In third place in the opinion polls (12%), he’s fighting for the rights of farmers, pigs, and Alexander Lukashenko.
He’s the maverick isolationist who is anti-EU, anti-Atlanticist, and anti-globalist. He’s the ex-boxer who’s been in court more times than a Polish grandma has cooked up bigos. And he is the self-styled modern day Polish Robin Hood, who has about one in ten Polish voters cheering him on.
I have seen him described by the foreign press as being on the ‘far right’, but this completely misses the point about politics in a post-communist country like Poland.
Up until 1992, Lepper was a pig farmer who was a member of the PZPR, the old communist party. When his farm hit hard times he decided it was time to fight back against the ‘shock economic therapy’, and savage free market reforms of the newly capitalist Poland.
So he formed Samoobrona (Self Defense) the radical farmers union. Lepper quickly became a constant media presence – organizing roadblocks to keep out cheap imported grain from the EU and elsewhere. His direct action method of protest attracted the attention of not just the news media, but also the cops, who arrested him countless times for obstruction and other public order offenses.
Samoobrona’s party song is a jolly little ditty that makes plain the Lepper mindset: “This land is our land, and we won’t let anyone punch us in the face.” Catchy, isn’t it?
He first stood for president ten years ago, when he polled just over one percent. The next time he tried, in 2000, he got three percent. This time he will probably get around twelve percent. So things are going in the right direction for the man who is attracting the disaffected and disposessed in modern day Poland.
He has made anti-Semitic remarks in the past, which is probably where the ‘far right’ tag comes from. He has praised Goebbels for his mastery of the media, and Hitler for his ‘economic policy.’
But he has also expressed regard for someone who is usually thought to be a bit of a basket case, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. He supported Lukashenko’s successful attempt to change the constitution so that he could stand for a third term as head of state. Lepper thinks that he should be president ‘till he dies.’
King of the Polish populists
Lepper is a strange mixture of two French populists: Jose Bove – the darling of lefty anti-globalists who once drove a tractor through his local MacDonald’s - and far-right, neo-fascist, Jean Mari le Pen.
Like Hitler, he is a lover of our fury friends, and campaigns for the rights of farm animals. In Washington D.C. in 2001 he was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Medal for his campaign for more humane farming. He vows to ‘stop the concentration camps’ of modern farming methods in Poland. “Farm animals are like any other living being, and have natural instincts that must be expressed.”, he told a doting American audience.
Foreign policy under Lepper and Samoobrona would turn Poland into, well, another Belarus. He is as suspicious of American capitalism as he is of the interventionism of the EU. He accuses both of dumping surplus agricultural products on the Polish market, with the full permission of the government. And as far as the domestic economy is concerned, he would slow down privatization, and make sure that Polish firms stay in Polish hands.
So, all in all, Andrzej Lepper is an oddball, and someone who defies the usual political labels of left and right.
He won’t get into the second round of the presidential elections, but he can always be relied upon to liven up Polish politics a bit. Political journalists, in particular, would miss him if he were ever to fall under a tractor.