IR INSIDER

Powered by IR Society at NYU

IR Insider is a production of NYU's International Relations Society. Our goal is to explain and discuss issues in IR in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. We are written by students, for students, about issues students care about. 

The Polish Paradox: Christian Migrant Influx Amidst Conservative Anti-Immigration Politics

As national elections approach later this year, Poland faces much controversy and division over the country’s entrenched conservative stance and ideals. The present ruling power the Law and Justice Party, also known as PiS, has actively spread a platform of staunch traditionalist and Christian values since its rise to prominence in 2015. However, as its European Union neighbors increasingly favor more progressive politics, Poland confronts a widening gulf at home between those favoring the Christian fundamentalism driving the country’s leadership and those aiming to introduce more diversity and forward-looking politics into the agenda.

Political participants carrying a banner translating to “Poland for Poles.” Photo.    Source: BBC via Reuters.

Political participants carrying a banner translating to “Poland for Poles.” Photo. Source: BBC via Reuters.

One arena in which the political divide is most apparent is immigration policy. Poland has notoriously promoted, “loud, anti-immigrant rhetoric,” under the leadership of PiS and has resisted intake quotas from the EU since the migration crisis of 2015. In polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Poles see immigrants largely as a burden to society and as responsible for increasing risks of terrorism. Moreover, Poland has strongly curbed migration flows originating from countries within North Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Specifically, those EU policies dictating migrant quotas from predominantly Muslim countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea have been rejected by Polish officials.

Ironically, however, during this rise in political xenophobia and migrant criticism generated by the right-wing Christian-based leadership, Poland has equally seen one of its largest migrant influxes in history. Notably, the mass part of Poland’s immigrants are Christian Ukrainian workers. Since 2014 over 2 million Ukrainians have migrated to Poland, with Ukrainians outnumbering all other immigrant nationalities by ratios of over 6:1 in their obtainment of Polish residence permits. In 2017 alone Ukrainians received 86% of Poland’s first-time residence permits, the number one non-EU recipients of such.

Illustration of rising Ukrainian immigration to Poland. Photo.    Source: NBP

Illustration of rising Ukrainian immigration to Poland. Photo. Source: NBP

Interestingly, Ukrainian immigrants are not resisted in large part due to a social acceptance of these individuals for their Christian backgrounds, historical ties to Polish society, and their overall ‘cultural similarity’ to Poles.  As former Polish parliamentarian and foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski succinctly said, “[Poles] think [that] Christians are all right, and [that] non-Christians are not all right, [and that] Christians will assimilate and [that] non-Christians won’t. It’s that simple. Moreover, there exists a popular “consensus” in Poland to resist “postcolonial Western [styles] of immigration” so that introduction of only those individuals most homogenous and complementary to Polish society is the most socially acceptable and viable option. Christian Ukrainians thus have come to serve a vital labor role in sustaining the Polish economy.

The infiltration of religious fundamentals and the ideology of PiS occurs in many other areas of society. Poland’s conservatively driven politics have constrained progress towards basic LGBT+ rights, accessibility for female contraceptives and abortions, and the inclusion of sex education in public schools. As national elections approach in October of this year, progressive opposition forces and voices against PiS are arising on the political scene. A prominent contestable candidate is Robert Biedron, Poland’s first openly gay parliamentarian, and his reformist Spring Party. However, while Biedron and progressive movements are currently generating popular support in society, the strength and entrenchment of Poland’s Catholic roots cannot be dismissed in the race for political change in the country.