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Counter-Elite Populism and Civil Society in Poland: PiS’s Strategies of Elite Replacement

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This article shows how Poland’s ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), is attempting to apply its general strategy of “elite replacement” in a modified way to civil society. Since independent civil society organizations are not subject to arbitrary state control of appointments (unlike public institutions), this strategy has required a more complex dual approach of pressure and promotion. Organizations perceived as hostile to the party and its values have been subject to the withdrawal of state support and smear campaigns. By contrast, organizations that are politically or ideologically linked to the party have found support in the form of new public funds and other institutional assistance. This article examines the practical functioning and consequences of these processes through two main examples: (1) a state-sponsored campaign against one of Poland’s largest independent charity organizations, the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity and (2) the funding of multiple right-wing NGOs friendly to PiS by the newly established National Freedom Institute. The article shows how PiS’s dual strategy in civil society reinforces its political narratives through support of the broader right-wing cultural narratives that underpin them. At the same time, it demonstrates how funding of friendly organizations directly strengthens party structures by fostering the development of new political and administrative cadres. By analysing PiS’s specific methods of pressure and promotion in the sphere of civil society, the article shows the intertwining of political and cultural narratives and goals within a right-wing populist framework.



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East European Politics and Societies

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