Poland's election result is a relief for Europe. But don't get complacentby Anne Applebaum / October 19, 2011 / Leave a comment
Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who won Poland’s October elections, is the country’s first leader to be re-elected since the end of communism
Although you can’t see me, I’m in the photos published on the morning after the recent Polish election. In most, Donald Tusk, the prime minister, is in the front row, grinning widely. Just behind him, clapping, stands Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister—and my husband. In a few, there is a lock of brunette hair visible beside him. That’s me.
Because of my husband’s job, I always have an insider’s view of Polish politics. But on election night, 9th October, I literally had the perfect view: I could see over the prime minister’s head and into the crowd below, just as Polish television published its exit polls. Civic Platform, the centre-right ruling party, won 39 per cent of the vote; its agrarian coalition partner took 8 per cent. Law and Justice, the populist opposition, got 30 per cent. The crowd went wild—and not just for joy. They were also very surprised.
In truth, nobody thought the coalition would win by such a wide margin. Since 1989, no government had ever been re-elected at all: Poles have a habit of tossing out their leaders. “The real numbers will be narrower,” people were telling each other at the victory party. But they were wrong.
By any objective criteria, the outcome of the vote ought not to have been in doubt. Tusk has been prime minister for four years. During that time, Poland was the only country in Europe not to have a recession. It did not join the euro, and so does not have to bail out Greece. It did not launch a spending spree after the financial crisis, and so is not about to default. At the same time, Poland became the biggest beneficiary of EU largesse: new roads, railways, parks, museums and even utilities built with EU money. Last summer, I drove to Gdansk on a motorway so new it didn’t yet show up on my GPS.
Poland’s sense of its own place in Europe has also changed. Nowadays one often hears Poles describe their country as northern, not eastern European: they identify with northern sobriety and austerity, not southern profligacy or eastern backwardness. Poland’s closest diplomatic links are with Sweden, its biggest trading partner is Germany. During their EU presidency, the Poles aimed, above all, to demonstrate their…