rules of the game, wonder aloud what vision of the world the free market advocates are drawing, and firmly admit that this is exactly the kind of world they don’t want to live in. Someone must have told them that choosing politics close to humanity, their sensitivity, curiosity and desire for freedom lose their importance in the face of money talk.

There is concern about inflation, about housing issues, about lack of savings. Brazen honesty when they say: yes, I like to go to a cafe with a friend, yes, I like to spend money on stupid things, yes, I know they are not mine, but I will not mess around from a young age because Marcin Matczak says it ‘s the right thing to do. No, I don’t agree with judging people against what kind of music they listen to and whether they work hard enough for social to be due. They happen to criticize “handouts,” for there is a disagreement in them that the Polish countryside is being given an ugly face.

In our pro-fracking campaign, it was very important to me to talk about inflation, to come out with specific demands and concrete solutions, such as a tax on excess profits from state-owned companies or an energy transition that would wean us off expensive fuels, which are driving up inflation. It’s a bit about capturing themes, capturing Poles. We won’t allow ourselves to be locked into topics that older guests are comfortable with ,” says Dominika Lasota.

Lex adds: Sometimes we reproach ourselves so much, we reproach ourselves for our deficiencies in knowledge, we order more books on economics in a nutshell. Am I supposed to believe that the teenage boys who vote for the Confederacy know about the economy?

Natalia, a graduate student in cultural studies, tells me that it is unimaginably ridiculous when the leader of the supposedly “most specialized in economic sciences,” a political party, Slawomir Mentzen, offers his employees less than the lowest national wage. The case went to the State Labor Inspectorate. Proficient in political banter, with an activist past and an anarchist heart, Natalia does not particularly hide when talking about her views. She is firm, her tongue is cut.

I once met a guy at a theme party, he dressed up as a budget hole. And he was like, Say to the mirror three times “budget hole, budget hole, budget hole.” Do you know what happened? She continues not to exist. Then it was all night guggling, I screwed myself.

She is most concerned about subsidizing health care, especially when it comes to youth psychiatry, raises for budget workers, teachers, nurses, school cleaners.

Politics screws me up because there are too many men out there thinking only about what they will get out of it. They don’t care about anything except their own business and control of society. And I don’t agree with that, I make the assumption that people are not so bad.

– Hard politics, i.e. finance, economy, taxes, state assets, are things that we girls should not be concerned with. This is what we are told. And what excites me most about climate activism is that we are pushing into those places where we are blocked from accessing,” says Lasota.

I want brave and uncompromising 21st century economists, girls and women, talking about the economy, who will not be Isabella Leszczyna. Let’s think about how the economy can protect the planet and people, Polish workers, Polish women. To the girls who turned the tables by going to the polls in crowds: I want you to know that the next step is about us really redefining different areas of political and social life.

Somehow we don’t believe in this common sense, cold judgment and pragmatism of men in power, it comes easily to them, they have nothing to lose. They control our anger, our fear, our crushes and our carnality, deciding what is a matter of importance and what is of marginal importance.

When I asked the girls what kind of Poland they could stay in, they most often answered: one where they could love. Have a dog together, maybe a ring on your finger, kiss on the street. To queer girls who went to the elections or not: the next step is that we will speak for ourselves and no one will shout us down anymore. I would like you to know that.

Aleksandra Prętka

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