• The beauty of the Polish twist

    People queuing at a polling station in Warsaw, 15 October 2023. Photo: Dariusz Borowicz / Wyborcza.pl.

    I was eight years old when communism collapsed in Poland, but I remember well the atmosphere of that time: Solidarity posters, family discussions about whether the ‘commies’ could be defeated, and great hopes for better times ahead. Hardly anyone expected it to succeed: the communists had the whole state apparatus, the media and the militia on their side.

    Yet we prevailed. On 4 June 1989, communism came to an end in Poland.

    Thirty-four years later, on 15 October 2023, the atmosphere surrounding the Polish elections was similar. Although we are now living in a free Poland, the reality was just as grey, harsh and devoid of hope for change. For the past eight years, we have watched the country slide into the depths of authoritarianism.

    Instead of engaging in a lively discussion, we were condemned to listen to a monologue conducted by those in power. Anyone who thought differently was an enemy of the nation (or rather of the authorities). The nationalism that emanated daily from the mouths of the politicians in power left no room for us to breathe.

    As in 1989, many believed that these elections would not change anything. But, just like at that historic juncture, the people of Poland proved to be unpredictable. The opposition — pro-European, democratic, with smiles on their faces — won unequivocally.

    This happened because Poles mobilised on an unprecedented scale. Turnout exceeded a record 74 per cent, with some voters queuing for up to six hours to cast their ballots.

    Once again, it proved that when Poles mobilise, they can rise to beautiful things. These elections restored my faith in democracy, people and Poland.

    It is also a sign for the whole of Europe: authoritarian politicians do not know the day or the hour when the nation will shake them off.

    This article is part of the "Will Poland turn the tide in Europe?" edition
    The beauty of the Polish twist
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    "A powerful return to the European stage"
    Ukraine hopes for forward-looking approach
    Europe "pulled back from the brink"