Orbán, the man Human Rights Watch compares to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Economist put on its front page along with Donald Trump and Marine le Pen, is either influential or contagious, depending on whom you ask. Journalists and analysts are biting their fingernails pondering whether Kaczynski will move away from his euro-friendly predecessor; whether he will join ranks with “the talisman of Europe’s mainstream right” to challenge both Brussels and the liberal democratic model.

CNN’s foreign affairs expert and best-selling author, Fareed Zakaria, has warned of “Poland’s dangerous turn”, and there have been predictions in the Guardian of “Orbanisation on the Vistula” and in Foreign Affairs magazine of Orbán-style populist xenophobia. In Poland, the Commission for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) has accused the new government of breaking the Constitution by dismissing three of the five judges in the country’s Constitutional Tribunal.

Reportedly 50,000 protesters calling themselves “Citizens for Democracy” furiously took to the streets nationwide last month to protest what they call “a creeping coup d’etat” influenced by Orbán’s brand of illiberal politics.

“Kaczynski will not stop until he is stopped by something or someone,” Hanna Szulczewska from the KOD said. Szulczewska does not dispute the Law and Justice Party’s democratic victory last October. She does, however, take issue with PiS “breaking the Constitution and the fundamental principles of the democratic state of law” in her view, referring to the dispute between PiS and the tribunal.

Piptr Pawlowski, (pictured right) one of the protesters in Krakow’s main square, the Rynek, said: “The new government is fanatic. We feel they are dangerous.” He and hundreds of others rallied in front of the Adam Mickiewicz Monument to send a clear message to the government.

“I’m 49 years old and I remember the communist times,” Pawlowski said. “What is happening now is very similar to what happened 30 years ago.”

No one, however, seems to think the previous government led by the Civic Platform was perfect either, because it also faces accusations of corruption and meddling with the Constitutional Tribunal.

“Of course, sometimes they tried to enlarge their powers but it was not so fast and so brutal,” Pawlowski said. “We are really surprised by the brutal force that has been used the last few months to take every position in government and to limit checks on power. Of course they won the election and they can govern how they want, but without breaking the Constitution.”

Joanna Rózowska (pictured below), holding a large KOD banner with her husband, said: “It’s strange because we were protesting here on this spot 30 years ago in 1981. It’s like history is repeating itself. I’m not an angry protester but there are some moments in history where you have to stand up.”

If one is to believe that this perceived Orbánisation of eastern and central Europe is real, and that it was sparked by Europe’s migration crisis, then the victory of Law and Justice and Kaczynski’s accusations of migrants “bringing in all kinds of parasites” fits the pattern.

Just like Orbán, Poles seem to share a contempt of the EU establishment for making decisions over their head, notably on the issue of immigration and the idea of absorbing large numbers of Moslems.

Similarly to Hungarians, Poles are not as experienced with Moslem migrants or multiculturalism in general, and Kaczynski stands accused of appealing to nationalistic, populist, xenophobic sentiment. Cynics argue that Orbán used Europe’s migrant crisis as an opportunity to win voters back from the unapologetically xenophobic Jobbik party after a crushing by-election defeat last year. The same cynics might argue that Kaczynski has taken notes and is following suit.

“Certainly, Kaczynski is influenced by the ideas and methods used by Viktor Orbán,” KOD spokeswoman Hanna Szulczewska said. “He quoted ‘Budapest’ as a goal for Poland to achieve. However, the recent moves he made to suppress the Constitutional Tribunal seem even more drastic and openly unconstitutional than those taken by Orbán in Hungary.”

She is worried about Poland’s standing in the EU, given the picture painted in international headlines. Since her comment in December, things have taken a turn for the worse as the European Commission has set out to investigate Poland’s rule of law.
“Orbán has definitely given Kaczynski more confidence but I am not sure how long Europe will stand it,” Szulczewska said. “The stance of the new Polish government on the migrants is the one of taking advantage

without giving anything or contributing in any way to the community.”

Orbán and Kaczynski met for six hours in Niedzica near the Polish-Slovak border last month. The meeting confirmed to many the admiration Kaczynski has for Orbán.

However, not everyone is convinced. In an opinion piece for Politico, Adrian Karatnycky, former president of Freedom House, described “alarmist, reflex reactions and an instinctive bias” in the Western press. He is not alone in accusing Western media of misunderstanding something much more complicated.

“We should not label people and parties too early,” senior Polish journalist Igor Janke commented. “There’s a lot of falsification in the Western media.”

Janke knows several members of both the previous Civic Platform and the Law and Justice Party from decades of following Polish politics from his time working with Polish anti-communist movements. He is also well-known in Hungary for his biography of Orbán.

He knows both Kaczynski and Orbán personally and sees them as fundamentally different, their position towards the EU being one of them. “Poland does not use the same rhetoric as Viktor Orbán is using about Brussels. I think the goal of the Law and Justice Party is to be in the Brussels mainstream; to influence the mainstream. I don’t see any anti-Brussels sentiment.

“Europe can expect that Poland will now be a tougher negotiator but it doesn’t mean that the Polish government will be nationalistic, anti-European. This is bullshit because Poland is probably the most pro-European society according to polls.

“I’ve never heard a single word coming from Law and Justice saying we should leave the EU or that Brussels is threatening Poland. They are saying that Poland should have a stronger position in the EU, have stronger rights and so on, but this is normal. Law and Justice will be more assertive.

“As personalities they are completely different. I don’t think there’s much chemistry between them,” Janke said.

Tomás Strázay, head of the Central and Southeastern Europe Research Program in Bratislava, said: “The Polish government will learn its lesson and avoid the mistakes of Viktor Orbán´s cabinets.”

Strázay agrees with Janke that Poles are wary of Brussels interfering with Poland’s domestic affairs and its disagreement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her open arms to refugees. But EU integration has been fundamental to Poland’s explosive economic growth since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“From a certain point of view Poland might be a more difficult partner to negotiate with, but the so-called POLexit is simply not a realistic alternative,” Strázay said. Another difference between Orbán and Kaczynski was their relationship to Russia. Orbán met Putin last February, the only state leader in the EU to do so.

While Kaczynski does not shy away from criticising Brussels, his aggressive views on Putin are famous because he holds him accountable for the death of his brother and former Polish president Lech Kaczynski when the presidential plane crashed in Smolensk, western Russia, in 2010.

Russia’s complicity has never been proven but Kaczynski has not changed his mind. Poland’s history of fighting communism combined with today’s anxiety over an increasingly aggressive Putin has made for increasing hawkishness towards Russia.

Strázay said: “The differences in the positions towards Russia can be considered as another sign why Warsaw cannot become the ‘second Budapest’ and Poland the ‘second Hungary’.”

Critics still warn of an Orbán-style clampdown on the press but Janke, who is also president of Poland’s Freedom Institute, sees other motives behind criticisms from Polish media.

“Most of the media, the TV channels and the newspapers, which in the past have been very pro-government, has received funding and advertising contracts as a result. They know they are losing this and they are angry,” he said.

“If you turn on public TV in Poland at the moment, most of the media are criticising this government and are supporting the demonstrations. On public television you see anchors that are aggressive against this government in ways that are not acceptable.”

A recent protest was organised by Poland’s biggest newspaper. “They didn’t explain what the protest was for, they just called people into the streets and told them what slogans they should scream.

“I know a lot of people don’t like the Law and Justice Party but people are losing their positions and money, and so the situation is much more complicated than it seems.“

“I ask everyone to follow Poland with precision. Don’t label it too early.”

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