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The Polish Election: how voting as a young woman made me feel closer to my cultural roots

It was the 15th of October, and my phone woke me up from its constant buzzing. An endless stream of messages emerged from the family group chat – understandable. It was an undeniably monumental day for Poland; a day that gave Polish citizens the chance to make historical change in a country gripped by right-wing populism for far too long. It was finally the day to reclaim democracy.

*Yet at this point, the only thing we did reclaim were intense family arguments. There aren’t many times when I wouldn’t much rather be visiting relatives in Poland, but this day, unsurprisingly, was one of them*

Nevertheless, I set off to Bristol, excited to cast my vote and have my voice heard. Too much was at stake not to.

A country with a rich political history, this election was described to be just as important as the election in 1989 – a time when Soviet communism dominated the country. The difficulties of the period led to a universal atmosphere of despair and hopelessness among the Poles. Change felt out of reach. Yet with a voting turnout of only 62%, the Solidarity (Solidarność) movement still managed to claim victory. The Berlin Wall collapsed 5 months later, marking the end of USSR domination. Oh, and my mum tasted an orange for the first time. A pretty monumental moment, indeed.

Yet this election saw a contrast in attitudes. Feelings of optimism and hope mobilised people to vote, especially among young people and women, the majority of whom wanted rid of the right-wing Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość). The voting turnout of 74.2% is the highest recorded in Polish history. A state that demonizes the LGBT community, vilifies migrants, and restricts basic abortion rights fails to align with the more liberal values the youth are adopting. Young people are normally known to be politically disengaged, yet over 70% cast their votes last Sunday, queuing for hours in an attempt to save their futures.

Women also strengthened the left-leaning opposition, as their rights have been, year-on-year, consistently undermined under the PiS government. Abortion laws in Poland are one of the strictest in the EU, with a new 2020 law imposing a near-total ban. Women are dying as a result, without much support from the state, sparking nationwide protests every year. 

And that’s not all. New judicial reforms that undermine independence and break EU laws exist. Endless state propaganda, in which independent media platforms are being silenced. European visas are being illegally sold abroad for personal profit. It all seems like an episode of Black Mirror if you ask me. And with the election having been and gone, the result is as follows – a centre-left coalition is now in the works, with the hope that Donald Tusk will be the new Prime Minister. Poland celebrates, as does the rest of Europe. Democracy is finally back on track.

*Although, funnily enough, PiS is still in denial at their loss, claiming they still have a chance. Make it make sense*

As a second-generation immigrant to a Polish mother, born and raised in the UK, some may question my right to vote, and in turn, my legitimacy as a ‘true’ Pole: “Why should you get a say, you don’t live there?” 

Connections to culture do not stop at the border. Poland is one of my homes, and to see a place I consider home subjected to a corrupt and illiberal government that threatens the very nature of democracy breaks my heart. I feel empowered to have voted as a young woman and feel the thrill alongside those also celebrating in a state now free from the grip of populist domination and backward ideologies.

Whether our demands for change are heard is another story. But as of right now, I’m grateful to have voted, and I’m grateful Poland finally has a chance to rebuild itself into the country it is destined to be. 

Żubrówka* anyone?

* Żubrówka – delicious Polish vodka, 10/10 recommend

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