The new left-wing think tank in Poland, Naprzód (Forward), organised its first public event on 5 November, at the headquarters of the Polish Teachers’ Union in Warsaw. The topic of the day-long conference was ‘Authoritarianism and Nationalism in Europe’.
The European Union and its member states are undergoing a severe crisis. The fallout from the financial crisis of 2008 has had a long-lasting negative effect on the European economies. Economic growth is depressed; unemployment in many countries soaring; poverty and social inequalities rising and millions are being forced into insecure and precarious working conditions. This worsening of the economic situation has led to growing social and political uncertainty in Europe. With the left often weak and divided, many are expressing their dissatisfaction through turning to nationalism and the far-right. Many right-wing governments in Europe are moving towards a more authoritarian form of government and the whole project of the European Union has been brought into question in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote in Britain.
Poland is now governed by a conservative nationalist government and its move to the right is replicated in other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries such as Hungary. However, the theme of the conference was that this is not unique to CEE, but is occurring throughout Europe and in the European Union itself.
The conference brought together around 50 participants and a range of speakers from Poland and abroad (Britain, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia). The conference consisted of three sessions. The first was on the topic of neo-liberalism and authoritarianism in Europe, in which speakers from Poland, Germany and Hungary discussed how neo-liberalism is eroding the basis for democracy in Europe. The second session focussed on the rise of the far-right, with speakers discussing the different experiences of the far-right throughout Europe and specifically on the cases of Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia. The third session looked at resistance to the rise of authoritarianism in Europe. Speakers from Poland talked about their experiences of opposing growing authoritarianism in the country, how the teachers’ trade union is fighting intolerance in Polish schools and how women protested against the recent draconian proposal completely ban abortion in the country. This was accompanied by a speaker from Britain, who talked about opposing rise of nationalism and the far-right after the Brexit referendum.
The conference was attended by representatives of transform! europe, with Walter Baier giving a presentation on post-democracy and pre-fascism in Europe. The conference was a first step in opening up a new forum for discussion and debate amongst the Polish left, with representatives of the left from different European countries. With authoritarianism and nationalism continuing to grow in Europe, a follow up event on this topic is planned for next year.
For the Conference Programme please refer to the right.