The novel right-wing candidate working for Parliament in Poland’s deep south desires to slash taxes, laws on enterprise and welfare advantages. Most placing, nevertheless, is his vow to take away a small Ukrainian flag that was hoisted final 12 months on a city corridor balcony as a gesture of solidarity with Poland’s jap neighbor.
He desires it taken down, not as a result of he helps Russia, he says, however as a result of Poland ought to deal with serving to its personal folks, not cheering for Ukraine.
In a rustic the place thousands and thousands of residents rallied final 12 months to assist fleeing Ukrainians, and the place the federal government threw itself into offering weapons to be used in opposition to Russia’s invading military, complaints concerning the burden imposed by the battle was once confined to a tiny fringe. A normal election set for Sunday, nevertheless, is pushing them towards heart stage.
That’s due largely to the vocal carping about Ukraine from candidates like Ryszard Wilk, the proprietor of a small images enterprise within the southern Polish city of Nowy Sacz. He’s the electoral standard-bearer within the area for Konfederacja, or Confederation, an unruly alliance of financial libertarians, anti-vaxxers, anti-immigration zealots and belligerent nationalists that’s now unusually united in opposition to aiding Ukraine.
“We have now already given them an excessive amount of,” Mr. Wilk stated in an interview early this week. He was touring throughout a marketing campaign swing by his mountainous and deeply conservative residence area, a longtime bastion of assist for Poland’s right-wing governing get together, Legislation and Justice.
“We don’t need Ukraine to lose the battle, however the burden on Poland and its taxpayers is simply too excessive,” Mr. Wilk added. “Poland needs to be serving to Poles.”
The rising reservation in Poland comes at a vital time for Ukraine, which is struggling in its counteroffensive in opposition to Russia and scrambling to stem an erosion of assist from Western allies. Sunday’s vote in Poland comes after an election two weeks in the past in neighboring Slovakia that was received by a Russia-friendly populist get together that wishes to halt sending arms to Ukraine.
Lengthy dismissed by liberals as a set of extremist cranks, Konfederacja has jumped on the query of how a lot Poland ought to assist Ukraine as a possible vote-winner, channeling what opinion surveys present to be modest however rising currents of anti-Ukrainian sentiment.
Konfederacja remains to be much less a celebration than a jumble of area of interest and infrequently contradictory causes — from small-state libertarianism to big-state nationalism — however “they’re all anti-Ukrainian, although for various causes,” stated Przemyslaw Witkowski, an professional on Poland’s far-right who teaches at Collegium Civitas, a non-public college in Warsaw.
“Anti-Ukraine feeling and sympathy for Russia is among the few parts that glues all of them collectively,” he added.
Konfederacja has no likelihood of successful on Sunday and opinion polls point out that its public assist, which surged to fifteen % over the summer time, slipped after Legislation and Justice began echoing a few of its views, significantly on Ukraine. By threatening to outflank the governing get together, itself a deeply conservative drive, on the far proper in a decent election, Konfederacja helped prod the Polish authorities into curbing its beforehand unbridled enthusiasm for backing Ukraine.
The outcome has been a pointy souring in latest weeks in relations between Warsaw and Kyiv, significantly over Ukrainian grain imports. The problem triggered an ill-tempered tiff final month when Poland’s authorities, led by Legislation and Justice, banned the import of grain from Ukraine in an effort to guard Polish farmers — and keep away from defections in its very important rural base.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine exacerbated tensions by insinuating in a speech on the United Nations that Poland, by blocking grain deliveries, had aligned itself with Russia. And final month, Ukraine filed a grievance in opposition to Poland with the World Commerce Group over grain.
Infuriated by what it noticed as Mr. Zelensky’s ingratitude, Poland denounced the Ukrainian president’s comment as “astonishing” and “unfair.” It additionally briefly recommended it was halting the supply of weapons however, after an uproar, stated arms would proceed to stream.
Terrified of dropping its grip on Ukraine-skeptic voters to Legislation and Justice, Konfederacja leaders in Warsaw drew up a invoice totaling 101 billion Polish zloty (round $24 billion) to cowl all the cash they stated Ukraine owed Poland for navy and different assist like help to the thousands and thousands of Ukrainians who fled the battle.
