Poland’s Referendum – choosing between a sin and a miracle?

10. June, 2003

Foto: Krista

A leading EU-sceptical movement sent a letter allegedly written to a Byelorussian mother by her son living in the EU. In the letter posted at the end of 2005, the son complains about the high prices and asks for one kilo of real, natural ham.

By Marcin Frydrych, Central European correspondent, Dace Akule, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

77.45 % of Polish voters supported the country’s bid to enter the EU, while 22.55% voted against joining the union in the referendum on 7-8 June, according to the official results published by the Election Committee late Monday. This makes Poland the second most sceptical accession country where the vote has been cast (after Malta), where the public was even more divided on the issue when it went to the polls in early March. However, the roots of Polish EU-scepticism are very different from those of Malta.

First of all, the Polish people are concerned about their prospects in the EU. Many think Poland did not get a fair deal from the negotiations, which among other things left Polish farmers with smaller amounts of direct payments in comparison to the subsidies paid to the farmers of the so-called old EU members. Others fear that the EU will only open the country’s borders to tourists, not to those Polish people who want to work outside their fatherland. At the same time, Poland’s borders will be open to EU citizens and European businesses. As a result, many expect that strong competition will cause higher unemployment rates instead of bringing new working places to the country.

As for spiritual values, some Poles also questioned whether the EU could force their catholic country to introduce a more liberal position on abortion and euthanasia. Different responses to this question left the Polish Catholic Church divided on Polish EU accession. From one side, Pope John Paul II urged his compatriots to join the EU. At the same time, some high-ranking bishops said that it would be a sin to say yes to the European block.

In the meantime, many analysts agree that Polish voters seemed to have believed in the miraculous vision of the EU that was created by the media and the government. They also admit that the pre-referendum campaigns were anything but a real debate on Poland’s future inside the EU.

Charlie Chaplin on the posters

Since the signing of the Accession Treaty in Athens (16 April), the Polish electorate has been heavily bombarded with advertisements and leaflets from both the “yes” and “no” side.

The government spent approximately 3 million Euro, organising public meetings and travelling all through the country to meet the EU-curious and critical public. Every household also received a special brochure signed by the Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, in which he explained how wonderful life in the EU could be.

Political parties also had a wide range of activities. The most colourful among them was a postcard issued by the leading EU-sceptical movement, the League for Polish families (LPR). This postcard featured the body of Charlie Chaplin with the face of Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, saying, “I put all my cards on the EU.” If this was not enough, on the other side of the postcard voters could read a letter allegedly written to a Byelorussian mother by her son living in the EU. In the letter posted at the end of 2005, the son complains about the high prices and asks for one kilo of real, natural ham.

Additionally, one of the biggest newspapers published slogans like “Do you agree to sell Poland?” or “Not everything that shines is gold,” the latter featured the golden stars of the EU.

On the other side, the leading pro-EU newspaper was no less creative and issued a special edition on the topic: What happens if the Polish people vote ¨no¨ to the EU? Trying to visualise the consequences of such a scenario, the edition, which was dated 2006, included an article on Poland and Albania continuing accession negotiations. Another report said that Warsaw and Brussels had just agreed on building a transit corridor from Germany to Lithuania.

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