Global Independent Analytics
Bojan Stanislawski
Bojan Stanislawski

Location: Poland

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

Polish liberalism’s moral faux pas

The hypocrisy of the liberal elite in Poland is reaching grotesque levels. Until just a few days ago they were ‘defending democracy,’ now they say they are ‘in a war’ and this justifies everything.

The Polish Democracy Defense Committee (KOD, in Polish: Komitet Obrony Demokracji) has been a joke from the very beginning. An ironic one on top of everything, as while being a clearly plutocratic platform it managed to mobilize a substantial part of the urban population to ‘defend democracy’ and prevent a ‘devastation of the state of law’ which currently the ruling fundamentalists are supposedly liquidating.

In fact, Law & Justice with its leader -- Jarosław Kaczyński -- have no other intention but to actually secure their power. To do so, they have to purge the central institutions from all remnants of their predecessors -- the Civic Platform, a party that grew into a kind of state-machinery-corporation to levels resembling (technically speaking) circumstances many could remember from before 1989. Their obscenity in this, combined with conceit and presumption, made it legitimate for the liberal media, together with the other part of the right-wing establishment (the one that has just lost the parliamentary elections) to confront Kaczyński and try to bring his party’s march through institutions to an halt.

While what we can currently observe in Poland is nothing more than an act of war within the ruling classes, it does give one an idea about the quality of Polish politics and a taste of liberalism in action.

The ‘democracy defenders’ are united under the banner of ‘fundamental values.’ This is really not surprising considering that the entire political struggle is really about values. It did not happen even once since 1989 that the masses of voters voted not ‘against abortion’ or ‘in favor of gay rights’ but really with their wallet, that is basing themselves on some material presumptions. This time, however, the major value to be waved in the air and used to beat everybody on the forehead with is ‘democracy.’ Lament and cry can be heard on nearly every TV and radio channel in every major liberal paper or portal. Even Martin Schultz and other European bureaucrats have wagged their fingers at the PM Beata Szydło, the loyal executor of Kaczyński’s will.

The ‘demoractors’ appeared in the beginning as a relatively credible movement. They came out with clear positions and successfully pretended to represent higher morals. This, when confronted with rampant purges and obvious hunger for power demonstrated by Law & Justice and its actions, was simply quite appealing. Later, the Democracy Defense Committee embarked on a weird PR, building a front definitely too large. While combating catholic hardliners they accepted support from other fundamentalist leaders who were active in the past, and from deeply compromised politicians without even asking them to keep a bit of a lower profile. Also, they finally came out against one of the very few progressive postulates of the new government in power, which is supposedly the unconditional support of PLN 500 per child (about 130 euros) with the most incredible slogan “We shall not be bought for 500 zlotys.”

The worst blow was yet to come, however. One sunny day, right after Christmas, major news blew in the media waves. The leader and founder of the Democracy Defense Committee-- Mateusz Kijowski -- has an important moral defect; he owes his ex-wife and the three children he left, a stunning PLN 80,000 (about 20,000 euros) of unpaid child support. This made things really complicated for the new ‘democratic camp.’

First, it is very difficult to fight for ‘different or high morals in politics’ with such a leader. Second, it exposes KOD leadership’s utter hypocrisy to every thinking person. Third, it makes people think again -- if it is not really about morals, then what is it about? Many may be disillusioned. Fourth, it will effectively prevent some important pressure groups and lobbies from supporting (at least openly) the Committee.         

Some of the most ecstatic proponents of KOD were liberal feminists. Kijowski has now put them in a very difficult position. On the one hand, child support paid on time and effectively executed when not paid at all is the feminists’ top programmatic priority and now they appear to fight arm to arm with a person -- to put it euphemistically – while neglecting this social duty. Also, they lose a lot of credibility as leaders of their organizations and as potential political leaders in the future. It shows they have not even done some basic fact checking before they rushed to join the movement to ‘defend democracy.’

What happened later is really interesting. Instead of admitting an obvious mistake and discussing potential changes within the uncarefully selected cadres of the movement, the liberals launched another wave of mass hysteria. It was getting more and more grotesque from one rage to another, but this time they went beyond all boundaries of sanity.

The main response was formulated by an important liberal opinion leader, a longstanding journalist, Jacek Zakowski. That he was put to the front is not without meaning. Zakowski has always been one of those liberals who used to provide a kind of left cover for the entire elite around “Gazeta Wyborcza” (the largest Polish non-tabloid daily paper). For nearly two decades he was the persona confronting the deeply rooted conservatism, catholic addiction and free-market fundamentalism of the liberal right and even the obsessive adoration and clientelism towards the US. He was one of those very few people who were let to speak a bit more freely as long as they can be the elite’s fig leaf. Thanks to them a large part of the politically conscious population in Poland has been successfully maneuvered into the big liberal family which has posed not only as ‘democratic,’ ‘humanistic’ and so on, but also as the left. (In fact, this resembles the situation of the labor movement in the US, where the unions have been almost entirely incorporated into the Democratic party’s surroundings).

