Cablegate: Children of Martial Law and Youthful Politics In

Published: Wed 21 Sep 2005 10:23 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) Summary: A survey of the youth wings of Poland's
political parties and discussions with young voters give a
picture of a generation raised in post-communist Poland
fairly disengaged from the political process. While
dedicated individuals in and out of the party structure try
to reverse this trend, the level of grass-roots organization
remains weak. To appeal to younger voters, parties are
counting on providing representative examples to Poland's
youth by fielding young candidates. By focusing on economic
issues they hope to appeal to this segment of the population
with over 30% unemployment. End summary.
2. (SBU) Emboff and PolFSN met with representatives of Civic
Platform (PO), Law and Justice (PiS), Democratic Left
Alliance (SLD), Social Democracy of Poland (SdPL) and the
Polish Peasant Party (PSL) over the past few weeks to try to
ascertain the strategies employed by the parties to attract
young voters and understand the circumstances behind the low
turnout and lack of interest in politics among Poland's
youth. These meetings were mostly conducted with the heads
and representatives of each party's youth wing and also
included higher-level meetings with some party officials.
Emboff focused on the issues facing the youth electorate,
the organizational and logistical makeup of the parties and
their campaigns vis a vis the youth vote and the impact
these campaigns were having on expected participation and
turnout by young voters. We did not meet with
representatives of Self Defense (SO) nor with the Youth of
All Poland, which is associated with the League of Polish
Families (LPR), because of their extremist positions.
3. (SBU) Voters aged 18-30 comprise the youth vote for most
political parties. (Note: SLD's upper age for youth is 35,
which reflects its aging demographics, and allows the
current Party Chair and Secretary General (aged 31 and 32
respectively) to be defined as "youth" End Note.) This age
group was born in the late 1970s and early 80s, turned 18
(the legal voting age in Poland) in the 1990s and has faint
recollections of Poland's communist past. Poland's baby
boom, born in the year following the imposition of martial
law in December of 1981, will have its first chance to vote
during this year's elections and comprises up to 3 million
eligible voters. The young electorate in Poland is more
highly educated than the rest of the electorate (Poland now
has one of the highest rates of university education in
Europe) and better traveled than their elders (the past
three years have seen nearly 20,000 students a year
traveling to the U.S. on the Work and Travel program and
estimates have 250,000 Poles living in Ireland and as many
as 500,000 in the United Kingdom, most of them under 30).
4. (U) Emboff's contacts defined their typical youth voter
to be an educated student or university graduate, living in
a mid to large-sized Polish city. The rural-based PSL does
not expect to receive many youth votes. An increasing number
of articles in the Polish and foreign press (including in
the Economist) note the disillusionment of Poland's youth
with the political process. Most of the people we spoke with
expect the youth turnout to be near 30% (in 2001 it was
34%). This is part of a continuing downward trend for
turnout in Poland since the first democratic elections in
the early 1990s. Turnout has declined steeply across all age
groups, though is perhaps most pronounced for the "first-
timers" that may never vote at all.
5. (U) The electorate's top concern, including for its
youngest portion, is the country's economic situation,
especially an unemployment rate that hovers around 18%. Some
estimate the rate for younger Poles to be near 30-35%. In
addition to unemployment, younger voters are focused on an
on-going debate over proposals to charge tuition at public
universities, which are now essentially free.
6. (U) Poland's political party system--like its government-
-is centralized with funding and decisions emanating out of
Warsaw. The depth and development of the party structures
outside of Warsaw and the major cities varies mostly
according to the parties' histories, with the "largest"
parties throughout Poland in terms of offices and official
members being SLD and PSL, both of whom inherited their
Communist predecessors' infrastructures. The youth wings of
SLD (the Federation of Young Social Democrats--FMS), and PO
are separate entities, associated with but not controlled by
the parties themselves. PiS and SdPL have youth groups that
receive all of their funding from and are run as a division
of the main party. PSL does not have a specific youth
7. (SBU) All of the youth organizations we met expect to
work as part of the party apparatus during the campaigns,
believing that the messages conveyed to the general public
via television, radio advertisements and direct mail apply
to all voters, be they 18 or 78. The Internet sites of these
youth groups toe the parties' lines, but are tailored to
their peers and highlight debates, youth meetings and
messages about "youth" topics, especially the debate about
university fees. The youth wings have been debating one
another publicly; though have not garnered much press for
their efforts. The concepts of get-out-the-vote efforts and
targeted messages are noticeably absent from Polish
politicking in general. All the political operators Emboff
met responded with blank stares to questions about turnout
by demographics, door to door campaigning and Election Day
8. (SBU) PO and PiS, the center-right parties expected to
form the next government, have engaged many young people
through their outreach to Poland's Eastern neighbors,
especially in support of democracy in Ukraine and Belarus.
The youth groups in PO and PiS sent election monitors to
Ukraine's 2004 elections and intend to invite Belarusian
activists to observe the Polish elections. They have
contacts with Belarusian (including the banned Zubr
movement), Ukrainian and even Georgian youth movements. PO
in particular has been successful in making Belarus and its
treatment of the Polish minority an election issue. Some
trace its current rise in the polls to a visit to Belarus by
PO Presidential candidate Donald Tusk after Belarusian
President Lukashenko's crack downs on opposition and Polish
minority groups.
9. (U) In asking these various organizers and groups about
their parties' attractiveness to young voters, most pointed
to the fact that the parties had recruited significant
numbers of young candidates to run on the party ticket in
parliamentary elections. SLD representatives were
particularly well-prepared with a list showing 216
candidates for Parliament under the age of 35 and repeatedly
mentioning their youthful new leader. PO talked about its
Presidential candidate, known for his "youthful" appearance
and affinity for soccer. The head of the PiS youth
organization is running for Parliament and the organizer for
SdPL ran previously for European Parliament and is an
elected member of city government in a suburb of Warsaw.
While Emboff did not meet with the LPR-associated Youth of
All Poland, recent articles note their increasing strength
within the party. In fact, some senior LPR members split off
from the party after LPR leader Roman Giertych replaced them
with younger supporters on the Parliamentary lists.
10. (SBU) While very few young Poles would advocate a
departure from democracy (nor understand what that would
mean) there is a strong feeling among Poland's young adults
that there is little value to participating in the
elections. As graduates of some of Poland's best
universities find themselves having to choose between
washing dishes in London and living at home because the jobs
available do not pay enough to rent an apartment, there has
been an increasing sense of alienation from politics. Emboff
has heard time and again from well-educated, well-employed
young Poles that no party or candidate represents their
interests and that all the major parties and candidates are
part of a corrupt and incompetent system. Most of those who
intend to vote will do so to deny one of the extremist
parties a good showing and will vote in favor of the "less
evil" candidate.
11. (SBU) In nearly every instance that a young potential
voter referred to "picking the lesser evil," they were
referring to PO and Donald Tusk. There are no statistics to
show if any of PO's recent rise in the polls results from an
increase in support from young voters, but PO's centrist
positions and liberal economic values make it a natural
choice for a group that only knows the capitalist system and
has no recollection, yet alone affinity for the "good old
days." At the same time, the number of respondents in polls
claiming that they intend to vote in the Parliamentary and
Presidential elections is increasing, though these responses
are not broken out by age group. Whether or not they vote in
large numbers in the upcoming elections, these young people
will have to become engaged, both politically and
economically, for Poland to succeed in the future.
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