A new parliament will be elected in Poland in a month. The right-wing PiS party and the liberal-conservative Citizens’ Coalition are neck-and-neck in polls. Of all people, an extreme right-wing Tiktoker could decide the election.
The Catholic-nationalist PiS party has ruled Poland with an absolute majority for eight years. The alliance around Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski wants to stand for “law and justice”. In their interpretation, this primarily means hate speech against refugees, drastic reforms in the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community, and the revival of a new national pride. In the presidential election on October 15th, the PiS now has to fear losing its absolute majority after eight years. Of all people, a competitor from the right-wing camp could pose a threat to them.
Surveys see the PiS with 38 percent slightly ahead of the largest opposition party, the Citizens’ Platform KO (30 percent), which is led by former President of the European Council Donald Tusk. However, an absolute majority for one of the parties appears to be impossible. The main reason for this is one man: Slawomir Mentzen. The 36-year-old is an entrepreneur and tax consultant – and chairman of the right-wing radical Konfederacja party, which has developed from a political outsider to the third strongest force in Poland’s party landscape in the last twelve months.
Slawomir Mentzen: Right-wing politician and Tiktok star
Mentzen owes his success primarily to his appearance on social media. There he gathers 785 thousand followers behind him. In his Tiktoks, Mentzen promises every Pol: low taxes, two cars, a house outside the city or the legalization of marijuana. The politician collected 18.5 million likes on his postings. For comparison: Last year, SPD state parliament member Lutz Liebscher from Thuringia was the German politician with the highest reach on Tiktok, with a total of 3.9 million likes.
At first glance, Mentzen’s Tiktoks are anything but right-wing radical. In one of his most famous videos, he comments on the subject of tax cuts: “The taxes will be low and simple,” he promises. “You just have to want and be able to – and we want that very much.” According to Mentzen, this should be made possible by ending all social programs. Everyone is the creator of their own luck and responsible for their own personal fate – “like Elon Musk!”
The rise of the extreme right-wing Konfederacja
The positions of the Konfederacja are as colorful as Mentzen’s topics on Tiktok. The party is a gathering place for extreme nationalists, Catholic fundamentalists and an extreme libertarian wing, which is similar to the US Tea Party.
Slawomir Mentzen also belongs to the latter. He supports the right to own weapons and is in favor of the introduction of the death penalty – following the American model. Before the last elections in 2019, he also said at a campaign event that his party was for all “voters who don’t want Jews, gays, abortions, taxes and the European Union.”
Young Poles have hope in Mentzen
These extreme attitudes coupled with Mentzen’s communication via Tiktok have given the right-wing populist Konfederacja a real hype, especially among younger voters. In the meantime, their poll numbers rose to 15 percent. Surveys show that Konfederacja is already the strongest force among men aged 18 to 39. 37 percent of young Poles would vote for her.
Mentzen sells himself as an anti-politician who fights against the establishment in Warsaw. This image appeals to a young audience who seem to trust their own state less and less. Many young Poles see themselves unseen and disadvantaged compared to older generations. The 36-year-old politician takes up this anger in his videos. Referring to Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 73 years old, and Donald Tusk, 66 years old, he tweeted: “Both are older than my parents. It’s time to send them into retirement so that they stop thinking about the lives of young people to determine people.”
In the Polish media, many from Gen Z are critical of the top candidates Tusk and Morawiecki. Speaking to Poland’s second-largest national daily newspaper, 30-year-old secretary Karolina speaks symptomatically: “This moldy generation of politicians will discuss communism, the church and the Pope until their death, as if they don’t understand that no one my age has one Fuck it.” Karolina states in the report that she is still undecided. However, many points, especially Mentzen’s market economy perspective, would convince them.
Anyone who tries to dismiss the potential of right-wing populist parties among young voters as purely Eastern European is wrong. In Germany, too, it seems as if the right-wing populist AfD has the greatest digital expertise and is hitting a nerve with young people with their “against the system” stance. Compared to other parties, the AfD accounts as well as their state associations and top politicians have by far the most followers on Tiktok and YouTube, where many young people are active. Only on Instagram is the party classified as a suspected right-wing extremist case by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution not at the top.
In a time of inflation and limited prospects for long-term prosperity, change seems desirable for many people under 40, regardless of political background. The established, democratic parties in Poland and Europe must find a way, both in terms of content and communication, to focus more closely on the reality of young people’s lives in order not to permanently lose their votes.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.