DeSmog

Revealed: Far-Right Links of Polish Farmer Hunger Strikers

The nascent Orka movement has gained access to the president after vowing to toss the EU’s Green Deal “in the trash”.
Orka protesters chat to Polish President Andrzej Duda (centre) in the Polish parliament, May 22 2024. Credit: YouTube/Orka.

An obscure far-right linked farmers group has risen to prominence in Poland after it was championed by populist politicians ahead of the EU elections, DeSmog can reveal.

Orka, a new farmers’ movement that materialised earlier this month, entered Warsaw’s parliament building on May 9 to protest against EU climate plans and Ukrainian food imports.

Protesters suspended a 10-day hunger strike last week after winning the attention of Polish President Andrzej Duda, who invited them to talks, and reportedly offered one member a role on his council for agriculture.

The protest group was accompanied by the far-right Confederation Party’s Marta Chech, who is running as a candidate in the June 6-9 EU ballot.  

The little-known group has been greeted with widespread scepticism in Poland, after it emerged that it is not yet registered as a farming group and few have heard of it. Prime Minister Donald Tusk has so far refused to meet the protesters, claiming they do not represent real farmers.

Orka insists it is apolitical, a group of “common farmers”. However, DeSmog has uncovered a number of far-right links to two of the group’s leading figures.

One member, Radoslaw Salata, ran as a candidate for the Confederation Party in 2019. Another, Mariusz Borowiak, has expressed his support for the party on social media and has been photographed with one of its leaders, who has been widely condemned in recent months for anti-semitism.

A number of right-wing Polish MPs have also been quick to join the protest. Poland – like much of Europe – has seen widespread farmer demonstrations since late 2023 over green reforms, and a raft of other issues. Further protests are expected ahead of the June EU parliamentary elections, in which 400 million eligible voters prepare to head to the polls.

Orka says it wants to land the Green Deal – the EU’s plan to achieve net zero by 2050 – “in the trash”. According to EU news website Euractiv, the protesters were last week heard shouting references to an anti-EU conspiracy theory revolving around the false notion that decarbonisation will require high levels of bug consumption, with the phrase: “Let Brussels eat insects. We eat Polish pork chops”.

While the EU has already repealed multiple environmental laws in response to the demonstrations, some groups are calling for further concessions. The far-right, which has capitalised on an anti Green Deal narrative, is widely expected to make major gains at the upcoming vote.

“It’s very difficult to fight this kind of misinformation,” Krzysztof Cibor, head of campaigns at Greenpeace Poland, told DeSmog.

“It’s not fact versus fact, it’s fact versus emotions. The public in Poland want climate policies to be stronger, but emotions towards the Green Deal aren’t positive now and politicians are using this rhetoric to win votes.”

The professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, said the Orka protest was an example of extreme right-wing and populist parties weaponizing a popular cause.

“They are using these protests to portray themselves as defenders of national interests against EU-imposed regulations,” he said.

Political Support

The 14 protesters were given access to the parliament building by MPs from Poland’s populist Law and Justice (PiS) party as well as members of the smaller far-right Confederation party.

Although PiS lost power in last year’s general election – after eight years of governing – it enjoys almost as much popular support as Civic Coalition, the largest party in the ruling coalition government, two May polls suggest

Deputy agriculture minister Michal Kolodziejczak, who founded the left-wing agrarian party Agrounia, told the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita that he believed the Orka demonstration was “coordinated” by members of the PiS party. “What they [Orka] want, nobody really knows,” he added.

Former agricultural minister Robert Telus, who is running in the upcoming EU elections for the Law and Justice party (PiS), spent one night camping out with protesters in the corridor of Poland’s parliament building. 

Orka’s spokesperson Mariusz Borowiak posted photos on Facebook of Telus and two other MPs, Anna Gembicka and Jarosław Sachajko, who were pictured smiling in sleeping bags. 

In an interview earlier this year, Telus said the “climate religion” of former EU climate chief Frans Timmermans had led to the demise of farming, and described the EU’s targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as “radical”.

The protest attracted wider online support. In a post on social media platform X, Poland’s Law and Justice Party PiS stated that the group was “protesting against a policy that … will simply lead to the collapse of Polish agriculture”, in an apparent reference to the EU’s environmental laws.

