Global Independent Analytics
Bojan Stanislawski
Bojan Stanislawski

Location: Poland

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

Who benefits from ‘defending democracy’ in Poland?

Guess who benefits from mass mobilization under the banner of the freshly established Democracy Defense Committee. Surely not ‘democracy.’

It is a fact beyond any doubt that the new Polish right-wing government has taken some unprecedented measures to secure its institutional influence within the state. It is also beyond any doubt, however, who benefits from the mass mobilizations called to confront the Kaczyński-Szydło duo under the banner of the freshly established Democracy Defense Committee. Surely not ‘democracy.’

The media in Western Europe and the United States has been flooded in recent weeks with striking news from Poland. The situation has been described in a very simplified manner: New elections, vast majority in the parliament, one-party government, and the winner-party leadership getting carried away and launching an all out attack on the ‘democratic institutions of the state.’ This is what it looks like on the surface but it is enough to dig just a bit deeper to see what interests are involved in the game which, by the way, the ruling party has a great chance of losing.

Law & Justice is a strong and stable right-wing party led by Catholic hardliners. They won the recent elections however not really because of these characteristics. There was no other alternative – as simple as that. Their predecessors -- the Civic Platfrom -- were really no different in terms of their political profile; they were just a bit more elegant in their proceedings and despite their deeply rooted conservatism they subscribed to a different camp: the Euroatlantic liberals.

This is the Polish political reality -- you get to exercise your democratic rights by supporting one of the two camps of the right-wing elite that has effectively colonized the entire public sphere.

The cadreship of the new government appointed by the prime minister Beata Szydło a couple of weeks ago already put many people in a state of shock. It was more than predictable since then that we will face one outrage after another. The particular mixture of chemtrail experts (the environmental minister), Russophobic lunatics (the defense minister), banksters (the financial minister), free-market anarcho-liberatrians (the science minister) and resolute and firm fundamentalists (the PM’s office head) can be a good laugh for some, but the reality in Poland has not been this bleak since the famous devastation of the public education sector, pensions, health care and administration in 1999 by the liberal-conservative government led by Jerzy Buzek.

Having won the elections after a decade of unprecedented slander and demonization from the liberal media, Law & Justice leaders decided to demonstrate that they will not bow down and nominated some of the most hated personas. This however was no more than a symbolic gesture. The real business happens behind the moves. The essential elements in the campaign which really appealed to the masses were two: a promise of PLN 500 (130 euros) of unconditional support per child and the lowering the pension age. This is what, in the final aftermath, convinced those who were reluctant to vote for ‘the crazy L&J’ and ‘mad Kaczyński’ (party chairman) or ‘paranoid Macierewicz’ (defense minister) but were also totally fed up with Tusk and Kopacz (the former PMs from the Civic Platform).

Judging by the frustration and anger expressed by the ‘democratic’ establishment around the Civic Platform and the liberal media, these two promises (support for children and lowering the age for pensions) are what the top bourgeois fear most in Poland. If these steps are taken, even if they do not ensue in a huge wave of social inclusion, they may turn out to mean not only “a good change” (Law &Justice’s electoral slogan) but a very substantial and specific one for many poor families in Poland. That would be the first time in the Polish post-1989 history that such a major social measure would be introduced; a step that would give masses of people some room to breath.

Also, that would be an enormous break in the capitalist post cold war consensus to which even the remnants of the old ‘communist’ party subscribed to. It consists of four elements -- no questioning of the complete and total subordination to the US in international politics, unequivocal laudatory of and a eulogistic attitude towards the transition, war on the labor movement (mainly Solidarity and All-Poland Trade Union Alliance), and last but not least: utter contempt for any kind of social support or welfare.

Poverty production was one of the most important paradigms of Polish politics; the aim of which was no more and no less, but downgrading of the popular sympathy on need to support the poor and the downtrodden. The first and the last priorities, if viewed as tasks of the establishment posed in 1989, were fully completed. The two in the middle not yet, but the Civic Platform was on its best way. Now, Law & Justice are about to turn the tide. Once this happens, once the powers that be share part of their cake with the wide population, the entire political climate and culture can change. This is not certain, but it surely is possible.

The long and earnestly produced widespread apathy could vanish once this major social achievement would be posed as a benefit to be taken away in the future (no matter if by this or any other government). Also, this could put a halt to the war on the unions if not bring about a reversal. Let us not forget that “Solidarity” decided to support Law & Justice and the leaders will come up with a paycheck sooner or later as they want to remain credible in the eyes of the rank-and-file.

