Researchers from the University of Munster in Germany carried out a survey concerning identity conflicts in some of the largest European states, which included Germany, France, Sweden, and Poland. The analysis of 5,011 people (1,200 in Poland) showed a division of society into two hostile camps which scientists called: “defenders” and “explorers”.
According to the authors of the survey, the respondents in Poland, which the study authors claimed is a “semi-authoritarian country”, showed the highest polarization.
The main lines of conflict stem from opposing views and opinions when it comes to national identity, democracy, migration, and Islam.
In Germany, 34 percent of society belongs to one of the two groups that the study focuses on (20 percent to defenders and 14 percent to explorers). In France, it is 25 percent (14 percent to 11 percent). In Sweden, it is 44 percent (29 percent to 15 percent) and in Poland, it is a staggering 72 percent.
Poland is the exception not only in terms of the scale of polarization, but also the balance of power between the two groups. There are twice as many “explorers” (45 percent) than there are “defenders” (27 percent).
Mitja Back, the spokesperson of the interdisciplinary team which is the survey’s author, pointed out that the Polish example shows the potential scale of this conflict in which polarized positions may become the majority in a country.
According to the researchers, the part of society labelled as “defenders” represents a narrow definition of who belongs to their country. They include people born in the country who have ancestors of the ethno-national majority and/or belong to the dominant religion. They feel threatened by foreigners such as Muslims and refugees and consider themselves disadvantaged. They are also majorly dissatisfied with parliamentary democracy and do not trust political institutions.
“Explorers”, on the other hand, show an entirely different approach. They do not fear foreigners and consider migration a factor which enriches society. They reject the ethno-religious criterium of national belonging and are not afraid of risk.
The report points out even more differences between Poland and the other European states. As opposed to Germany, France or Sweden, the “defenders” do not feel marginalized in Poland and show trust to the government and parliament while distrusting the EU. Polish “explorers” also differ from their counterparts in other countries, as they are dissatisfied with the state of democracy in their country, do not trust the government and parliament but declare huge trust in the EU.
The survey’s authors warn of the increasingly severe polarization of both groups, which is the result of isolation and mutual attacks and humiliation. The researchers believe that authorities should not support either side of the conflict, as that would lead to a feeling of exclusion of one of the groups.