In Poland, public funding is given to those who threaten liberal democracy

Right-wing, conservative and nationalist magazines have been the main beneficiaries of funds recently allocated by the country’s culture ministry.

Justyna Kajta

Public funding contributes to the rise of the extreme right in Poland. In May 2021, the country’s Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sports announced the results of a competition for funding cultural and scientific periodicals. More right-wing, conservative, nationalist, or Catholic magazines receive funding than left-leaning or liberal-leaning newspapers. One of the beneficiaries is the National Social Institute of Poland, which publishes “National Policy” (Polityka Narodowa), described by Press magazine as “a quarterly newspaper of nationalists associated with the National Movement and Polish youth”.

The National Social Institute has also received funding from the Civic Organizations Development Program organized by another public institution, the National Institute of Freedom—Centre for the Development of Civil Society. The latter presents itself as the first executive agency in the history of Poland responsible for supporting civil society, public interest activities and volunteering, and is dedicated to supporting non-governmental organisations, civic media, think tanks and watchdog organizations in achieving their development goals and strategies.

Catholics and nationalists were among the beneficiaries of the program, with financial support given to various institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church and foundations focused on patriotic education, promotion of Polish values ​​or a right-wing narrative of the Polish history.

Under this program, two organizations linked to the annual Independence Day Marches, a nationalist event held each year on November 11, have also received public funding: Youth Independence Day Marches received nearly 700,000 zloty (€152,000) for ‘institutional and missionary development’, while the Independence March received nearly 200,000 zloty for the development of a Warsaw branch of the nationalist portal, National Media (Narodowe Media).

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Organizations linked to the Independence Day marches have received additional funds from another program, the Patriotic Fund, coordinated by another public institution created by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Institute for legacy of Polish national thought, announced in June 2021. The March of Independence and the National Guard, together with Polish youth, collectively received more than three million zloty of the Patriotic Fund.

Ordo Iuris

A relatively new foundation, Education for Values ​​(Edukacja do Wartości), set up by the presidents of the ultra-conservative legal group Ordo Iuris, also received public funding. Ordo Iuris is an important, professionalized and influential actor within the illiberal segments of Polish civil society. She is known for her involvement in a campaign against the Istanbul Convention and, according to the European Humanist Federation, “opposes abortion in all cases, same-sex marriage and civil partnership and ‘sex education”.

In 2016, Ordo Iuris drafted the anti-abortion bill which was submitted by the Stop Abortion coalition as a citizens’ initiative and considered by the Polish parliament for consideration. As a result, a massive mobilization against the bill began in Poland and temporarily halted the legislation – until October 2020, when the Constitutional Court ruled to ban abortion in the country. The decision was noted by Ordo Iuris as his success and, the day before the verdict, he announced that he had sent a “friend of the court” notice to the court.

This opinion has been signed by a number of international organizations – such as the Slovak Association for Life and Family, the Free Society Institute of Lithuania and the American Center for Family and Human Rights (C- Fam) – emphasizing the international scope of Ordo Iuris‘ network. Even if its Brussels office has already been closed twice, Ordo Iuris continues to put pressure on the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The group is well connected with the Polish government of law and justice (PiS) and its representatives can be found in state institutions, such as the Polish Supreme Court, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the aforementioned National Institute of Freedom. Earlier this year, the Polish government even officially appointed the former president of Ordo Iuris, Aleksander Stępkowski, as one of the Polish candidates for the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Election of Judges rejected his candidacy.

Ordo Iuris‘ Efforts have not ceased. In May, he announced the creation of the Collegium Intermarium, a new university whose mission is to “build a platform for cooperation between scholars from the countries of the Intermarium region”. According to the founders, the initiative is a response to “the worsening crisis of university life” and “a space for free debate and the courageous search for truth”.

This aligns with recent statements by Polish Education and Science Minister Przemysław Czarnek, who promised to fight the “dictatorship of left-liberal views” which he says has dominated higher education. One of its initiatives, the Academic Freedom Package, aims to protect conservative voices in universities, ensuring that “one cannot be held disciplinaryly responsible for the expression of one’s ideological beliefs”.

This shared worldview can be expected to strengthen cooperation between the ministry, the new university and Ordo Iuris representatives, and can be interpreted as part of a larger process to make public education more conservative, nationalistic and Catholic.

Illiberal transformation

The evolution towards an ultra-conservative and nationalist discourse is perceptible in Poland, in civil society and the public institutions of the State. Recent state support for NGOs and institutions promoting right-wing ideology is just another facet of the illiberal transformation taking place not only in Poland but also in other Central European countries.

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With the severe economic challenges caused by the pandemic, far-right groups such as Ordo Iuris appeal to identity to gain popularity and power through cultural hegemony. Education is an important means to achieve this goal and, with increased financial resources at their disposal and growing transnational connections, they are rapidly achieving this, and not just in Poland.

This first appeared on openDemocracy

Poland, extreme right, Ordo Iuris

Justyna Kajta is a senior researcher at the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) and a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Wrocław.