There is no room for half measures in the political program of Wiosna, the new Polish center-left party founded on Feb. 4 in Warsaw by Robert Biedron.
Born in Rymanow in 1976, the former mayor of Slupsk—a small town in Pomerania, 150 km east of Gdansk—and the first openly gay politician in Poland, he is calling for equal pay for women, the closure of all coal mines in the country by 2035 and the liberalization of abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is difficult to predict whether Biedron’s project will succeed in its aim to become the third-strongest political force in the country.
The May elections for the European Parliament represent an important test for Wiosna and its leader, after the experience in Slupsk. The town made it into the news in the spring of 2016, with the “no shield” protests during the inauguration of the building site for a military base in the nearby village of Redzikowo that would be part of the NATO integrated missile defense system.
During his time as mayor, Biedron repeatedly asked the central government, led by the populist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS), for compensation for the hardships imposed on the inhabitants of the area by this project—to no avail. Nearly two years have passed since then. The date of completion of the base by the Americans has been pushed back to 2020 for “technical reasons.” Meanwhile, this “Polish Sankara,” who forswore official vehicles and cut the salaries of his advisors and counselors to balance the public budget, has now decided to join the electoral field, aiming to manage public affairs at the national level.
With a background as an LGBT activist, he is part of the new wave of progressive mayors, often politically independent, who managed to deal a blow to the PiS in the administrative elections last autumn. Biedron has a very similar background to Pawel Adamowicz, the mayor of Gdansk who was tragically murdered last month on a stage in front of his fellow citizens. “Wiosna” means “spring” in Polish, and, since the European elections are now almost here, we wanted to ask him some questions.
How was Wiosna born?
Over the past 15 years, the Polish political scene has been monopolized by two conservative parties, the PiS and the Civic Platform (PO), the latter more centrist. In the general elections of 2015, there was a turning point: the progressive electorate found itself with no party to represent it in Parliament. The PO, with its austerity policies, had turned its back on the weakest citizens. We have to give a jolt to politics, to ensure Poland has a future as a pro-European, strong and prosperous country.
Who are your voters?
We want to overcome the divisions in our national politics. A third of my votes for mayor came from citizens who had voted for PiS in the general election. Wiosna is at the forefront of the affirmation of a new political class of women who have a strong message to deliver at the national and European level. Our message has resonated especially in the big cities, but now we want to go where the other politicians usually don’t go. I was born in a small town from “Poland B” [the area that includes all the less-developed regions to the east of the Vistula River], and my life is an example of a successful fight against all stereotypes.
The murder of Pawel Adamowicz has shocked citizens across Europe. How to stop the spiral of escalating hatred in Poland?
We are living through a moment of shock for his loss, but it is time to honor those values that Pawel stood for: openness, tolerance and efficiency – these must become a model of public life. We need to work on focusing on vulnerable groups in order to better protect them, and invest in education. But decisions taken at the top are not enough. We need activists, not career politicians specialized in media fights.
Could the “Slupsk solution” be adopted at the national level?
Thanks to a great team of local administrators, we were able to reduce the deficit in the municipal coffers and expand the network of social services. Slupsk now has greater visibility across the country. If applied on a larger scale, this model of good government could give even more impressive results.
How do you unravel the tangled web of relations between Church and State in Poland?
My position on this matter is simple: there must be separation between the two. Access to public funding for millions of euros, tax exemptions, real estate speculation favoring the clergy in exchange for political support—this is how things have been going for 30 years now. On this point, our message is clear, and our supporters know that.
What is Wiosna’s position in terms of foreign policy?
At least until 2015, Poland’s place was within the EU, but now we are witnessing an involution. However, there are still many reasons to criticize the PO, which did little to nothing to address the major challenges facing Europe: inequality, migration, the sudden growth of the data economy and the threats due to climate change. The rise of the PiS government has had the effect of making even the flaws of PO-style politics look “good” in comparison. The PiS and its de facto leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, treat the EU as if it were a foreign body, a hostile entity. And they have a vision of international relations that comes from the nineteenth century. The crisis triggered by PiS’s judicial reforms has shown us that the European institutions can be the bulwark of our rights as citizens.
How are you preparing for the European elections?
I have always been a committed democratic socialist. I believe in progressive values in both economic and social policy. All those who share these principles will be our natural allies. The extremists and right-wing populists are gaining ground, while the pro-European forces are now forced to react and come together in an unprecedented collaboration.
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