This is where the real game of interests is being played. The establishment deadly fears any measure taken in the favor of the working class. They are not afraid to press the workers who they were sure would remain silent, but they clearly know that once any concession is made it could be the end of the cozy balance where absolute control was kept and there was nothing to worry about. One could bet that when Law & Justice take such social actions they will sweat badly under their armpits. Not so much because of the financial turnout, but exactly because of the social change and the future pressure on other topics that they may be subjected to. However, they are more than right to take this risk. If things go smoothly they will gain credibility that other parties can only dream about.

Of course, the current opposition finds it a bit difficult to attack an obviously progressive measure. This is where ‘democracy’ comes into play.

It has been said earlier that while it is quite possible that the pro-social postulates will actually become reality the Law & Justice government has been much more preoccupied in the recent weeks with the rampant purging of the central institutions and securing its power. This led to a few other major conflicts with the old establishment with which Kaczyński and his friends want a clear and quick break from.

When it come to the Constitutional Court -- which really took it all to the international media -- it was a farce from the very beginning. First the previous government, in its last days, made a little administrative trick to stuff it with its own people and then the president and the new PM also used legal maneuvers to prevent it from taking effect and then moved on to actually make their own nominations. This was too much, especially because the official explanation from Law & Justice was that another ‘cadreship settlement’ of the Constitutional Court could prevent the new government from effectively realizing its political agenda. It was all announced with an obvious overdose of rudeness, self-confidence and quite disgusting power hunger.

The vulgar and obscene behaviour by Law & Justice luminaries made things much easier for the opposition and this is why they decided to strike here. Their arrogance and conspicuous contempt towards any criticism created an atmosphere which made it legitimate in the minds of the urban masses to come out against it. These two elements -- ‘defense of democracy’ and ‘prevention of dictatorship’ -- when supported by the liberal media become a dangerous mixture.

The Civic Platform and its allies in the media, banks and generally the entire top-burgeoise (or ‘The Salon’ as the Law & Justice-like right wingers like to call the corporation around the Civic Platform) realized that Kaczyński really means business and that the jokes are over. By then some lower-rank journalist celebrities had been already contemplating ‘defending democracy’ and -- what a coincidence -- suddenly the neoliberal right leaders (in the parliament) as well as those passing as left (outside parliament) come to think it would be such a fantastic idea to organize against ‘devastation of the state’ and ‘attempts to establish dictatorship’ and picked up the idea of establishing the Democracy Defense Committee (KOD, in PL: Komitet Obrony Demokracji).

Once this has been approved the media intensified its cry to absolutely hysteric levels and launched bombastic promotions of KOD. One could really believe that in Poland we live in conditions of brutal terror that need to be immediately combated. To make it all fit to the dominating ideology they stylized KOD aesthetically to make it look anticommunist and started playing the never-old propagandist evergreen ‘Oh, look, communism strikes back! The People’s Republic is being reestablished.’

In Poland this always fits -- no matter if you’re raging against higher taxes, higher wages or gay marriages, it must always be ‘communist’ when you disapprove of it and want to appear credible (alternatively it could be Russian).

The constant calls for mobilization were finally heard. It is estimated that the first KOD rally gathered the breath taking (for Polish conditions!) 30-50,000 people. This prompted Law & Justice to reach for Putin-like methods and decided to organize their own Partaitag (they called it ‘demonstration of support for the government’) in the next day. Law & Justice’s manifestation was obviously larger, up to 70,000 people, but it was a one-time event and it was very plebeian, while the opposition recruits among celebrities and various VIPs to impress the masses and acquire a kind of pop-credibility. Thus the atmosphere has now been created that every decent person supports KOD and every criticism is immediately dismissed. This has led to tragic consequences. Here’s for another liberal trap, popular infantilism and a triumph of overwhelming socio-political ignorance.

While the majority of the people actively participating in ‘defending democracy’ have some substantial reasons for this type of outcomes and while it most demonstrators act honestly and out of real concern wanting to prevent the hijacking of the public sphere by Law & Justice, they have the greatest chance to actually help their future exploiters.

In politics there is no exception from the tough rule -- if someone is not sure where one is going, one is surely going the wrong direction. The simple question ‘what next?’ has never been posed in the movement.  Although it was obvious to any sane observer that the last thing Law & Justice are going to do is to give up and drop their march through institutions. They actually intensified it and brought it to a mockery level. It was just a week ago when the Polish defense minister, together with the military intelligence’s newly appointed chief headed a night raid of military police units on NATO’s intelligence expertise center in Warsaw. Once they got in they have effectively evicted the Polish and the Slovak soldiers residing there and took over the building. This was a one of the kind incident in NATO’s history. Law & Justice in Poland, not in any other member state, dared to invade a NATO center located on its territory.

