A new set of rules
Poland, like Hungary, has been cultivating for some time a reputation as one of the EU’s baddest, meanest reactionary regimes. Liberals the world over accuse it of being an “illiberal democracy” since the ruling party, Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), rose to power in 2015. Since then, it has enacted a series of policies and attitudes heavily criticized in Brussels: attacks on the press, on LGBT culture, on diversity. Most famously, a new set of rules which allegedly threatened the independence of the judiciary. The ruling was meant to erase the foothold its rival party, Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), had tried to build in the Constitutional Court, prior to losing its 2007-2015 mandate. The ripples raised by the polemic have lasted until recently, and the presidential election of Summer 2020 was won again by Law and Justice’s Andrzej Duda, but by a much smaller margin and in a far more polarized society.
Interestingly, both the PiS and PO share a common origin: they are the factions that emerged after the split of a right wing democratic movement born out the Solidarity trade union, famous for its distinguished role in the fall of Communism. The story of Solidarity is deserving of its own article: for now, suffice it to say that, after a decade together, PiS and PO broke up in 2001. Since then they've been taking turns in power as the two most successful brands of Conservatism in a Parliament heavily tilted to the right. Although they even shared a coalition in 2005-2007, they have been bitter enemies since then.
The fact is, despite their shared origin and their meaningless characterization as “right wing”, both parties have not much in common anymore. PO is a purely liberal Open Society-type project, which strongly aligns it with the European Union. After all, Donald Tusk, former Polish PM and PO leader, was President of the European Council (2014-19) and is now the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest transnational party of the European Parliament. The EPP also includes other right-wing liberal forces, such as Angela Merkel’s CDU, the Spanish People’s Party, the French Republicans of Jacques Chirac, and curiously, Fidesz (the party of Viktor Orbán himself).
This suggests that PO represents in Poland the interests of the European establishment, which usually means representing the interests of Germany, specifically. The media landscape supporting PO reflects this fact: mostly foreign-owned groups, either German or American. And those who are American, such as Discovery Inc, are mostly lobbyists for the Democratic Congressional Campaign and Joe Biden’s presidential run. All of this is unsurprising, given the fact that the Polish economy is extremely dependent on Germany. About a third of its exports go there: notably, vehicle parts to be assembled in the latter’s famous factories.
Contrary to PO, the PiS boasts the approval of the Trump administration. Historically, and since its 17th century Deluge, Poland has always sought the protection of far-away foreign powers: France, Britain, the US. It has needed them against most of its neighbors, all of them seeking to correct past grievances committed during the zenith of Polish power. The nationalist, populist ethos of the PiS resonated with Trump’s rhetoric, giving place to a natural alliance. It is not a coincidence that, since around 2015, fringe right online circles began to be filled with different variants of the “Based Poland” meme. From low-brow PUA dating guides to brainy neorreactionary essays, the Polish nation’s capacity to resist Woke imperialism was praised all over the Internet.
It’s difficult to tell what will become of this Based Poland without Trump sitting in the Oval Office. The cultural and political environment that led to populist governments all over Europe was not eternal. It depended heavily on the refugee crisis, the frequent terrorist attacks in European capitals, the War in the Donbass, and the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. All of these worries have been replaced by a different breed of threat, with a completely different memetic background: Covid-19, racial conflict, Chinese spycraft, cyberpunk surveillance dystopias. It’s a brand new set of tropes for a brand new season, coming soon to a screen near you.
Poland’s fit in the European Union has gone from poster child of post-Eastern Bloc democracy in the early 2000s to anathematic illiberalism. There is, of course, a strategic reason for this decision. Without being present in the actual halls of power, it’s practically impossible to know what’s really going on in International Relations. Perhaps nobody knows: not even those making the decisions.
The Outpost’s wild speculation here is that Poland’s long term geopolitical bet was aimed at replacing Germany’s role as the America’s main hard power foothold in Europe. An outrageously ambitious objective, sure, but you gotta shoot for the moon to reach the stars. This was to be materialized in several ways. First, by becoming an obstacle to the EU’s political integration attempts. Second, via infrastructure projects that altered the architecture of current flows of people and goods in the continent. And third, through bilateral military cooperation, by-passing already existing NATO structures.
