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Polen Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Skarzynski

New Polish politics 101: Warsaw uni offers Kaczynski course

Monika Sieradzka
February 19, 2018

The University of Warsaw's most popular course is a new offering: its Institute of Sociology course analyzing the country's most powerful politician, Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.


Polish students like to go to a specific Facebook page to mock and ridicule professors and lecturers who try to outdo themselves with what they think are clever titles for their lectures and courses. The students poke fun at "What we can learn from horses" and "The existence of dwarves," but the new course on ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski takes the cake.

"I hope the course will be available via live stream on the Internet, as I couldn't get in," one student jokes. "Will we also hear about Poland's most important cat?" wonders another, referring to Kaczynski's well-known love of felines.

Run on new course

Some joke, but others take the course that started on Monday very seriously – it was fully booked as soon as the institute posted the curriculum.

12 sociology students attend the class that aims to analyze the country's most powerful active politician, using publications from a broad political spectrum. No matter their own political convictions, the students are expected to take into account many different points of view, and write term papers that might later be published.

The course is the first to analyze a politician who is still active and is of great interest to fledgling sociologists – many of whom see 68-year-old Kaczynski as a charismatic figure. "Of all of the country's politicians, Jaroslaw Kaczynski always had the most courage to fight the tide," gushes a Polish student in a social media debate about the Kaczynski course.

Read also: Poland's opposition prepares to fight PiS as reform initiatives uncertain

Kaczynski, the revolutionary

Pawel Spiewak, a liberal sociologist whose political convictions are far removed from the national conservative party leader's, came up with the plan to offer a course focusing on a man he is convinced is one of the most important Polish political leaders after 1989. Of all of Poland's leading political figures from those years, "he is the only one who is still active and influential in Polish politics," the sociologist told DW.

Kaczynski, he added, is no "pragmatic technocrat like Donald Tusk, but an ideologist, a revolutionary who has for decades consistently operated against the liberal mainstream, and who has triggered a real shift to the right in Poland."

Read also: Kaczynski changed the game for Polish politics

Mateusz Morawiecki on Conflict Zone

What makes the leader of the PiS party so successful? How does he steer governments from the back benches, win majorities, elect and drop prime ministers? Those are questions the course sets out to answer.

Political will is much more important to Kaczynski than the legal order, said Spiewak, who has defined the state system the PiS is currently introducing as "authoritarianism." Looking toward municipal elections in Poland this year, Spiewak added: "If he doesn't like self-administration, he'll get rid of it." 

Many Polish voters like the party's decisiveness, and opinion polls show the PiS is increasingly popular, and might even surpass 50 percent – dues, according to Spiewak, to Kaczynski's "ironclad consistency."  An item on his political agenda since the 1990s: weeding out the communists that are still in public office on all levels. Judiciary reform and the dismissal of judges have helped fulfill that pledge.

Read also: Is Poland's new government a PR stunt or an actual change?

Influencing political choices

Kaczynski is not interested in the post of prime minister, however; he'd rather be party leader and a regular lawmaker. But even leading PiS politicians ask his advice, and act accordingly. Party members almost always praise him, he is rarely criticized. Critics quickly fall out of favor and are forced to take their leave. Kaczynski pulls the strings, but has no responsibilities within the government.

That fact, too, gave the University of Warsaw sociologist the idea to offer the course with a focus on the PiS leader's "brilliant sociological understanding." Spiewak attests that the politician "sophisticated convictions on social change and the consequences of transformation." That is evident in the "socialist tools" he uses, the sociologist argued, listing the introduction of child benefits that improved the financial situation of millions of Polish families.

To interpret his actions, it is important to learn more about Kaczynski's long-term visions, and to analyze them in a comprehensive context. This will now be examined in twelve seminar sessions in sociology at the University of Warsaw. The most popular seminar in the country started on Monday.
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