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28. Sep 2023

Will a Visa Scandal Sink Poland’s Populists?

May 28, 2023, Bialowieza, Podlaskie, Poland: Migrants with children seeking asylum are seen at the Belarusian side of the Polish border wall in Bialowieza.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten

Bombshell revelations show that Poland’s populist ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), has been vilifying immigrants and allegedly selling them visas in secret at the same time. The question now is whether the party’s base will hear about it before potentially historic parliamentary elections next month.


WARSAW – Poland’s parliamentary elections will decide whether Law and Justice (PiS), the populist party controlled by Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, will govern for a third term. Many regard the election as potentially historic, because PiS has made clear that it intends to follow through on establishing a system similar to the one Viktor Orbán has built in Hungary. The PiS slogan, after all, is “Budapest in Warsaw.”

Like Orbán, PiS has already used its time in power to take control of public and local media, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and all state-owned companies. In a third term, it would move on to the general courts, universities, cultural institutions, and NGOs. PiS’s electoral odds are high because it has used its control of public media to elevate itself while remorselessly vilifying the opposition. Following Hungary’s example, the authorities have also ordered a referendum in which Poles will answer four loaded questions that are designed to scare them into PiS’s arms.

For example, one question reads: “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, in accordance with the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?” Clearly, the aim is to invoke memories of the 2015 refugee crisis, when PiS came to power largely on an anti-refugee platform. Since Polish election laws do not prohibit state-owned companies from getting involved in referendum campaigns, PiS has used taxpayer funds to organize rallies and buy billboards pushing this question, thereby promoting itself under the cover of promoting the referendum.

The opposition has been quick to point out PiS’s hypocrisy. As former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk notes, the Polish government issued as many as 135,000 work permits to immigrants arriving from predominantly Muslim countries in 2022 alone. Moreover, Tusk has identified a government regulation that will allow the PiS government to process at least 400,000 visa applications next year, mainly from Asian and African countries.

While Poland’s government was pursuing this shadow immigration policy, it was simultaneously building a wall on the Belarusian border to keep out asylum-seekers who had been shuttled there by that country’s dictator, Aleksandr Lukashenko. Even when migrants were stuck in the cold between the two countries, Poland refused to allow doctors, journalists, or NGOs to reach them, leading to multiple deaths.

This tragedy has returned to the public spotlight thanks to Agnieszka Holland’s film Green Border, which won a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival and is now playing in theaters. As one of Poland’s most acclaimed and high-profile filmmakers, Holland has faced unrestrained attacks from the government, with the justice minister likening Green Border to Nazi propaganda. Under constant threat, she has to move around Poland in the company of bodyguards.

Even more ominously, another politician has published a list of the film’s actors alongside the names of actors who collaborated with the Nazis, and who were later executed by the Home Army after the Nazi defeat. Though no PiS representative has reportedly even seen the film, that has not stopped the government from demanding that a disclaimer air before each screening to “delegitimize” its message.

But PiS’s hypocrisy does not stop there. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, the Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau has been investigating the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for irregularities in the functioning of Poland’s work-visa system. The deputy minister responsible for this area, Piotr Wawrzyk, was quietly dismissed and removed as a candidate in the upcoming election, and some of his associates were arrested, for which the authorities have offered no explanation. Thanks to independent reporting, however, we now know that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has secretly been selling Polish visas on an industrial scale through Polish embassies and consuls across Africa. The number of corrupt visas issued may well be in the hundreds of thousands.

PiS assumes that its visa fraud won’t matter because its devoted base will never hear the truth; the state media corporation, TVP, will not cover the story. To break through this wall of silence, the opposition Speaker of the Senate (the upper legislative chamber), Tomasz Grodzki, recently exercised his right to address the nation. “I address you today as the Speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland in the form of a televised address, because this is the only form, the only way for this truth to reach everyone,” Grodzki said, before decrying the visa fraud as “the biggest scandal of the twenty-first century.” But a day later, the Speaker of the Sejm (the lower chamber), Elżbieta Witek of PiS, delivered a counter-response through the same channel, attacking the opposition and redirecting attention to the refugee crisis in southern Europe.

Meanwhile, the cover-up of the scandal has led to even harsher attacks on Holland and her colleagues. In his own public statement, Kaczyński said, “The film has a character that is a preparation for tearing down the fence and for agreeing to relocation. This is how it must be perceived on the political level, the level of facts, which is based on an analysis of the current situation, including that which relates to the referendum.”

The whole affair resembles a fight between two mafias, both of them linked to the state. One extracts money from people through border guards under the threat of pushback across the Polish-Belarusian border. The other trades visas to African and Asian immigrants through the Foreign Ministry. While dozens of asylum-seekers were violently expelled from Poland and left to die, hundreds of thousands of visas were sold to immigrants from Africa and Asia. It is hard to imagine a more absurd and murderous hypocrisy.

On October 15, Poles will decide whether or not freedom of speech and state-mafia practices will prevail in Poland.

Bibliografische Angaben

Sierakowski, Sławomir. “Will a Visa Scandal Sink Poland’s Populists?.” September 2023.

This article was first published by Project Syndicate on September 27, 2023, here.


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