Sławomir Sierakowski

    is a Polish intellectual and commentator. He is the founder and leader of Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique), a group of left-wing Polish intellectuals, artists and activists with its own publishing house, an online platform for essays and commentaries and a network of discussion cafes, with branches in Ukraine and Germany. It is by far the largest group of its kind in Central Europe, indeed Europe as a whole. In addition, Sierakowski heads the Warsaw Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw, where he lives. He has been visiting scholar at a number of universities in Europe and the US, including Princeton, Yale and Harvard. Many of Sierakowski’s essays on Polish and European politics and culture have been widely translated and he is regarded as one of the most influential contemporary Polish intellectuals. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian and the New York Times. “If the theory that people’s anger is the cause of populism has any validity, a period of economic prosperity ought to clip the populists’ wings. It also ought to help revive the traditional Left and Right, which have greater respect for liberal democracy. In fact, the economic boom in Europe and the US proved to be even more beneficial for the populists than a time of crisis. Politicians figured out that what works in times of prosperity are ‘identity’ issues (immigrants, terrorism, historical policy). This latest trend gripping most of Europe is a division into a Right and a populist Right. The result of this year’s elections in Hungary, won by two right-wing parties (one more populist than the other) is just the latest example. We have also seen a split into the Right versus right-wing populists in Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Spain, as well as Holland, and it has been gaining ground in the major democracies of the EU: Italy, France and Germany. […] Hungary’s ‘civic conservatism’ is in fact a political oligarchy of a single party and a single group of friends and relatives of Orbán’s, and it has eliminated independent media, the judiciary, and cultural institutions, and undermined the independence of non-governmental organisations. Before the election, ‘civic conservatism’ was on full display in the anti-Semitic campaign against George Soros. Orbán forced Soros’s organisation to wind down its activities in Hungary, in the same way as Vladimir Putin had done in Russia. The Left is now faced with a tragic choice: non-conformism at the price of defeat, or conformism at the price of stagnation. […] Thomas Piketty’s latest research confirms the new division into a Right and a populist Right. After analysing election results in France, Great Britain and the US, and comparing them with data on the electorate’s income and level of education, the French economist posited an interesting thesis regarding the evolution of the traditional division into Left and Right. While in the 1950s and 1960s the poor and poorly educated voted for the Left and the rich and educated for the Right, currently those who are educated vote for the Left while the Right has kept the support of the rich and some (albeit a diminishing number of) educated voters. This has created a system in which the elites control both sides of the political dispute: the financial elites control the Right and the intellectual elites the Left. The lower classes are the only ones that control nothing. In this situation the lower classes, which don’t feel represented by left-wing parties, support populist parties, with whom the traditional Right must compete.”
    Photo: Marek Szczepański / Newsweek