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Polish right-wing pins election hopes on John Paul II

#Polish #rightwing #pins #election #hopes #John #Paul

Poland’s governing conservatives have thrown themselves into defending late pope John Paul II against allegations of covering up child sex abuse in an apparent bid to mobilise voters and distract from runaway inflation in an election year.

The battle comes on the heels of a TV report and a book that accused the Polish pope of having knowingly concealed paedophilia within Poland’s Catholic Church when he was archbishop of Krakow.

The bombshell allegations set off a heated debate in the devout country, with the government and church on one side and the liberals on the other, just months ahead of the autumn general election. 

Over the weekend, thousands of people turned out in Warsaw on horseback, wearing historical costumes or draped with the flags of the Vatican and Poland in defence of the pope’s reputation. 

The nationwide events were planned by Catholic organisations with the open backing of the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), whose campaign in support of the pope has been dismissed by the opposition as a way to ride on his name. 

“It is meant to mobilise the party’s most loyal voters, to let them know they must go to the polls,” Warsaw University political scientist Anna Materska-Sosnowska told AFP. 

– ‘Most eminent Pole’ –

She said the PiS wants to be seen as “the party that defends real values” such as patriotism and Catholicism.

“John Paul II is considered an icon of Polish identity and the attacks on this ‘great Pole’ are seen as attacks on the very essence of this identity,” said Michal Sutowski, a political scientist associated with the left.

The first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years and the first from eastern Europe, John Paul II was a source of strength and hope for many Poles, who credit him with helping topple Communism.

Made a saint in 2014, the pontiff continues to be widely venerated in his homeland — where hundreds of schools bear his name — even if the official cult of John Paul II is beginning to show cracks, particularly among youth.  

Following the recent abuse cover-up allegations, the PiS-controlled lower house of parliament adopted a resolution “strongly condemning the disgraceful media campaign… against the Great Pope, Saint John Paul II, the most eminent Pole in all of history”. 

Certain local and regional governments have since adopted similar resolutions, while public television — a mouthpiece for the right-wing administration — spent weeks airing old papal homilies. 

– Free cream cakes – 

The national rail company PKP handed out the late pontiff’s favourite cream cakes to passengers on some high-speed trains over the weekend. 

“Still, we don’t know whether this campaign will have an effect on undecided voters,” Materska-Sosnowska said. 

The stakes are high. The conservatives, who have been in power since 2015, are still leading the polls with a third of voter support, but they could be denied a new government if they lose their majority. 

“The election battle will come down to voter mobilisation, as voter shifts in affiliation between the governing party and the opposition are practically non-existent,” Sutowski said. 

For the PiS, the papal defence is also a chance to shift the focus away from runaway inflation, which topped 18 percent in February and has been keeping Poles up at night. 

“The PiS is trying to cover up the inflation, but we don’t know how Poles will react once they see how much this year’s Easter spread will cost them,” said Materska-Sosnowska.

She argued that with the election just months away, “the PiS won’t be able to avoid the issue”. 

“But it’s possible they will set the election date for Papal Day,” she added, referring to the annual day of tribute to John Paul II. 

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