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How the Polish Left Could Make Its Comeback

Local Politics Is Breathing New Life Into the Fragmented Opposition

Robert Biedron at the launch of his new party, Wiosna, in Warsaw, Poland, February 2019 Agencja Gazeta / REUTERS

Pawel Adamowicz, longtime mayor of Gdansk, was holding up a Roman candle at a charity event on January 13 when a man leaped onstage and stabbed him repeatedly. Thousands of Adamowicz’s constituents saw him fall. Many rushed to donate blood; others remained glued to screens overnight as doctors tried to save the mayor with emergency surgeries and a near seven-gallon blood transfusion. But two of the wounds had touched Adamowicz’s heart, and a third had pierced his bowels. He died the following day.

Dziki kraj: “a savage country.” Such was the immediate response of Adamowicz’s friend Jerzy Owsiak, a journalist and the founder of the charity at whose event Adamowicz had been speaking. A public assassination of this kind had not occurred in Poland for almost a century. To some, it called to mind the 1922 shooting of the first Polish president, Gabriel Narutowicz.

Adamowicz’s murder cast a somber light on the vertiginous rightward turn Poland has taken in recent years. The mayor of Gdansk was a progressive figure who had defended the rights of women, gay people, minorities, and immigrants. In 2017, Poland’s right-wing youth movement issued Adamowicz a symbolic “death certificate” as punishment for his liberal policies. The ruling party in Warsaw, Law and Justice (PiS), did not condemn this display. Pro-government public television stations even heaped their own unproven accusations onto Adamowicz throughout 2018, suggesting that he had ties to corrupt real estate developers and bankers. Earlier this week, the ethics committee of the Polish Journalists Association issued a statement describing public television’s coverage of the mayor as deliberate and consistent misrepresentation.

The week after Adamowicz’s death, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and two of the party’s deputy Speakers of the House absented themselves from a scheduled minute of silence for the slain politician. PiS also refused to sign a multipartisan condemnation of Adamowicz’s killing because it praised too many of his achievements.

Dziki kraj indeed. Adamowicz’s assassination illustrates the great difficulties Poland’

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