Poland Still Divided

2010 Elections | (c) Krynicki
2010 Elections | (c) Krynicki

The first round of the Polish presidential elections are behind us. Civic Platform (PO) candidate Bronisław Komorowski manages 41% while Law and Justice (PiS) candidate Jarosław Kaczyński gets 37%. These two candidates will now battle it out for the Polish presidency in the second round on July 4. For many, Komorowski’s lowly 41% and Kaczyński’s impressive 37% are surprising but we have to take a few factors into consideration. Firstly, both candidates are substitutes: Komorowski was elected after Tusk decided not to run in the presidential elections whereas Jarosław Kaczyński only decided to run after the death of his brother, the then President. Secondly, the Smolensk tragedy has played its part in dulling the campaign. Thirdly, the recent floods have done little to help raise the profile of the elections.

PiS Underestimated | (c) Krynicki
PiS Underestimated | (c) Krynicki

Interestingly, year-in-year-out, the polls seem to be out of touch with reality. Every time we see the newest surveys and exit polls they all seem to suggest a greater margin of victory for PO over PiS. Every time, the margin of error is greater than we might expect. In other words, polls in Poland simply cannot be trusted, as come every election, PiS always manages to get around 5-10% more than the polls suggest.

Polish Rail Network
Rail Network Division of Poland

However, it is neither Komorowski’s disappointing result or Kaczyński’s first-round turn-around that is intriguing. What is really thought-provoking is the fact that after centuries of turmoil and upheaval, Poland is still a country divided. In a previous post, we saw how the Polish partitions had done much to create ‘two Polands’ – Eastern and Western. Poland’s rail network can be divided along these lines with the east far less ‘dense’ than the west. These borders almost exactly match the partition borders of 1795!

2010 Division of Poland
2010 Division of Poland

Some of you may wonder what this has to do with the elections? Quite a lot. Poland was partitioned along the 1795 demarcation lines given above; Poland’s current rail network mirrors, almost perfectly, these same borders. What is surprising is the fact that after 215 years this East-West division still persists. When we look at the regions in which Komorowski  and Kaczyński were victorious, we see this same pattern is repeated. West voted for Komorowski, East voted Kaczyński. Not only is this East-West divide economic in nature but also political. Both candidates and parties should think long and hard about why this is happening and what can be done to address the ‘problem’.


22 thoughts on “Poland Still Divided

  1. As always Raf I’m really impressed by your knowledge about Poland and your fantastic posts. Many thanks.

  2. Considering that most of the families who reside in what you call the Polska A are from what are today Belarus and Ukraine it certainly is social capital, especially infrastructure, that composes the society more than the other factors. Residents of Polska A would rather support Mr Kaczynski than Mr Komorowski if the infrastructure had little to do with their mentality.

    This fact supports Mr Tusk’s economic policy where he advocates massive public investment projects of renewing and newly constructing infrastructure rather than Mr Kaczynski’s welfare-state model. PO means that income should be redistribute by creating new jobs, not by splashing cash to the poor.

    As laissez-faire model does never properly redistribute, the political party insists on massive infrastructure projects utilising both the state coffer and funds provided by international public institutions such as the European Union and World Bank.

    1. Jasiek, many thanks for the comment.
      Two few points, first of all:
      1. I do not mention either Polska A or Polska B in this post. Also, Polska A would be West (not East).
      2. From where did you get the figures that suggest “most” of the families are from today’s Belarus and Ukraine?

      So do you think the future looks bright for Poland?

      1. Raf, thank you for reading my comment.
        1.I do know that Polska A, if the term still holds any conversational legitimacy, is the western part of the state, which had been incorporated into German states for more than a century.
        2.As long as I have learnt, the famous three leaders agreed to shift the polish borders to the west, by which, after the war, the Germans in the A were “transferred” beyond the new German-Polish borders while the Poles were “transferred” into Poland’s new eastern borders from beyond them. Also, I have learnt that the overwhelming majority of the residents in what you later came to call the Polska A, mostly composed of the then German regions of Schlesien, Posen and Pommern, used to be Germans until the inter-war period (and more so during the war). Do I have wrong knowledge here?

        I need to apologise if the term Polska B sounds derogatory to Poles. The classification of Polska A and Polska B is so convenient sociologically that I could not give in to temptation to use the terms in this topic.

        I rather am convinced than just think that Poland is one of the European states that can foresee the brightest future on condition that the politics there is stable, that is to say, when the people understand how the economy and society should develop. I recommend you, if not yet, to read Chapter 9 “The Strategy of Economic Development” of Jeffery Sachs’ “Common Wealth”. He explains it there less hot-temperedly than Mr Tusk does, less wryly than Mr Rostowski does, less technically (and less hot-temperedly) than Mr Balcerowicz does and with less fun jokes than Mr Belka does.

    2. Jasiek,
      Referring to your info about ‘most’ Poles in the West being from Ukraine/Belarus… I questioned this statement because I simply haven’t seen the figures. If you know of any research on the matter, I’d gladly read it. 🙂

      1. I must admit that “most” could not have been correct. Years ago I read it in a journal or something that up to 2 million Poles moved into what you call the recovered territories from behind the newly set eastern borders. As long as I remember, the total number of the Poles who moved into the recovered territories was about 5 million, among which up to 2 million came from the Nazi prison camps and the remaining some 1 million were those who directly moved from the western regions of the second republic. I do not think I have read the breakdown on where the 2 million from the prison camps were originally from, but logically they were highly probably from the area that had been occupied by the Germans, not from the former eastern border regions (Kresy in Polish?) . I will look for the journal as you request – I think it was a journal. If I remember correctly, you could still regard the number of the Poles who are from the former eastern border regions to be quite considerable?

