Kinga Gajewska-Płochocka: Youth in politics

Elected in 2015 at age 26, Kinga Gajewska-Płochocka is Poland’s youngest female member of the Sejm. Poland Today sat down with the motocross-loving, social media savvy politician from opposition party Platforma i Obywatelska (PO) to discuss current issues.
A poll by Eurobarometer says that only 6 percent of Poland’s youth believe that joining a party makes a difference. This number averages 12 percent around the EU. As someone who started a political career with the Young Democrats, the youth wing of PO, how do you get more young Poles involved in politics?

This difference is also historical, we were under Russian power for over 60 years. Maybe not everyone, but a lot of people had to join the communist party. If you wanted to go abroad, be a police officer, an academic, any of these things, you had to join the communist party. Our history is translated in this statistic.

However, it’s changed. Yes, it’s hard to get young people on our youth wing, but we are trying to show that we’re just normal people, we’re not forcing anyone into doing something they don’t want, that we’re not here to earn money from political institutions… Social media is the best channel for this. Street protests have also seen an increase in young people.

Everyone hates to be ashamed – young Poles see how their country is becoming Europe’s shame. They have friends from all over Europe who they keep in touch with, they see what’s going on and they ask us: ‘What is happening in your country?’. This is why young people are taking it to the streets in even larger numbers.  

This is the first time teachers have gone on strike since 2008 due to Law and Justice’s (PiS) education reform. How do you think eliminating secondary school will affect the incoming generation?

These reforms were debated in the senate for only three hours. In 1999, according to the OECD we were last in education in Europe, this was before secondary school was introduced. By 2015, because we made education longer, we’re in the top 20 worldwide. It’s a success.

They also want to change the curriculum, give history a patriotic twist and make young people more obedient to power, to the country, the one truth of PiS, it’s just sad. Many teachers will lose their jobs and all of this mess will have to be paid for by local governments, and no local government wants to pay for this.

We have local elections in two years time. When parents can’t find schools for their children they will turn on local governments instead of Kaczynski or Prime Minister Szydlo. It’s a lose-lose situation.

According to a recent survey, 73 percent of Polish youth don’t want refugees to settle in their country, but in neighbouring Germany it’s the opposite. Why do you think that is?

We have a different history – Germany wants to take refugees because of their history, they think that whatever they did in the past will be forgiven. In Poland however, we don’t have the need for that. For most of our history, we were the target of many invasions: the Ottomans, the Germans, the Russians, you name it.

We don’t like things we don’t know, both young and older people have no idea what Islam is, they probably haven’t even seen a Muslim in their lives, this is why we’re afraid. PiS to this day uses this fear of the unknown, this complex amongst Poles in both speeches and campaigns.

Do you think part of the reason you lost the election was due to PO’s position on refugees which was to agree to the EU’s refugee relocation scheme?  

Of course it was one of the reasons we lost voters. The previous number you mentioned on 73 percent not wanting refugees in their country – recent terrorist attacks don’t exactly give Poles good memories.

We didn’t have a good message on this issue during the campaign, we didn’t say: ‘We want refugees, refugees welcome’, we had a very strong policy. Firstly, they had to be Christians only, secondly, it would only be 7,000 of them, and thirdly, they’d have to go through a background check and had to have passports, which isn’t always the case. PiS had a similar policy, but they had just one way of talking about it.

PiS politicians said four to five sentences on the issue, in PO we didn’t have a message as straightforward as they did. It was just better, it resonated with voters online, TV – everywhere.

According to a poll done by Work Service, 1.2 million Poles intend to leave the country, 63 percent of them are under 35. How do you prevent young talent from leaving the country?

The fact that we don’t have to pay for our education, that it’s government funded… Ideally you’d want these people to stay, work and pay taxes. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that government policy towards young people, and university grants are very useful, for example. Unfortunately, Poland right now does not have any special programmes for keeping people here.

Why do you think two-thirds of Poles between the age of 18-26 voted for conservative, nationalist parties in the 2015 parliamentary elections?

We did a lot of research on this, firstly, we were in power for eight years. When a young person is interested in politics, he looks at what’s happening and goes: ‘All my life it’s been only one party, I want change. Is the weather bad? It’s because of these politicians’. I think that PO became boring. We can say the same thing about Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany.

PO’s main message was just boring, it was too diplomatic. Young people like change, some controversy, this is perhaps something they found in PiS.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Kinga Gajewska-Płochocka

Santiago de la Presilla is a Warsaw-based journalist and communications advisor. He writes mostly about Polish, European politics and foreign policy.

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