How to beat an illiberal government

If the left criticizes the ruling party all the time in very radical tones -- even when they are right -- then the opposition loses credibility.

Claudia Ciobanu
Claudia Ciobanu NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
How to beat an illiberal government - NewsMavens
Jarosław Kaczyński. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Frustrated that the Polish opposition merely muddles through while Law and Justice (PiS) -- the ruling party -- dismantles democracy and gets to keep its ratings, several Polish outlets published 'recipes for how to beat PiS' in the last days.(This article focuses on a piece by OkoPress.) It's food for thought for defenders of democracy across Central and Eastern Europe.

One of the main ideas is to accept that PiS was right to focus on 500+, a direct subsidy for families with many children. Liberal parties governing before PiS focused exclusively on economic liberalization and ignored the need for social protection, which created a space for PiS to pose as defender of the interests of the 'losers of transition'.

The liberal opposition should finally take responsibility for their mistakes and argue that, now that the economy has been liberalized, the time has come for more social justice.

Women are key to defeating PiS, argues Elżbieta Korolczuk, a feminist scholar and activist interviewed by OkoPress. The PiS vision of society is clearly patriarchal, and opposition to the government's misogynistic policies cuts across the political divide, as the Black Protest showed. PiS' policies have very personal implications for Polish women, a great motivator for political action.

The opposition should highlight the hypocrisy of PiS politicians: they pretend to defend regular Poles, but in reality they run a clientelistic system, promoting relatives and old friends to positions of power. Expose these instances and others when PiS contradicts itself, says the recipe.

To PiS's obsessive focus on a certain interpretation of history, Polish-centric and nationalistic, the opposition should respond with a vision of the future: propose an inclusive debate on the country Poles want to live in and how to build it -- and make people feel involved in this project.

Rejecting populistic shortcuts is another ingredient in the recipe: the opposition too often shouts that whatever PiS does is a final assault on democracy, making it difficult for people to judge when key moments happen and when they should take action in defense of democracy. If the left criticizes PiS all the time in very radical tones -- even when they are right -- then the opposition loses credibility.

Here's the full 13-point plan for how the opposition can beat PiS according to the OkoPress article below:

  • Don't embarrass PiS supporters. Don't criticise 500+
  • Admit past mistakes. Apologize.
  • Don't be hysterical. Don't complain too much. It gets quickly overused.
  • Attack PiS's strong points (show that they don't actually fulfill their biggest promises)
  • Don't get stuck in the past. Create a vision of the future.
  • Count on women.
  • Count on Europe.
  • Empower citizens.
  • Pay attention to differences. We are not all middle class.
  • Change party leaders (there are options).
  • Build coalitions.
  • Be enduring.
  • Don't resort to populistic shortcuts.
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