Global Independent Analytics
Bojan Stanislawski
Bojan Stanislawski

Location: Poland

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

The Polish whirlwind

To understand the new situation in Poland one has to reach way beyond the liberal hue and cry over the ‘shrinking of the rule of law’ and ‘suppressing democracy.’

An avalanche of outrages being delivered literally every day - this is the reality we are now facing in Poland, just slightly over a month from the last general election. The Catholic extremists of the winner party - Law & Justice - headed by the twin brother of the late Kaczyński who died in the plane crash near Smolensk five years ago, after a short period of scratching heads, went on a rampage through all the institutions. Arrogance, vanity, rage, buffoonery, self-admiration, and feeling of complete impunity to levels unreported in the Polish historiography are the qualitative marks of the great march of the Polish fundamentalist right-wing through the entire public sphere. You better observe it with at least some care, because such a madhouse might just become your ‘western’ and ‘oh-so-civilized’ perspective under UKIP, Golden Dawn, NDP or - on the other side of the water - the Tea Party.

Before we get down to the actual deconstruction of the recent, post-electoral Polish reality, two important statements have to be made. First, If you really want to understand things you should rather ignore the recent hysteria in the Western Media. The orderly liberal experts both in Europe (Deutsche Welle) and America (Washington Post) began their usual weeping into their herbal tea after the cards have been laid down by the new elite in Poland. While the liberal mourners do make some important and correct points, when they get to the conclusions they get it completely wrong. All of them - from Al-Jazeera to The Guardian - seem to perceive the massive victory of Law & Justice as something new. Secondly, you should dismiss the liberal notion of any factual political choice that was to be really made by the Polish voters. The right extremists were the only choice and the power really fell into their hands very predictably. The conservative neo-liberals from the Civic Platform and the relatively more progressive ones from the Democratic Left Alliance (the successor of the old “communist” party) have done their best to secure Kaczyński’s great return. Only they had not been quite aware of the vengefulness of their rivals.

Law & Justice have been in power already. They did pretty much the same thing then, back in 2006, but they were not so strong in terms of parliamentary representation and also the social and political atmosphere were different then. It was just one year before the Great Recession when all the world leaders remained in a state of Fukuyama-like constant cheer, resting assured that the period of ultimate, uninterrupted growth has begun. Their invasion of all public institutions had been arranged under the banner of the so called ‘IV Republic’ (to make a difference with the 3rd, as the post-1989 Poland is usually referred to). Pretty much the same things happened only on a smaller and slightly less aggressive scale, but there was no major difference, neither in terms of quality, nor quantity. But what is surely more interesting is that this became an established tradition that has later been quite creatively developed by the Civic Platform, the party-corporation that rooted itself into the state in a manner which can be only compared to the late Polish United Workers Party which was the state apparatus before 1989. This is why the returning Kaczyński with his acolytes, knowing this and wanting to do the same only faster, had to eradicate the Platform’s cadreship with brutality in order to be effective and with a vengeance to teach everybody a lesson.

The recent liberal-democratic cry over the recent plight of democracy, civic society, and European values, is an hypocrisy at an Himalayan level. Not only the liberal establishment’s massive critique was absent when Donald Tusk’s government suppressed basic individual freedoms, changing the legal framework for organizing public gatherings, harassing individual web surfers for establishing websites critical of their president, allowing brutal police violence against people attempting to block evictions as homelessness grew, but they also gave this man the noble position of the president of the European Council. Yet now, they are outraged and full of fear. Not that Kaczyński and his Prime Minister Beata Szydło do not give them reasons for such emotions, but the question is where were you dear solicitous liberals just few years ago? Where was your preoccupation with the future of Polish democracy back then when people got arrested and interrogated on Facebook descriptions of their dreams in which Civic Platform’s top politicians died? Was it not even more pathetic than the clear, unveiled moves in the direction of the clericalization of the state or coarse, but obvious, unconcealed wiping out of predecessors from any place possible?

The fact is one would not know what to start with if he were to name all of the outrageous, arrogant moves of the new government. The clever change of the composition of the constitutional court with a blatant explanation that “the current team is likely to dismiss many upcoming projects as unconstitutional” is brutal indeed; the same is true for swearing the new judges in the middle of the night. The nominations of the most radical Catholic integrist leaders whose mother organizations are reported to act and lobby against basic human rights in various international rankings (for example “Ordo iuris”) to positions such as the human-rights-parliamentary-commission head, where they are supposed to defend people and groups that they think should be ultimately repressed is like appointing a pedophile to the largest child care institution in the country with the argument that this person is truly competent in dealing with kids. By the way, prosecutors known for muting pedophile scandals in the Polish church have also found their place in the new administration.