Such claims have been at the centre of a misleading anti-EU narrative. The European Green Deal sets out the EU’s flagship sustainable farming reforms, including its “Farm to Fork strategy”, which aims to mitigate climate change and reverse biodiversity loss.

In a comment to DeSmog, Borowiak denied that Orka had been weaponized. He said his association had “used” PiS and Confederation lawmakers to gain access to parliament and air their grievances.

“Whatever happens inside the parliament, that’s what politics looks like. Everyone wants to snap a photo, get something out of it,” he said. 

“These are ordinary guys who work in the field every day, and at the moment we had to fight for our existence in the Sejm [lower house of parliament] and even if we didn’t want to, unfortunately we have to meet with politicians,” Borowiak said. 

Andrés Rodríguez-Pose of the London School of Economics,  who specialises in regional inequality and populism in Europe, told DeSmog that Poland’s political parties could benefit from such protests.

“Populist and nationalist political parties, such as Confederation and PiS, stand to gain significantly by capitalising on farmer protests like this hunger strike,” he said.

“They can rally support from communities feeling neglected by the EU’s climate policies, amplify existing discontent, and channel it into political action, undermining their opponents.

“Such a strategy will, in all likelihood, weaken the position of pro-Europe parties and boost the visibility and support for populism, leading to a more fragmented European Parliament.”

Despite Orka’s claims to be apolitical, DeSmog found that two of the group’s leading figures have links to the far-right.

In a photo posted on Facebook from Poland’s Independence Day march, Europe’s largest meeting of nationalist groups, in November, Borowiak is seen standing on top of LGBTQI and European Union flags, holding a Polish flag in his hand. The caption reads: “Tighten your fist!!! Don’t tighten your belt!!!”

He also praised Grzegorz Braun of the far-right Confederation party after the lawmaker blasted a Jewish menorah with a fire extinguisher in parliament last December – an incident for which Braun was widely condemned. Borowiak posted a photo on Facebook of himself and Braun shaking hands, congratulating the MP for “putting out the fire”.

Braun, who is a Confederation candidate in the upcoming elections to the EU parliament, visited Orka farmers while they protested. He livestreamed several of their press conferences on Facebook and in a post on X, urged people to subscribe to the group’s YouTube channel. 

Another of the group’s unofficial spokespeople, Radoslaw Salata, ran as a candidate for the far-right Confederation Party in 2019, and was until that year a member of the party’s ultra-nationalist faction, National Movement. In 2016, he received an award from the PiS administration for his contribution to farming.

Borowiak and Salata both also ran in Poland’s most recent local government elections in April, as part of the same grouping of independent candidates. The group’s slogan “God, Honour, Fatherland” is widely used by Poland’s ultra-conservative groups, and most commonly heard at the country’s Independence Day march.

The rally is associated with the Confederation Party and has witnessed xenophobic slogans and outbreaks of violence in recent years. Borowiak said that the “God, Honour, Fatherland” slogan is one farmers identify with too. “I don’t think we should pigeonhole it,” he told DeSmog.

Borowiak is a regular commentator on controversial private broadcaster TV Republika, which has over a million subscribers on YouTube. The station regularly platforms climate denial. It is widely considered to be a mouthpiece for PiS, which exerted significant control over Polish state media when it was in government.

While small, protests such as Orka’s could “significantly impact” the results of the election, said Rodríguez-Pose. “This stance is attracting voters who feel, with or without reason, neglected or adversely affected by EU policies.”

Law and Justice (PiS), Confederation party, Robert Telus, Grzegorz Braun and Radoslaw Salata were contacted for comment but had not responded prior to publication. 

marta
Marta is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker focused on human rights and environmental issues in Europe and Southeast Asia. After a decade in Cambodia, she's recently relocated to Poland.
Clare Carlile headshot cropped
Clare is a Researcher at DeSmog, focusing on the agribusiness sector. Prior to joining the organisation in July 2022, she was Co-Editor and Researcher at Ethical Consumer Magazine, where she specialised in migrant workers’ rights in the food industry. Her work has been published in The Guardian and New Internationalist.
Phoebe Cooke headshot - credit Laura King Photography
Phoebe joined DeSmog in 2020. She is currently co-deputy editor and was previously the organisation's Senior Reporter.

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