The Polish election on October 15 is not just about who crosses the finish line first or second. It is also about who comes in third. And that may be the odd collection of far-right groups under the collective name of Konfederacja.
If that is the case, Konfederacja may end up being the party whose support for the winners or the runners-up – probably respectively the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) or the opposition’s Civic Coalition (KO) – will determine who the next prime minister is going to be.
Konfederacja – whose full name translates as Confederation Freedom and Independence – is a fairly loose group of far-right nationalists who overcame differences between its respective leaderships to put together a concerted effort to win representation at the 2019 election.
The effort surprisingly worked out and the group scooped nearly 7% of the vote – 1.25mn individual votes – and 11 seats in the parliament.
Four years on, Konfederacja regularly tops 10% in the polls, giving it some 50 seats in the new parliament, give or take a few. That makes it a regular subject of speculation about its potential participation in the next government, speculation that the party fervently denies, nurturing its anti-establishment image.
Given its far-right stance, a coalition with PiS would appear to be the more obvious fit but party leaders say that Jaroslaw Kaczynski's radical rightwing party is an imposter.
“I hope that the Poles will finally open their eyes and see that PiS is no different from PO,” Slawomir Mentzen, one of the Konfederacja leaders, told the tabloid newspaper Super Express in June.
Pressed if there was a scenario in which his party would form a government with either of the big parties, Mentzen said: “If either of them agrees to implement our programme, everything’s back on the table.”
Unusually for a far-right party, Konfederacja’s programme is deregulation to the extreme, as well as the usual anti-EU stance and a drive to stop immigration.
Mentzen once said that if his party won power, it would liquidate personal and corporate taxation as well as ZUS, the state body managing Poles’ pensions. Pressed on those plans, he said later he had intended them as “a joke of sorts”.
Still, the party’s platform for the October election is largely getting rid of what Konfederacja considers are rules restraining people’s personal and economic freedoms, such as taxes or other forms of pooling money for the benefit of the society, such as state-funded healthcare and education systems.
The party has also spoken against doling out money to people via welfare, which, it says, is what makes PiS “fake right-wing”.
The “true” right-wing credits of Konfederacja do not end with the plans to transform Poland from its current socialism-infested politics – represented not just by PiS, according to the party, but also Donald Tusk's KO, the Left, and the agrarians from PSL, collectively nicknamed “the gang of four” by Konfederacja leaders – to a society of free capitalists.
Konfederacja also says that the EU has degenerated from guaranteeing “fair competition rules and opportunities to work and save, to absurd climate policy, destroying the competitiveness of industry, and explosive costs of construction,” according to Krzysztof Bosak, one of the most articulate politicians in Poland, with a talent for fast comebacks in live debates.
Most of Konfederacja's other leaders are better known for their high school pranks – fittingly Mentzen has made a name for himself in large part thanks to TikTok videos.
In one of his most recent real-life antics, he arrived at the gates of a well-known psychiatric hospital in Choroszcz, north-eastern Poland, on August 28.
“I have arrived here but not to be examined but to reserve beds for Kaczynski and Tusk … who we are going to send here immediately after the election,” Mentzen said.
An uproar followed about poking fun at psychiatric health in a country where patents continue to be stigmatised and where access to professional help is limited, especially for young people.
Rocking in the free world
Mentzen arrived at the hospital in Choroszcz right after the previous day’s rally in nearby Bialystok, where he and Bosak promoted Konfederacja to a crowd of mostly young voters.
“Our product is credibility, conviction, energy, and the willingness to blow the system up,” Bosak said, the local edition of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
At the Bialystok rally and others that have taken place so far, Bosak is the one doing serious talk about politics and the “rising tide of societal mutiny”, which, he says, the left calls a “wave of populism”.
“Why don’t we call it a wave of democracy,” Bosak told the crowd in Bialystok.
The rallies are staged so that after Bosak’s hard talk, Mentzen takes over with the jokes and memes displayed on a screen behind his back.
The message from the rallies – they are advertised as “Bosak & Mentzen live” with posters made as if they promoted rock concerts – appears to have sunk in with a lot more people in 2023 than they did in 2019.
Konfederacja has averaged 10.2% in the last 30 days in the polls, according to poll-aggregating website wybory.eu. The support for the party ranged from just 6% to as many as 14.9% during that time.
The party’s outlook on its post-election strategy may be unclear but Konfederacja leaders say they are in it for the long-run – which is until they can take over power.
In a rare quote giving credit to Kaczynski and Tusk, Mentzen told the Bialystok rally: “If someone says we are never going to win power, I reply: who prophesied in 2001 that Kaczynski or Tusk would rule Poland one day?”