The new government has been welcoming abusers of power who did so openly and thieves who have either been convicted or are expecting a judicial pronouncement at any moment now, not only dishonest justice sector functionaries. The most ostentatious of all recent cases is the appointment of Mariusz Kamiński, a man with a very sad and compromising past record and the supervisor of all secret service and special forces institutions. Not only had the nomination been voiced while the appeal court case was still on, but the new Law & Justice president, Andrzej Duda, decided to officially pardon Kamiński which he had no right whatsoever to do considering that the final judgment has not yet been issued. Then we had the chance to feel the second-hand-embarrassment watching the new Polish culture minister trying to order a state-funded theater not to stage a play by Nobel Prize-winning author Elfriede Jelinek, claiming it was pornographic. A day later a television journalist insistently questioned whether his attempt has any legal basis while the minister promised a purge of the reporter’s network as well as other state-supported news media and the very person has actually been suspended a mere few hours later. Meanwhile, the new government spokeswoman said that she thought it would be a good idea to put former Prime Minister Donald Tusk on trial in the State Tribunal. She did not specify what the official charges would be, but considering the kind of style Law & Justice are exercising, it would most probably be for treason.

But definitely, the Crème de la Crème is the new minister of defence: Antoni Macierewicz. Not a persona, but really an entire institution. An anti-communist warrior with a strong Russophobic obsession and conspiracy fanatic who not once had claimed that Poland is really ran by former secret service officers with ex-Soviet links and a great propagator of various theories about the Smolensk tragic incident. Even for a patient and careful observer of the Polish political scene, it is a challenge to figure out which of all the concepts presented by Macierewicz’s experts are really taken into consideration. We have by now heard of one explosion, three explosions, massive killing already on the ground of many people who supposedly survived the disaster, deliberate remotely-caused technical damage making the plane fall from its high altitude, artificial fog and much more. This person is now the head of the Polish defense ministry. He is also quite symbolic for the entire political wing that simply considers the whole post-1989 order nothing but a gigantic conspiracy and is prepared to ignore any logical causality in capitalism.

On one hand all these things might appear funny because of the general rudeness and insolence of the new rulers who do not even care to make any kind of smoke screen thus also demonstrating that their eagerness for power is inversely proportional to their competence. On the other hand, however, this is not the real problem. The old establishment is in state of total panic and is trying to do its best to mobilize the media it owns as well as the liberal activists, to ‘defend democracy’ and ‘defend the Constitution.’ They set up committees and organize demonstrations, but this is all - no matter how vastly reported - acting on the fringes of the actual social life. The masses will not come out against Law & Justice, at least not right now, even despite the tsunami of outraging, power-hunger based acts. First of all, any confidence, let alone appreciation for the state and its institutions is completely lost. The great liberal defenders were absent when the constitutional order has been breached an unthinkable amount of times over the last decades. There is no free access to health service, nor to education or housing, which the current Polish constitution guarantees for each and every citizen of the republic. The institutions were absent when the mass labor unions were marginalized and knocked out of any decision-taking process, and the police, the justice functionaries and various inspectors from all kinds of agencies (let alone liberal human-rights NGOs) failed completely to prevent the total demolition of the labor market and the conventional legalization of disastrous exploitation. A recent study by the Polish ‘Newsweek’ revealed an astonishing rate - 80 percent - of the population above the age of 18 is contemplating emigration if they only had a chance. One has to be completely detached from the reality to try and mobilize in defense of the state as it is. So the elite that is being pushed out now. One has to admit Law & Justice are a quite a bit in touch with the word on the street. This is one of the reasons why they do not fear.

But this is just half of the picture. The other point is that Szydło’s government seems to be determined to push through some of its social postulates expressed during the campaign. The three most important ones are: PLN 500 (approximately 120 euros) in benefits per every child, decreasing the retirement age and attaching a social insurance fee to every contract including any kind of employment. Of course, all this is going to be available under various conditions which will successfully prevent social inclusion on a mass scale. But no matter what, should this all take effect, it will be a major blow to the neo-liberal agenda and is likely to provide enormous boost for Law & Justice. On the one hand, this is a turn towards fixing a real social problem after nearly three decades of the so-called ‘transition’ when the population is economically stretched as much as it could possibly be. And this time Law & Justice leaders seem to be wanting to provide more than just the conviction that ‘you are the greatest nation in the world’ for consolation. Will it happen and in what form we are still about to see. It is however certain that with these moderate pro-social moves, Law & Justice and the entire extremist sector of the Polish right can stabilize not only their power but also a new narrative favorable to them. Withering away from their liberal and conservative enemies will be difficult, but under such conditions a rather doable task, at least this is what it looks like for now.

This poses a clear task and a heavy political challenge for the very few remaining left –center bodies. Will they be able to develop a clear identity, position themselves in an equal distance from the clerical fundamentalist right and the old liberal establishment, and put forward a realistic program of fundamental changes? This is yet to be seen. 

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