Jakub Danecki and Joanna Senyszyn have a hard time ahead of them this evening. Time after time their responses are met with roars of laughter and derisive looks from the young audience posing them questions. The left-wing politicians are guests on the Polish TV show "Młodzież kontra..." (Youth versus...). Every Sunday, representatives from the young political scene meet in the TVP studio in Krakow to debate with one or two political guests.
Szymon Huptyś attends most Sundays. "He is the secret star of the show," one of his colleagues says with a wink. The 26-year-old belongs to the Law and Justice Youth Forum, the offspring of Jaroslaw Kaczynski's national-conservative party PiS, currently in government. He takes his seat in the front row with an experienced air, holding a microphone in his hands and greeting people around him from time to time. Folks around here know him. The host gives a last reminder to switch off all mobile phones, introductory music plays – and the show begins.
The two guests are positioned like some kind of target, surrounded by the lurking looks of young politicians. They give off a slightly lonely impression – suitable for a left-wing politician in Poland – and try to respond to the deluge of questions shot in their direction.
Joanna Senyszyn is a black-haired, elderly woman, wearing animal-print glasses and speaking in a high voice. She used to be member of the Sejm (the lower house of Polish parliament. ed.) for the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Next to her, in a casual sweatshirt and jeans sits 25 year-old Jakub Danecki. He belongs to the party known as Razem (Together), founded in May 2015 as a reaction to the crisis being experienced by established left-wing parties, and following the concept of Podemos in Spain. Neither of these two parties won seats in parliament at the last election.
Razem and the right-wing
Right from the off Danecki is asked whether he would actually accommodate refugees himself or whether these are just empty words. "This is the wrong question to ask," he responds, "We need to get away from the emotional level. It's a global problem."
He is met by bored snorts from the audience. Both guests are talking to an invisible wall; their answers simply rebound from it. Szymon looks annoyed as well, fidgeting with the microphone in his hands. Finally he gets the chance to speak: "I also think that it shouldn't be an emotional debate," he answers calmly, seeming to agree with the guests at first, "but sending aid to other countries is an emotional reaction as well. Most of these supplies just end up as rubbish." Applause.
The subject of refugees is not the only thing uniting the young spectators against the left-wing positions, who don't reach them at all. The spirit in the studio is representative of the current state of Polish society: divided by a deep fissure. The younger generation is drifting more and more towards the right, as shown by the parliamentary elections in October – nearly two thirds of those under 30 voted for right-wing parties.
Szymon is not at all surprised by PiS's success with younger voters: "Our campaign was simply perfect," he says proudly – despite the fact that he is not really a member of the party. His usual serious face sports the hint of a smile.
PiS used to be seen as a party for the poor and poorly educated. Now it reaches a wider class base. The political elite disappoints many young people. Their frustration is directed against the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO), who has ruled the country for the last eight years. That was also the reason Szymon joined the youth wing of PiS: "PO promised wonderful things, especially for young people. But they haven't implemented anything."
Szymon studied philology and is at the moment working on his dissertation. For his masters he went to Leiden, in the Netherlands. His heart, however, belongs to Poland. "I have always been a patriot," he explains, "my generation is in general more patriotic than the older one."
He was raised conservatively; his parents took part in the Independent Students' Union founded in 1980 as part of the Solidarity movement. His family's anti-communist attitudes shaped Szymon, today this shows through in his rejection of left-wing parties. "I want Poland to be strong internationally," he says when explaining his vision, "a country without corruption, where young people like to stay."
Kamila Kępinska has similar thoughts: "We are a great nation, but so much potential is wasted," opines the 27-year-old. Even when she was a child she enjoyed watching the March of Independence on TV, her parents flying the flag from their windows. Since then she has been inspired by the love for her country. Kamila is a language teacher for Portuguese and Spanish. Some years ago she went to Portugal for a semester; she says this strengthened her patriotic views.
"We've earned it."
This evening Kamila is sitting in the front row, across from Szymon. She represents the Kukitz'15 movement, a right-wing populist party critical of the system. It was founded by the rock singer Paweł Kukiz. Especially popular with young people, it got into parliament for the first time at the latest elections with 8.8% of the vote.
Shortly before the end of the show, Kamila takes the mic: "Why are the left-wing parties supporting the EU prohibition of menthol cigarettes?" – she addresses the question to Joanna Senyszyn – "There is a big Philip Morris plant in Krakow which would have to close. And people are going to smoke them anyway." Kamila fights for economic freedoms without the meddling of the state – or the EU.
In the elections before this one she voted for PO: "I thought they were economically liberal. They promised lower taxes and a new electoral system. But nothing changed."
In February she saw Paweł Kukiz for the first time on an election rally. "He spoke my mind," she says with admiration, "People believe what he says. He is interested in change, not in power."
Kamila collected signatures and ran a donation campaign for Kukiz' presidential candidacy. Shortly before the elections they asked whether she would like to run for office herself. She said yes. Her slogan translated as: "The three most important letters for workers are D.O.M (meaning home. ed.), not P.I.T, C.I.T or V.A.T (all types of taxes. ed.)."
She had to pay for her campaign herself because Kukiz rejects the financial support for political parties offered by the state. When all was said and done she wound up broke, with no seat in parliament. "But I learned a lot," she smiles.
Kamila has lost her faith in the political system. Like many other young people she is intrigued by Paweł Kukiz's critique of the establishment and anti-elite rhetoric. His supporters stem from all circles; five members of the extreme right-wing organisation National Movement are now sitting in parliament for Kukiz '15.
Kamila doesn't seem to mind. "We all have our own views when it comes to lifestyle, that's why we don't discuss it." What matters to her is that young people finally get the economic opportunities they were promised. "We've earned it," she explains. We, as in the Polish.
This feature report is a part of our EUtoo 'on the ground' project in Krakow, seeking to give a voice to disenchanted youth. It is funded by the European Commission.