Jacek Zakowski played a key role in this process (no matter whether he did it intentionally or consciously). For a long period of time, but especially in the last decade) his texts and comments have been the only point of decency and at times even relative sanity in the atmosphere of intensifying Russophobia and prevailing backwardness and fundamentalist bigotry. It was just Zakowski and a few other people who openly confronted the lunatic new culture of ‘Smolensk assassination,’ the new antisemitism sparked up by publications revealing the role of Poles in the Holocaust (Jan Tomasz Gross) and so on. Also Zakowski raged against the episcopate when they tried to cover up the rampant pedopholia in the Polish catholic church when it was all brought to daylight.
Zakowski gained a position as an authority even among the most competent and critically thinking left, becoming not necessarily a point of reference, but at least an important interlocutor definitely worth discussing with. He took part in antiwar rallies and in a few important antifascist and labor unions’ initiatives, he was largely perceived as ‘our man’ up there, beyond the red carpets, in the high society.

Obviously, this was not due to any kind of realistic left positions; Zakowski never came up with anything that could be qualified as unequivocally left. He has always been a consistent western liberal and such a person can only be ‘left’ by Polish standards, that is in conditions of dominating right-wing and extreme right-wing discourse, where any kind of social-democratic A, B, C... is immediately taken up as ‘neo-communist.’ As a typical euroatlantic liberal Zakowski operated mainly in the sphere of humanistic ‘values’ and ‘desires’ (codified as ‘human rights’ in most cases) which can only be fulfilled or achieved in conditions of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’ Women’s right, reproductive rights and gender issues in general were, of course, a substantial part of Zakowski’s public stance. This is where he fought for the credibility of his slightly alternative profile as he has almost no opinion when it comes to economics.

Yet, it was exactly Zakowski, who was selected to come out against the criticism of the ‘democratic leader’ of the moment -- Matuesz Kijowski:

 

"I will put it brutally. In Poland it has been like this for generations -- men leave women and children behind as they go to war... This is bad, but there is no other way. When we face a situation of higher necessity, eg. the need to defend democracy or freedom, the family suffers! And if a man decides to pay such a huge price to do something for the country as Mr. Kijowski, the more he deserves respect and appreciation!... The war cemeteries are full of graves of heroes whose children paid the price."

 

The statement is obviously stunning and tells one a lot about the Polish liberals. But before we get to their moral and philosophic plight, let us first take on their obvious cognitive disorders as Zakowski got everything wrong.

Leaving aside the uncritical acceptance expressed by Zakowski for “leaving women and children behind when going to war,” it has to be clearly stated that there is no war going on in Poland. Also KOD is, by no means, a structure demanding such a sacrifice. There is no “higher necessity” either. Or maybe one should say that we all live in a state of higher necessity of radical change considering the constant impoverishment and degradation in Poland, but the necessity created by Law & Justice is not exceptional to that, it can only be complimentary. No “democracy” or “freedom” as installed in Eastern Europe with its capitalist -restorationist quality has been endangered to a point that could affect the everyday struggle of the masses to survive or to add to their lives at least a pinch of greater meaning. Every thought or description expressed in Zakowski’ statement is either wrong or completely inadequate.

The most pitiful element however remains the falling of the mask. It is not for the first time that “Gazeta Wyborcza” and the entire liberal camp shows us all a bit more of its real physiognomy.  Now it should be more than clear to all able to critically perceive that it is exactly these people who are equally responsible for the existence of the phenomena they pretend to criticize: the prevailing clericalization of culture and politics, human rights abuses, formal but not real democracy, war on the poor and social discrimination at all levels and in all aspects. Until Zakowski’s statement, until this deep split in the ruling class, until this panic, KOD and all the rest of the festival did it all in a much more subtle and nuanced manner. Now they have obviously lost control and behave as if just let off the hook.

The general loss of balance is pretty sad. Not so much for KOD. It does make things complicated, but not in the long run. No matter what happens this phenomenon will be on the pedestal of the media and as long as it can entertain support from the EU, Soros and so on, they will continue to sing their song.

But everyone around does lose substantially. The liberal camp that created KOD is likely to become drastically less credible, the women rights movement will appear corrupt while economic violence against women and children will be perceived as legitimate, thus the entire hyper-conservative discourse will gain credit and the only ones that will benefit will be the fundamentalists and indirectly their political agency, which is Law & Justice or all the folks to the right. ‘Democracy’ and ‘freedom’ will become even more symbolic and meaningful and the institutions brutally taken over by Law & Justice will not only lose any importance in the eyes of the masses, but will simply be soon forgotten.

Unless the ‘democracy defenders’ are planning something big, which is not out of question. We shall soon see.

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