Rafal Pankowski reports from Warsaw for Nigdy Wiecej and Antifa-Net

Poland – once a beacon of democracy and human rights in eastern Europe – is again a source of good news. After two years of ghastly extreme-right antics masquerading as government, an early parliamentary election on 21 October 2007 brought a resounding victory for the liberal democratic opposition.

In the election, the liberal Civic Platform (PO) received 41 per cent of the vote compared to just 32% for Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS). The once mighty far-right League of Polish Families (LPR) led by Roman Giertych, until recently Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, received a pitiful 1.3% of the vote, failing to elect a single MP under Poland’s proportional representation system which stipulates a 5% threshold. Just three years ago, the LPR grabbed over 15% of the national vote in the European Parliament elections, becoming a second political force in the country, and in 2005 it got 8%in the parliamentary election, which was then seen as a rather disappointing result but was enough for the party to be brought into the coalition government.

A mass mobilisation of young voters in particular was the key to right’s embarrassing defeat. Many young Poles in the UK traveled across Britain to the Polish consulate and queued for as long as three hours just to cast their vote against the government. Several voting stations in Poland ran out of the ballot papers due to unexpected turnout so the voting hours had to be extended. The sense of emergency was widespread and the country’s youth exploded with joy as the results came in.

For the LPR, the humiliation was crushing. In a last minute desperate move before the poll, the LPR resorted to open antisemitism by producing paid TV spots blaming Israel for the Iraq war and showing the LPR’s former ally – and now rival on the right – President Lech Kaczynski, wearing a Jewish skull-cap on a visit to the Jerusalem Temple Wall. It brought the party very public and very widespread condemnation.

Roman Giertych himself is the son and grandson of outspoken antisemites. Nevertheless, no antisemitic statement could be attributed to him directly, until – a few weeks before the election when Marcin Kornak, the chairman of the anti-fascist Never Again Association, found and publicised an article that Giertych himself had penned a few years ago for an internal publication in which he applied the antisemitic term “parchy” to describe his political opponents.

The word used to mean a nasty kind of skin disease but, at least since the beginning of the Twentieth century, has been used by antisemites as a derogatory term for Jews. Never Again approached an acclaimed linguist, Professor Michal Glowinski, who expressed no doubt the word was used in a blatantly antisemitic context. It was yet another hammer blow administered to the LPR by Never Again which has spent the last few years exposing the numerous racist extremists and antisemites serving as LPR-appointed government officials.

Another embarrassing moment came shortly before the election with a public tirade made by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, the maverick leader of the Real Politics Union (UPR), who ran on the LPR ticket, against the integration of disabled children in schools. After this, no decent people were left to vote for the LPR list.

In the wake of his total defeat, Roman Giertych announced his withdrawal from political life to be succeeded by Sylwester Chruszcz MEP as party chairman. The LPR rump is now, predictably, in the midst of raging internal strife.

The other extremist party that until recently was part of the government, Self-Defence (Samoobrona), fared equally miserably with just 1.5%of the vote. That means that fascists like Mateusz Piskorski, the neo-pagan enthusiast of the British nazi David Myatt, lost their positions, too. After the election Piskorski, most recently Self-Defence’s official national spokesman, announced an intention to build a new “patriotic left” movement.

The miserable results of both the LPR and Self-Defence mean they will not even qualify for any state funding – that is reserved for those parties that win at least 3 per cent of the vote – and now find themselves on the edge of bankruptcy.

It does not follow, however, that the extreme-right will disappear completely from the parliamentary landscape. A number of people with known far-right views were elected on the ticket of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS), a party that drew a big part of its support from a strategic alliance with the nationalistic and antisemitic Radio Maryja. Among them is Ryszard Bender, a retired history professor at the Catholic University of Lublin and a former LPR member who has jumped Giertych’s sinking ship. Bender shocked the nation back in 2000 when he claimed in a Radio Maryja broadcast that “Auschwitz was not a death camp”. This time he was comfortably elected to the Senate as a PiS representative. President Lech Kaczynski appointed him as the honorary chair of the first session of the newly elected chamber on 5 November, a move that provoked heavy criticism, among others, from Marek Edelman, the legendary leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

It is important to note that democratic politics in Poland triumphed over the extreme right with negligible solidarity from abroad. The reactions to the extreme-right’s participation in the government of an European Union (EU) member state this time were extremely timid compared with the EU’s response to the entry of Jörg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party into the Austrian government in 2000.