A Recent Survey Shows How Significantly Young Poles’ Views Towards Ukraine Have Changed
Kiev is losing the hearts and minds of this important demographic, many of whom are now embracing the anti-establishment Confederation party, and Poland’s ruling party must properly respond to this trend if it wants to remain in power.
The Conversation, which is a global collaboration platform between academics and journalists that’s funded by a wide range of international research institutions, published the results from a recent survey of 2,000 young Poles aged 16-34 showing how significantly their views towards Ukraine have changed since early 2022. It can be read in full here, but the present piece will share the most interesting highlights before analyzing them in the latest context of newly complicated Polish-Ukrainian ties.
Before doing so, it’s important to briefly draw attention to the credentials of the researchers involved, Felix Krawatzek and Piotr Goldstein. The first is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for East European and International Studies in Berlin and Associate Member of Nuffield College at University of Oxford while the second is a Research Fellow at that same German institution. Both are therefore established Western experts who can’t be accused of being “Russian propagandists” by any stretch of the imagination.
Having preemptively debunked the ad hominem attacks that’ll predictably form the bulk of Western social media’s reaction to their findings, it’s now time to share the highlights from their survey:
* Over half of young Poles don’t want Ukrainian refugees to permanently reside in their country
– “Our analysis found that between 2022 and 2023, increasing numbers of young Poles – now 52%, up from 42% a year ago – believe that refugees should be offered temporary status, with the assumption that they return to Ukraine as soon as it becomes safely possible.”
* Young Catholic & conservative Poles feel stronger about this than others
– “Those young people who self-identify as Catholic in our survey are 10% more likely than others to desire their return to Ukraine when this becomes possible. This is also true of those who support the far-right Konfederacja, a party that has opposed the Polish response to the war in Ukraine, who are 13% more likely to express that view than others.”
* Over one-third of young Poles want their government to become neutral towards Ukraine
– “In 2022, an overwhelming majority of 83% argued that the government should support Ukraine – but this number has changed drastically. Now, 65% of respondents back continuous support for Ukraine, whereas the remaining 34% wish for Poland to stay neutral.”
* Older young Poles and those living outside of big cities feel stronger about this than others
– “In particular, the oldest people in our sample of young Poles (those aged 25-34) express the strongest wish for political neutrality, as do those from cities with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants and young people who have not engaged in helping Ukrainians over the last 18 months.”
* Young Poles, and especially conservative ones, are increasingly embracing peace and neutrality
– “Asked about the type of support that people consider appropriate for Ukraine, our most recent (2023) data shows that only 2% of young Poles want the national army to be involved in the Ukraine war. And while 60% support offering humanitarian aid, only 28% want Poland to offer weapons. Those supporting the far-right (roughly 20% of our respondents) are most likely to oppose the sending of weapons.”
Quite clearly, the rapid rise of the anti-establishment Confederation party played a pivotal role in shaping young Poles’ views towards the NATO-Russian proxy war in Ukraine and their attitudes towards refugees from that battleground state. They’re a political force to be reckoned with and might even become their country’s kingmakers after this fall’s national elections, though that’s precisely why there’s a credible fear that the ruling party might brand them with the scarlet letter of being “Russian agents” before then.
About that, they formed a so-called “Russian influence commission” earlier this summer that many at the time interpreted as an attempt to discredit the liberal–globalist “Civic Platform” opposition party that’s regarded by many as being German proxies. That prediction still stands but can now be expanded to include the Confederation party as possible targets too due to the socio-political influence that they now wield as proven by this latest survey.
Another factor that certainly played a role in shaping young Poles’ views towards this conflict but which wasn’t addressed in The Conversation’s survey was Kiev trying to trick Warsaw into starting World War III after Ukraine accidentally bombed Poland last November then lied that Russia was allegedly responsible. This incident vindicated those like the Confederation party who hitherto claimed that the Ukrainian leadership can’t be trusted, thus further fueling their rise and the associated popularity of their views.
It can accordingly be argued that Kiev’s blatant lies also account for why one-third of young Poles now want their government to become neutral towards Ukraine and only 28% are in favor of continuing to send it weapons. After all, their lives likely flashed before their eyes during the brief period when it was unclear exactly who was responsible for the unprecedented bombing of NATO territory, and this could have left a strong impression that might have made them more pragmatic towards this conflict.
Another constructive critique that can be made about The Conversation’s survey is that it didn’t attempt to determine the possible role that Ukraine’s recent criticisms of Poland might have played in shaping young Poles’ views. Their research was carried out from May-June 2023, which coincided with Zelensky’s rage from early May that he directed at Poland and neighboring EU countries for their unilateral ban of most Ukrainian agricultural imports that was imposed to protect their farmers.
In hindsight, this was the start of a new trend that began to manifest itself more fully late last month when Kiev once again verbally attacked Poland after Warsaw said that it’ll unilaterally continue this ban even after the European Commission’s temporary deal expires in mid-September. That prompted a quickly escalating tit-for-tat that led to each side summoning the other’s ambassadors, after which their leaders tweeted about this scandal and expressed polar opposite views about who’s responsible.
The Polish Deputy Foreign Minister then expanded the scope of their disagreements to include the World War II-era genocide of Poles in Volhynia by Hitler’s Ukrainian collaborators, which in turn led to Zelensky’s senior advisor predicting that post-conflict bilateral ties will be characterized by competition. Intrepid readers can learn more about this here since the details are beyond the scope of the present piece, but the rest should simply be aware of how complicated their relations have since become.
Keeping in mind the highlights of this latest survey as well as the corresponding analysis thereof, it’s undeniable that young Poles’ views towards Ukraine have significantly changed, which will likely influence the outcome of this fall’s national elections. Kiev is losing the hearts and minds of this important demographic, many of whom are now embracing the anti-establishment Confederation party, and Poland’s ruling party must properly respond to this trend if it wants to remain in power.