“Pyrotechnics, sharp instruments and alcohol are forbidden.” Thus read one of the entry requirements on my conference ticket. So I left the vodka at home before heading to the Polish city of Katowice, near the Czech border.
The Confederation for Freedom and Independence were in town. Two weeks before Poland’s parliamentary elections, which will decide between the migrant-baiting, EU-bashing Law and Justice party and the tamer Civic Coalition, the Confederation are third in the polls. This is despite – or maybe because of – high-profile figures from the party having recently interrupted lectures on the Holocaust, and written that matrimonial conflicts sometimes have to be settled with force.
Current polls show the party’s support at 10-15%, and as both main parties are expected to fall short of a majority, the Confederation could end up as kingmakers.
I arrived at their conference half-expecting skinheads and tattoos. I got gangly teenagers in suits. I spoke to a group of four boys – all of them spoke good English and wanted to talk about Hayek (the English/Austrian economist Friedrich, not Salma).
When I asked how Confederation’s anti-abortion stance fitted with the party’s commitment to liberty, Maciej, the youngest of the group, smiled sweetly. “The liberty of one ends where that of another begins,” he said.
I wanted to find female Confederate party supporters, to understand how they could be in a party with sexists at the top. I finally found one. Liza Przybylska, a 21-year-old candidate. Confident, articulate, smiley.
She has no problems with one sexist at the top, the party’s co-founder, Janusz Korwin-Mikke – according to Liza, he is “the father of freedom in Poland,” having translated Hayek back in the communist days. Does she agree that women are less intelligent than men, as Korwin-Mikke said? “Well, I think women are more emotionally intelligent than men.”
For Liza, “Polexit would be my dream.” Why? Hasn’t Poland done well since joining? “The EU is red,” she says. “Have you seen the Marx and Engels statues in Berlin?” Liza dislikes reds. She tells me that her great-grandfather, a mayor under communism, was arrested for lowering taxes for the poor in his town. Another candidate, Wojciech Bielewicz, calls the EU a “German colonial project”.
Yet another candidate, Artur Komoter, lived in Birmingham until he was nine and has the accent to prove it. “I’m proud to be Polish, I’m proud to be white,” he says, adding that he finds it odd that Brits are afraid to say such things. Does he think that racism is wrong? “Racism has essentially lost its meaning,” comes the reply. Should there be laws against, say, letting property or hiring people on the basis of skin colour? “I think every employer, every landlord, should have the right to choose their own worker or tenant,” he says.
The main event is riotous. There are big cheers for Korwin-Mikke, the sexist, and Grzegorz Braun, the MP who interrupted the Holocaust lecture. There are jets of fire and indoor fireworks. No wonder they specified no pyrotechnics; they have plenty of their own.
I meet Krzysztof Bosak, the party’s 2020 presidential candidate. He, too, is young and charismatic. “Great Britain is a good example,” he says. “You can be outside the EU and have access to the single market.” But Britain does not have access to the single market. “Britain does have this access, but it’s not completely free,” comes the reply. Poland need not leave, “but we should stop bad regulations.”
The Confederates all told me that most Poles do not want to leave the EU. But after spending a day listening to young Poles bash Brussels, I wondered how long that might last.
The conversation with Bosak turns to a recent visit to the UK. He tells me he’s worried that Warsaw is starting to look more like London. “I didn’t see too many people in London who looked like typical British men,” he says. When I ask him to describe a typical British man, he tells me to look one up on Google Images.
It is the sort of coded conversation that warns you not to write off the Confederation as cranks. Like Robert Fico’s Smer Party, victorious in Slovakia last weekend, their time could soon come.