  3. Perhaps the maintenance of the two areas is not so surprising.

    The Kaczinski areas include some of the poorest regions in the EU outside Romania and Bulgaria. 4 of the regions were in the bottom 5 when Poland joined. If it was not for Warsaw, Mazowieckie would have been close. Despite the political jubilation of the end of communism, they also suffered from the collapse of their near-by eastern markets: at least two of the Voivodeships (I forget which) still describe themselves as ‘gateways to the east” or words like that. The area also suffered from the end of the regional development policies of the communist system in which factories were placed where jobs were wanted – “everyone has a job” – rather than in places that made economic sense. Very many closed or are still in the process of slow decline. Kielce was once described to me as being “lucky” as most of its industry had closed very quickly: it had had more time to restructure than other cities eg Łódż.

    The West/East divide therefore has economic logic. For example, great roads and train services will not give Rzeszów any advantage over Katowice until the markets in the East offer the opportunities available in the West. (Some Polish companies are starting this process, of course.) Subsidies to encourage company investment and jobs are pretty much equal across Poland since every area qualifies for support to get them to the standard of richer EU areas, so this cannot change.

    It is therefore natural that the Eastern area should support PiS’s strong socialist policies.

    What will happen to the SLD vote is, to me, the interesting issue. I could be quite wrong, but I got the impression that SLD were most strongly supported in those less advantaged urban areas that accepted the need for change and self-reliance. Possibly PiS inclined as they were poor and most strongly suffered the failures of the past, but in many ways closer to PO in believing in the need to face the future on their own merits. I see that both PiS and PO are trying to get the support of the SLD candidate, but I wonder if that really matters to the voters.

    1. Steve, muchos gracias for the comment.
      Firstly, I wouldn’t call them the “Kaczyński” areas – they are the Eastern regions, if anything.

      I think you’re spot on with the idea for investing and supporting the East. This is the ONLY way to improve the situation, balance out the economic divide and, in turn, influence the (group?) mentality of the people in the poorer areas of Poland, for better or for worse.

  4. There is clearly an East-West divide.

    However, I speak from experience when I say that the whole ‘PiS supporters are all rural bumpkins and ‘mohair berets’ is simplistic in the extreme.

    While PiS are not my cup of tea, there are highly-intelligent, urban, multi-lingual professional people who have voted for Kaczynski and co.

    Maybe I live in a unique part of Poland, but I can’t help feeling that the non-TVP mainstream media have made out PiS and thier supporters as convenient bogeymen in order to deflect attention from themselves.

    We al know about PiS but what exactly do PO stand for? Pro-business? Anything else??

    1. Hello Czarny Kot,

      Moderatism. This is an answer from me.

      Economically speaking, this means balancing pro-market-ism and egalitarianism. By providing new jobs in public investment projects, especially in improving infrastructure that as a result would promote both development and innovation, PO clearly intends to see the same effect as redistribution; thus pro-market-ism can be compatible with egalitarianism.

      On the individual and diplomatic policies you will as easily be able to deduce how PO will act as on the econonmic policies. Both their approaches to gay rights (i.e. not allowing marriage but supporing gay parades) and ethnic Poles in Belarus (i.e. determination to solve through the European Union, and never unilaterally) evidence their ideology of moderatism. As long as I have heard, the written platform of the political party clearly states eliminating any extremism. Mr Komorowski may look mediocre to you, but the fact is that he only represents, or is making efforts to represent, the fundamental ideology of moderatism – He would truly have been an honour student of Immanuel Kant’s course.

      1. Jasiek, you’ve hit the nail on the head – moderatism, moderatism and more moderatism is the name of the game for PO and that’s exactly what Poland needs now – a long period of peace and quiet.

  5. Raf – ‘Kaczinski areas’ was meant only in the context of your post and the elections: not as a label more generally.

    Czarny Kot – although I agree about the range of support, it does seem to me that the vast bulk of support is from people from rural areas or with particular sympathies for them, and the … I don’t know how to describe better the ‘mohair beret’ or ‘Old Polish’, as I have heard them called, group. However, what I dislike is the ‘sophisticated urban’ viewpoint continually patronising what they consider to be the stupidity of rural views. The truth is that they are not sophisticated, but narrow minded bigots who cannot understand different circumstances and inevitably resulting different political views. This is not a Polish thing – the USA is much worse and the only excuse for the UK is that there is so little rural area left that it isn’t really important.

    However, the Old Polish allegiance of PiS – still trying to win old, long-finished wars – has always made me see Samoobrona as a preferable rural political party. That plus the charisma of Andy Lepper, of course. (Probably the only candidate for President who would really have made the position newsworthy and, in my view, night have been more effective in his work than anyone else. You may be reassured that I have never voted in any election in my life because I assume that I have no ability to judge what is politically correct in either the wider or narrower sense.)

  6. “In a previous post, we saw how the Polish partitions had done much to create ‘two Polands’ – Eastern and Western. Poland’s rail network can be divided along these lines with the east far less ‘dense’ than the west. These borders almost exactly match the partition borders of 1795!”

    You are wrong! These borders don’t reflect the partition borders of 1795, but the borders of 1815, which were created on Congress of Vienna. In 1795 almost all of territory of today’s Poland was under the prussian and austrian rule. The exception was probably only the Białystok area. In 1807 (if I good remember) the Warsaw Duchy was created and in 1815 the new borders between Russia, Prussia and Austria was made after the fall of Warsaw Duchy, because Tsar wants new lands as an award of his role in defeat of Napoleon. But of course it doesn’t change the significance of your whole article.

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