However, leaving the jokey anecdotes aside the situation is really bleak. Not only the demonstrations ‘in defense of democracy,’ but also the entire initiative resembles more and more Maidan-like regime change attempts. Law & Justice managed to purge the top-police with a level of persecution which makes one think they knew what was coming and wanted to prevent potential provocations. But this is not enough.

The fervent ‘democracy defenders’ have a few major weaknesses. The first and most important one is that the entire phenomenon is of extremely elitist characters and their contempt for the Law & Justice voters reaches radioactive levels. This is the social and esthetical basis for the unity of the movement, thus it only has real centers in the few major cities. In the province KOD consists of local Civic Platform counselors. There is no popular sentiment for ‘democracy.’

Another major weakness is that most thinking people will sooner or later recognize that the leadership does not give a damn about democracy. The very same people lamenting today were not only absent, but actually supported, many unconstitutional measures in the past and are not willing to intervene in other situations where civic constitutional rights are abused on a daily basis -- especially when it comes to constitutionally guaranteed access to health services, housing, education and labor-union freedoms. This hypocrisy is not being left unnoted, although discussing it is still difficult due to a media blockade.

On the other hand, they have some serious assets. The gigantic propaganda machinery, the EU apparatus and the banksters are all on their side. Law & Justice made it clear already in 2005 when it ruled in a coalition that it wants the power. Kaczyński and his adjutants never left any room for doubt. They would have been prepared to make a coalition with minor concessions, but now, having won such a great majority, they are taking it over. Therefore they are not being liked.

The good old boys from the Civic Platform and their pals in the media have provided the international capital, the EU bureaucrats and the American ambassador, everything they needed and in return they were upgraded to be the typical leisured class. Kaczyński is in a bit of an unknown territory, but most of all the problem  that the high-society has with this guy is that his political stance is too pure. It does not matter so much if he is left or right. He is not being liked, because he protests the status quo and he clearly posits the need to change, “a good change.” He broke one of the most important Polish taboos and finally became the first political leader of this category to criticize some of the disastrous effects of the transition after 1989. This fear is not rational as it would be very difficult to imagine a right-wing fundamentalist leader after saying A, B and C will be likely to continue with the rest of the alphabet. Neither Kaczyński, nor Szydło will come up with any kind of position against demands made by US. Also, they are not against the EU; they only made some theatrical gestures to make it more symbolic (removal of EU flags from some places) and credible in the eyes of their electorate. They still use the money flowing from Brussels and after the western media pressed them here Law & Justice almost immediately shut up. There will be -- of course -- no interference with the comprador capitalist model. After nearly 30 years of colonial capitalism there is a lot of room to ease some things and continue with the usual clientist business.

Even the PLN 500 per child is a far, far cry from any kind of real anti-capitalist measures. However, the ‘democracy defenders’ try to portray it this way, combine it with other things that Law & Justice is doing and term it ‘the people’s republic striking back.’ The other side also, wanting to add credibility to their own actions and discredit the opposition, call them ‘descendants of communist apparatchiks’ and so on. It was probably the most curious and grotesque genre scene marking the full establishment of postmodernism in Polish politics when protesting groups from both sides met in front of Kaczyński’s house on the 13th of December and shouted to each other “Down with communism!”

The madness deepens, but one thing is certain. As long as we have only two rivals of the same political origin and profile who differ in terms of who is more right-wing or more populist there can be no breakthrough. The recent poll of political preference showed a huge decrease (about 10 percent) in the support for Law & Justice and nearly 15 percent decrease for their president Andrzej Duda. The new star now is Ryszard Petru and his party called .Nowoczesna (.Modern -- don’t ask about the dot, it’s just pure marketing). He will soon be the one to win the political race. At the moment he is undergoing a promotion in the media. As ASZdziennik, the Polish version The Onion put it: “Alert! Ryszard Petru has gone missing! For more than one hour now he has not been noticed in any TV studio in Poland.” And who is he? An absolute neolib, slightly more liberal than the rest of the right-wingers, banker and economic “expert.”

This is what the outcome of the ‘battle for democracy’ in Poland is for now. If it surprises you, you are probably being fooled.

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