11th Dec 2023

Soldiers, mushrooms, and migrants: Poland heads for elections

  • Belarus pushed thousands of migrants into Poland in 2021, with numbers on the rise again (Photo: Telegram)
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Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has launched its re-election campaign by sending 10,000 soldiers to the Belarus border and claiming the EU will stop Polish people from picking mushrooms.

The election date — 15 October — was officially announced by Polish president Andrzej Duda on Tuesday (8 August).

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  • PiS party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński (Photo:

Poland is also to hold a referendum on the same day, on issues including EU migrant-relocation.

And the PiS campaign to extend its eight-year rule began in earnest on Thursday, when defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak told Polish radio he was stationing 10,000 troops "closer to the border with Belarus to scare the aggressor so that they do not dare to attack us".

The decision comes after Belarusian military helicopters violated Polish airspace last week and Russian Wagner group mercenaries set up camp in Poland's neighbour.

The PiS show of force also draws attention to increasing numbers of African and Middle Eastern migrants coming via Belarus into Poland and the wider EU — there were 19,000 attempted crossings so far this year, compared to 16,000 in all of 2022.

But the border was already being defended by some 2,000 soldiers and 5,000 border guards as well a 186-km long metal wall.

And the nebulous timeframe and location of Blaszczak's 10,000-man deployment also suggests political theatre — to dramatise the threat and cast PiS as the solution.

For his part, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki had also been talking up the allegedly mounting danger from Belarus in the days prior to Duda's election-date announcement.

And the PiS party chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, is turning up the euroscepticism and Germanophobia that he uses to woo his base, alongside security scaremongering, racism, homophobia, and misogyny.

Kaczyński claimed at a political rally in Chełm, near the Ukraine border, on 6 August that EU-led privatisation of forests will mean Poles can no longer forage for mushrooms in future — a cherished national pastime, with the mushroom-picking season falling at the same time as the 15 October vote.

"We have this freedom. We can go mushroom picking ... This is part of our freedom and we will not let this freedom be taken away from us," he said.

Kaczyński also played to Poland's historical trauma of Nazi and Soviet-era oppression.

"Do you know who has the greatest influence in Brussels? Exactly, Germany. And we would have to go from living under one boot from the east [the Soviet Union] to another boot from the west," he said.

Meanwhile, most of the referendum questions are yet to be revealed.

Its main concern will be wether Poles accept mandatory EU migrant-relocation quotas, as Europe's front-line states, such as Italy and Greece, struggle to process tens of thousands of asylum claims a year.


But Kaczyński said on Thursday one additional question will be: "Do you support the sale of national companies?".

"The Germans want to install Tusk in Poland, so that he sells off our common wealth," Kaczyński said, referring to former Polish prime minister and EU Council president Donald Tusk — his party's main electoral contender.

Kaczyński's mushroom line met with ridicule from Tusk and other opposition MPs.

"Kaczyński declared that the freedom of mushroom picking is at stake in these elections. I feel a bit strange having such a rival," Tusk said.

But if PiS security scares are hard to dismiss due to the genuine risk the Ukraine war could spillover into Nato territory, then Kaczyński's mushrooms also struck a nerve.

The word "mushroom" trended top and higher on Google searches by Poles the day after he spoke in Chełm than either "Ukraine" or "inflation", according to research by Poland's Wprost magazine.

Pollsters are predicting the nationalist-populist PiS will win with 35 percent of the vote, compared to Tusk's conservative Civic Platform party on 30 percent.

They're also saying the far-right Confederation of Freedom and Independence Party, led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, will come in third with up to 13 percent, in a further blow to Poland's image in EU circles.

Korwin-Mikke, who is pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian despite the war, was also fined by the European Parliament in his time as an MEP for a sexist tirade (claiming women were less intelligent than men) and for doing a Nazi salute in a dig at his German peers.

EU leaders sideline Hungary and Poland over migration

EU leaders at their summit on Friday sidelined Poland and Hungary over a wider dispute on migration and asylum. Slovenia's prime minister Robert Golob explicitly laid most of the blame on Budapest.


Poland's democracy is so eroded, it needs full election monitors

Since 2015 elections in Poland have been free but not fair. The OSCE found that the ruling Law & Justice party's exploitation of state-media and public funds for campaigning "amplified its advantage" during the previous 2019 parliamentary election.

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