Shortly after the results of the second round of the Polish Presidential Election were confirmed by the National Electoral Commission, a Polish Pilgrim journeyed to the Jasna Góra Monastery in the southern Polish province of Silesia; home to the shrine of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.
Since the Middle Ages, the Monastery has been a destination of pilgrimage for Polish Catholics. It is a tradition which was upheld at significant personal risk even during the Nazi occupation and many continue to make the journey on foot from Warsaw - a distance of some 140 miles. Ordinarily, then, the arrival of one more pilgrim would not be particularly remarkable. This pilgrim, however, was none other than President Andrzej Duda, who, the results confirmed, had prevailed over his liberal challenger Rafał Trzaskowski.
Duda's journey to the shrine was one of thanksgiving, but, Polish heritage being so closely intertwined with Catholicism as to be inseparable, it was also an unequivocal statement of intent. At a time when globalists and far-left fascists seek to destroy the West and everything for which it stands, this is a President who will defend Polish culture in a way many of his contemporaries on the world stage have failed abjectly to emulate.
His was a hard-won victory. The incumbent President faced a stiffer-than-expected challenge from Trzaskowski after Civic Platform, Poland's main opposition party (to which, incidentally, Donald Tusk belongs) dumped their original candidate. While Duda emerged from the first round the clear victor (garnering 43.5% of the vote to Trzaskowski's 30.5%), opinion polls in the run-up to the second suggested the race could go either way.
In the end, the second round became a true festival of democracy. In a country not renowned for the enthusiasm of its electorate, turnout reached 68.18% - the second highest in the history of the Third Polish Republic - and Duda was re-elected with 51% of the popular vote; a larger margin than the exit poll had predicted.
In anticipation of that very Exit Poll, both candidates had rallied their supporters. The contrast between the two gatherings, however, could not have been more stark. While the crowd which applauded as Duda delivered his victory speech in the Town of Pułtusk was filled with supporters eagerly waving the red and white flag of their homeland, it was easier to spot that of the EU at Trzaskowski's rally in Warsaw. Appropriately, then, the final moments of the campaign served as a fitting metaphor for the battle which had been fought in the preceding weeks. It had been, on paper, a race between Duda and Trzaskowski, but it was also Nationalism vs. Globalism, Traditional Values vs. Progressivism, Conservatism vs. Liberalism and, yes, a battle for Poland's soul. At times, just as it has the world over, that battle became ugly, but Duda nevertheless remains one of the few Western Leaders to have grasped the significance of the moment. If the West fails to defend itself; if our leaders fail to stand up for the values which made our civilisation great, then it will cease to exist. As statues fall, attempts are made to erase history and the long march through the institutions reaches its horrifying climax, it is difficult to believe that anyone could look at Western Europe and resolve to follow in our cultural footsteps. Poland, favouring its own path and valuing its rich heritage, has wisely decided otherwise.
On a practical level, while the powers ascribed to the Polish Presidency are theoretically limited, the office holder does possess the authority to veto legislation passed by Parliament. It was this power which supporters of Trzaskowski hoped he would soon be wielding against Duda's allies in the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS). But it was not to be. The President and Government now have three years of untrammeled power ahead of legislative elections in 2023. Asked to render a judgement upon the judicial reforms and social policies introduced by the Government since 2015 (which have often courted controversy both at home and abroad), Polish voters have given their seal of approval, paving the way for the agenda of Duda, Kaczyński and PiS (which has already led to tussles with Brussels over migrants and the judiciary) to advance yet further.
Moving forward, the matter of PiS's repeated clashes with Brussels leads us to the elephant in the room; namely Poland's membership of the European Union. At this moment, neither the ruling party, nor the centre-right opposition endorses a Polish exit from the European Union. But why would they? Poland is the single biggest net recipient from the EU budget and public opinion is broadly in favour of membership, so there's little incentive to leave if the status quo can be comfortably maintained.
In Brussels, however, bureaucrats talk excitedly of EU-wide taxes on plastic waste - but the push for control won't end there. this is just the beginning and there's nothing like exploiting a crisis to further an agenda. That's likely what the EU will do - not just on tax, but also on Military Union. Poland currently participates in only two PESCO projects and, unlike other European countries, is not only an ardent champion of NATO, but one of the few which pays its dues. Clearly, the country is more comfortable in the latter framework, but is likely to come under significant pressure in years to come to integrate more deeply into the former. Moreover, under the terms of its Treaty of Accession, Poland is bound to adopt the Euro to replace its currency, the Zloty, eventually. Public opinion and the ruling party are against it, but the then-government committed the country to doing just that back in 2003.
All of this means that the Polish status quo cannot be maintained forever. As members of the Euro Intellegentsia push for ever-closer integration (a process which is only likely to accelerate in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic) and the gulf between Warsaw and Brussels continues to widen, Poland will eventually be forced to confront its relationship with the European Union. It is likely that the same will be true of Hungary. Neither country has yet reached this inflection point (and neither is likely to for some time yet), but unless Macron's vision of a "two-speed" Europe comes to fruition, the choice will be "all in" or "all out".
For now, however, in the wake of Duda's election victory, we can say confidently that the opening line of the Polish National Anthem is as true today as it ever was:
"Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła - Poland is not yet lost."