Polish Jewish Leaders Worried As Radicals Join Country’s Parliament

Jewish observers are reacting warily to the result of Sunday’s general elections in Poland.

This is not so much because voters fed up with corruption, bickering and bungled reforms ousted the legendary Solidarity bloc and restored the former Communists to power.

Rather, it is because voter frustrations also sent several radical right-wing populist groups to Parliament and at the same time crushed a liberal party, the Freedom Union, whose ranks include prominent politicians supportive of Jewish causes.

“The protest votes got everything,” said Stanislaw Krajewski, Warsaw consultant for the American Jewish Committee. “There will be many more populist and anti-Semitic MPs in the Polish Parliament now.”

Preliminary results showed the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance with about 41 percent of the vote — by far the country’s most important political force, but not big enough to form a government on its own.

The liberal Civic Platform, which was only formed this year, came in a distant second with about 12 percent. Neither the Solidarity bloc, which headed the government for the past four years, nor the Freedom Union, which formed part of the coalition until a year ago, got enough votes even to get into Parliament.

The alliance’s victory did not cause deep concern among Jewish observers.

President Alexander Kwasniewski, a member of the alliance, has what Jewish leaders describe as an “exemplary” attitude toward Jewish concerns, and they say they expect the new government to follow suit.

What worries them is that three radical fringe groups came virtually out of nowhere to scoop up more than a quarter of the votes — with one of them, the radical farmers’ union Self-Defense, becoming the third force in Parliament with more than 10 percent of the vote.

The rightist Law and Justice Party got 9 percent; and the extreme right and pro-Catholic League of Polish Families garnered 7.3 percent.

Political observers in Poland describe these three parties as mixture of populism, demagogy and, in some cases, blatant anti-Semitism.

They express concern that if the new government does not fulfill the expectations of the protest-voters, radical leaders of these parties will become increasingly vocal.

Self-Defense’s dynamic leader, Andzrej Lepper, who has expressed anti-Semitic attitudes, already led violent farmers’ protests two years ago. He aims his appeals directly to impoverished rural populations whose members feel alienated from the economic boom enjoyed in Warsaw and other big cities.

Lepper warned at a news conference Tuesday that if an SLD-led government failed to protect the poor, “we will take the people back onto the streets.”

“Lepper’s views are a mixture of right-wing and left-wing radicalism, somewhat similar to those of Lyndon La Rouche, with whom he used to be in touch some 10 years ago,” said Krajewski.

The League of Polish Families, founded just four months ago, also includes figures who have openly expressed anti-Semitism, including Maciej Giertych, author of several anti-Semitic tracts. The League is close to militant right-wing Catholic groups.

Against this background, Krajewski described the defeat of the liberal Freedom Union as “painful.”

Many Freedom Union politicians were rooted in anti-Communist dissident movements and were eloquent, internationally known spokesmen for human rights and civil society.

They include former Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, who is of Jewish origin, former Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Andrzej Folwarczny, who heads a foundation promoting Polish-Jewish relations and ethnic tolerance.

“It is a great loss that the politicians of the Freedom Union will be absent from the Parliament and the government,” Krajewski said. “They will probably stay in politics, but their influence in the near future will be smaller.”

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