Sejmflix 101: How did the Polish Parliament become a YouTube sensation?

Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament (Image Credit: Kancelaria Premiera | Flickr | PDM 1.0 DEED)

Remember Poland, that little 40-million-people country in Central Europe? It recently experienced a shift in political power. 

October 15th, 2023 not only witnessed the highest voter turnout in modern Polish history – a staggering 74.4% – but also marked the end of the Law and Justice party’s rule (PiS).

The EU – and all pro-European voters – sighed in relief as the populist PiS lost the majority in Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament. The damage to the Polish judiciary system and Poland-EU relations inflicted by 8 years of PiS’s rule will not be rectified easily. However, with the victory of the three-way coalition of PO (Civic Platform), Third Way, and the Left, a new chapter in the country’s politics has begun. And it’s not just about Donald Tusk’s comeback as prime minister. 

The change in government has ushered in a wave of excitement among the Polish public, shifting their focus from binge-watching Netflix series to… livestreams of Sejm’s parliamentary sessions. 

Usually, parliamentary sessions are not everyone’s cup of tea, but in Poland they’ve become a digital sensation. Sejm’s YouTube channel has claimed the top spot as the most-subscribed-to parliamentary channel in the Western world. It has reached a whopping 735 thousand subscriptions, with more followers joining every day. The livestream of the first session after the election was viewed almost a million times. Soaring subscriptions and rising public interest reflect a growing appetite among Poles for a more transparent and accessible political discourse. 

Szymon Hołownia presents the assumptions of the program “The power of the state is in the people” for the public service, February 14th, 2023 (Image Credits: Tomasz Kaczor | Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

Szymon Hołownia – former Polish “Got Talent” show host turned parliament speaker – played no small role in this success. His charisma, composure, and witty comebacks have made the livestreams of parliamentary sessions go viral. Some of them even landed on YouTube’s “Trending” section. The new speaker’s eloquence and ability to connect with the audience have gathered widespread approval and contributed to the rising popularity of Sejm’s debates. 

Tuning in to watch Polish politicians’ heated debates has become a common form of entertainment for Poles. The combination of Hołownia’s quips and general public enthusiasm about the coalition’s victory has resulted in escalated curiosity about how politics play out. 

The peak in interest occurred with the swearing-in of Donald Tusk as the prime minister on December 11th, 2023. This parliamentary session, as reported by the Financial Times, drew 4.2 million views on YouTube, compared to the 93,000 views when the previous prime minister addressed the Sejm after PiS won the 2019 elections.

To understand society’s excitement about the comeback of Donald Tusk, a closer look into the events that have followed the October election is necessary.

Despite the three-way coalition’s victory, pro-PiS president, Andrzej Duda nominated PiS’s Mateusz Morawiecki for prime minister. Morawiecki’s attempt to form a government, however, revealed itself to be unattainable. To secure the chamber’s support, he would have needed to reach a majority of 231 votes. Although his party won 194 seats, finding the remaining 37 votes proved to be impossible. 

Why was that the case? 

Apart from the manifested lack of the coalition’s support, all the other parties in Sejm also pledged not to back up PiS. 

The failure of Tusk’s predecessor to secure the vote of confidence for his government was not just limited to a YouTube live-stream. Remarkably, this particular parliamentary session made it into Kinoteka, one of Warsaw’s movie theatres.

Donald Tusk, Polish Prime Minister sworn in on December 11th, 2023 (Image Credits: Maciej Śmiarowski/KPRM | Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed)

All free tickets to the screening were reserved within the first 8 minutes of becoming available. About 600 spectators enjoyed one of the more cinematic moments in the country’s political saga on the big screen. While the parliamentary session started in the morning, “the tension kept building until late afternoon, when the PiS government lost the vote of confidence – 266 to 190 – signalling the formal end of the party’s eight years in power” –  Anna Limowicz reported. When the results were revealed, cheers and shouts of “goodbye, goodbye” overtook Kinoteka. The audience embraced the shift in the political scene with unmatched enthusiasm. 

As the last pieces of popcorn were picked up from Kinoteka’s floor, Donald Tusk and his government began to settle into their new position. 

“Did anyone really think we were in for a light, easy, and pleasant job? No, it will be hard, difficult, and unpleasant for a while. That’s what you hired me for. I’m not complaining.” – the new Polish prime minister wrote on X.

Handling a newly resurfaced scandal involving PiS’s members of parliament. Rebuilding Poland’s relationship with the EU. Reuniting a divided Polish society. All of that and more while steering the country back on the path of the rule of law, the new government has a tough job ahead. 

How is the new government going to redefine the Polish game of politics? The world will be able to closely follow every twist and turn with each new episode of “Sejmflix”. Now streaming on YouTube

By Iza Drogoś

January 30, 2024

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