The EU’s political integration is complicated to achieve, due to the member states’ diversity of interests and capacities. The priorities of countries such as Ireland, Belgium, Finland and Greece simply cannot be the same. Homogenization attempts have been tried to turn different populations into shallow versions of the same decaffeinated, liberal “citizen of the world”. Things like the Erasmus university exchange program have been successful in producing these types in the younger generations, all of them unified in their consumerist and cultural habits, with minor regional variations for folkloric flavor. Hard realities are difficult to overcome, though, and things like the immigration crisis, with its linked economic and security issues, have put the EU’s seams under too much stress.
The second element of Polish geopolitical strategy was to switch from Russian gas, via the ducts coming from the East, to US-delivered Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). This requires the construction of sophisticated facilities in the Baltic coast to return the gas to its natural state. Poland hoped to get ahead of competitors by becoming the European reference in gas imports, and hopefully to sell its non-used supplies to other Russian-dependent Central European states through a network of newly built ducts directed southward. A somewhat unrealistic objective, considering that LNG is 50% more expensive than its alternative. The Nord Stream 2 project, bringing Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic’s waters, is of course the main obstacle to this strategy, justifying both Poland’s and America’s opposition to it, complete with extensive lawfare operations to stall it.
Other infrastructure mega-projects with a potential game-changing effect have been attempted by Poland. One of the most notable is the Solidarity Transport Hub Poland: a huge airport which could eventually see up to 100 million passengers a year, complete with a business city around it and massive railroad connections. The airport is close to the geographic center of Europe, and would be an excellent node in the LA-Tel Aviv, Vienna-Tokyo, Shanghai-Paris and NY-Tehran air routes. This puts it in direct competition with the airports of Frankfurt (about 70 million annual passengers) and Berlin (30 million).
Another initiative with a similar aim of re-balancing logistics in Europe is Via Carpathia: a land route connecting the port of Klaipédas, in Lithuania, with Thessaloniki, in Greece. This would help to considerably develop Eastern Europe, much less interconnected than the West. It also has the potential to connect with the Chinese New Silk Road, which has already been discussed in this blog. Understandably, PO Germanophiles were less than enthusiastic about this idea, which has been on the table since 2013. Only after the rise to power of PiS did the project really take flight. Interestingly, improving communications in the Eastern Flank does not only help the development of the region, but it also exerts a gravitational pull away from European centers of power such as Berlin or Paris.
The third axis of Polish strategy was to engage in bilateral agreements with the US, so as to ensure it is the Americans most important military ally in Europe. The star project of this policy was the much discussed Fort Trump: a military complex that would serve as a deterrent, supposedly against Russian forces stationed in Kaliningrad or in Russia’s Western district, across the Belarusian territory. The Poles expected to host a whole US Army division. Although this is probably too much, an agreement was signed in August 20 by Mike Pompeo approving the redemployment of 5,500 soldiers to Poland, with a potential to make it 20,000 in the future. This was an explicit response to Germany failing to comply with NATO defense spending requirements: 6,400 troops based in Germany have been sent back to the US as part of the same agreement.
At the moment, the US leads the enhanced Forward Presence battle group in Eastern Poland for Operation Atlantic Resolve, a NATO effort conceived as a reaction against Russia’s involvement in the War on the Donbass. Since that conflict is not over, the mission’s justification remains, ensuring American presence in Polish soil. But things change in the blink of an eye: in two years time, with a new administration, the game of alliances can completely shift. Once LNG platforms in Poland and elsewhere start going operational, the US will increase its number of reasons to remain involved in Europe. Increased efficiency in communications and transportation might also change the flow of trade, creating new land-locked markets towards the East, with new shared interests in the neighborhood. One thing is certain: the post-Great Reset American Empire will look very different from 2001, and all its tributaries will feel the change one way or another.
A hermit kingdom in MittelEuropa.
So, to recapitulate, let’s say Poland is a country completely split along ideological lines, each of which belonging to a different geopolitical project: Open Society, Great Reset New Normality Regime vs. Neo-Westphalian National Populism. The causes, thus, are to be found outside of its borders, and within those of the country that leads said rival projects.
Although it is certainly not the first time the US election is legally contested (look no further than George W. Bush’s victory in 2000), it is also true that the establishment's polarization and the factionalism present, amplified by new technologies, are unprecedented. If the US suffered another 9/11, it’s unclear whether the emotional reaction to the catastrophe would be the same across the country. This cleavage becomes more apparent in the US’s vassals in Europe and elsewhere, whose elites usually favor one or the other project.