In Nowy Sacz — the capital of an electoral district encompassing farmland and resort cities — Mr. Wilk despatched a letter to the native mayor demanding, unsuccessfully, the removing of a Ukrainian flag from the city corridor and an finish to welfare funds to refugees from Ukraine.
“We see no motive to pay advantages to foreigners, we see no motive for Ukrainians to obtain Polish pensions,” Mr. Wilk wrote. “We see no motive for hanging the flag of a rustic that’s declaring a commerce battle on us and complaining to the W.T.O.”
Sunday’s election, which opinion polls point out shall be a decent race between Legislation and Justice and its strongest rival, Civic Coalition, a grouping of center-right and liberal forces, is unlikely to place Poland on the identical brazenly anti-Ukrainian path as Hungary or Slovakia.
However the combat for votes has launched a degree of discord that has already comforted the Kremlin’s hopes that Western solidarity with Ukraine is fraying, even in Poland, the place hostility to Russia runs very deep.
And if, as opinion polls counsel is probably going, neither of the highest two events wins sufficient seats to kind a brand new authorities by itself, Konfederacja might turn into a possible kingmaker, although it insists it received’t be a part of both of the front-runners in a coalition authorities.
Mr. Wilk, who heads the get together’s checklist of candidates within the south, stated the sooner program was meant as a joke and didn’t mirror Konfederacja’s present course. “We’re undoubtedly a right-wing get together, however totally on economics, not this different stuff,” he stated.
Surveys of public opinion counsel that bashing Ukraine isn’t one thing most Poles need, however that it resonates amongst some voters because the battle drags on.
Eighty-five % of Poles, in keeping with a research launched this summer time by the College of Warsaw, need to assist Ukraine in its battle with Russia, however the share of respondents with a robust desire in favor of Ukraine fell to 40 % in June from 62 % in January. And the research discovered that “for the primary time, we’re coping with a scenario when the vast majority of Poles (55 %) are in opposition to further assist.”
An out of doors barbecue organized final Sunday by Konfederacja for voters within the mountain resort city of Zakopane drew solely a handful of individuals, although it was chilly and wet. Those that did attend, all males, had been absolutely behind the get together’s stance on Ukraine.
“I’ll by no means tolerate the Ukrainian flag flying right here in Poland,” stated Wojciech Tylka, an expert musician who introduced his three kids alongside to listen to Mr. Wilk and fellow candidates rail in opposition to taxation, social advantages and Ukraine’s drain on Polish assets. “Solely the Polish flag ought to fly.”
“If Ukrainians don’t like this, they need to go residence,” Mr. Tylka added.
Disgusted by politicians of all stripes, Mr. Tylka stated he had not voted in an election for greater than 15 years, however that he would undoubtedly vote for Konfederacja on Sunday.
Determined to hold on to conservative voters within the area, Legislation and Justice despatched one in all its best-known recognized nationwide figures, Ryszard Terlecki, to steer its checklist of candidates within the district.
Showing Monday at a raucous pre-election debate at a college in Nowy Sacz with Mr. Wilk and 4 different opposition candidates, Mr. Terlecki stated that Legislation and Justice would proceed to assist Ukraine “however should additionally take Polish pursuits under consideration.” He defended the federal government’s ban on the import of Ukrainian grain.
Józef Klimowski, a shepherd whose flock of sheep blocked entry to a latest marketing campaign occasion for Mr. Wilk, stated he didn’t care about politics however would vote for Legislation and Justice as a result of it had discovered sponsors for his favourite native ice hockey crew.
After the controversy, Artur Czernecki, a neighborhood Legislation and Justice politician, stated he understood why Mr. Wilk has made a difficulty of Ukraine and its flag on Nowy Sacz’s city corridor: “Each get together is searching for methods to face out,” he stated. However, as deputy speaker of the Metropolis Council, Mr. Czernecki added that he wouldn’t permit the flag subject to be put to a vote, at the least not till the election is over.
“I simply hope that after the election every part will settle down,” he stated.
Anatol Magdziarz in Warsaw contributed reporting