Enter Joe Biden, the Open Society candidate. He was the candidate of Germany and all the other governments more or less subscribing to EU orthodoxy: France, Spain, BeNeLux, etc. The reasons for this support were not entirely ideological, but also rooted in the hard power issues of trade and defense. Despite being systemic partners and rivals in the first question, Biden is seen as less untreatable and unpredictable than Trump, who put tariffs on products such as steel, aluminum or wine. A quick defrosting is probably wishful thinking, but the EU will be happy if no new confrontations are ignited.
Defense is a different matter. Germany, in particular, is hopeful that the plans for a draw-down of US troops stationed in its territory, initiated by the Trump administration, will be stopped under then new presidency. In general, the EU is hoping for a US government more lenient with its slacking off in NATO responsibilities, and less sympathetic to “illiberal democracies” like Poland, who try to develop their own bilateral agreements and independent military capabilities.
So what happens to Poland if the Open Societies win? Well, the most likely scenario is that it completely falls back to being a Germany’s political and cultural sidekick. Economic dependency is tough, and Poland relies way too much in its Western neighbor. A government willing to march in step with Open Society Progressives would safeguard the country’s prosperity for a while, in exchange for renouncing any hopes of a leadership role in Central and Eastern Europe.
Polish apparatchiks dominate the game of surfing political tides perfectly. Despite their fame as based conservatives, the Polish Deep State is, as all Deep States, chameleonic. It’s made up of career public servants who grew up as model young Communists, and then rode on Solidarity’s ascendance to eventually thrive during Capitalist democracy, often even rediscovering their lapsed Catholicism.
Perhaps, the operation is already underway. Recently, protests erupted after the Constitutional Court’s ruling against abortion. An unnecessary polemic at the worst possible moment, unless you want to agitate the masses, goading them into loudly proclaiming their antipathy for the government.
The feminist protests pitted Young, Educated, Progressive™ abortionists against hooligans with fashy haircuts, a precise real life reenactment of Internet memes. One element, however was notorious in the narrative. Acording to all European media, it was “a majority of Poles” who protesting against the government. Propaganda meant for Progressive audiences outside of Poland usually portrays Poles as a monolytic nation of Catholic, mysoginistic racists; it is thus meant as an aesop about the dangers of not fighting Fascism hard enough in more enlightened countries. The type of tale that sparks purity spirals and justifies purges against wrongthinkers.
Instead of fostering division through the creation of strawman Fascists, however, this time the story is trying to become a unifying factor between Poles and their fellow EU citizens. The message being sold is: “even these Polish primitives have seen the error of their ways”. Now, when the PiS falls from power in a few years, Poland will be able to brand itself as a victim country, long-oppressed by those retrograde, paranoid and chauvinistic National-Catholics. Just like everybody denies any former allegiance to the old Communist regime, they will now deny the PiS was in any way representative of society at large, and joyfully join the ranks of European conformity. And with an Open Society President on the American throne, this time, with the added benefit of Imperial approval.
For the hell of it, let’s imagine different scenarios. Maybe the US election stays contested for a long time, and the world’s most powerful country becomes trapped in a chronified identity and legitimacy crisis. Maybe the PiS fails in its intent to lose the 2023 election. In that case, Polish Nationalists will not be able to convincingly recant their recalcitrant identitarian ways. They will become an ally of a weakened American opposition, the remnants of Trumpism. This will force them to look for other powerful allies. Perhaps to the East?
Russia and Germany have a special relationship, but one that would not tolerate easily a renewed transatlantic alliance under the banner of the Great Reset. Russia starts the new decade in relatively decent shape, compared to the previous ones. Putin has done his homework and is now ready to retire, rich and shielded against prosecution. A lot of Russia’s former influence in its near-abroad has been recovered, but the country is still poor, depopulated and sorely lacking friends. Wedged between the Woke Empire of Euro-America and a West-bound China, there is a lot of potential for unlikely alliances, common interests and areas of cooperation. The liquefaction of the Arctic is also a variable that should be taken into account.
Wouldn’t it be funny? A hermitic Nationalist Poland, entrenched in the middle of Progressive Europe like a sort of Conservative Cuba. Trying to build its dreamed Intermarium, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, in reluctant, mutually suspicious cooperation with post-Putinist Russia, Islamic Turkey, and rogue US assets who use it as another piece in their homegrown intrigues. But of course, this is just speculation.