Award 2017 Nominee
Something is rotten in the state of Poland
Read in original language
Serious political texts seldom get into Christmas editions. They do not sit well alongside the seasonal mood of goodwill. But this year is different. In just a few days, politics and Poland will be talked over at millions of festive tables. My guess is that most of these conversations will not sound optimistic. Something is very rotten in the Polish state.
We are witnessing two parallel processes in the country today, with roughly comparable dynamics. In one corner, Jarosław Kaczyński’s party, undertaking and systematically implementing moves to demolish the rule of law, in the other: a dynamic of civic resistance. If the dynamic of the former has been predictable, the scale of the latter is surprising. No one could have possibly predicted that society should wake up so promptly, that the voice of dissent will sound so loud, that it will be heard from so many places in Poland.
Both these dynamics are intimately interrelated. The more brutal and ostentatious Jarosław Kaczyński’s attack on democratic institutions becomes, the stronger grows the anger of millions of Poles, expressed in street protests, and in the polls.
Faced with such a mass protest movement against their actions, authorities in a democracy would soften their policies. But Poland is no longer a normal democracy, and the leader of Law And Justice (PiS) certainly is not a normal politician. His heart is no longer in governing, but in ruling, in the diktat. Rather than make people’s lives easier, which is normally the aim of politicians, he has homed on an institutional revolution, or counter-revolution, because it was the change initiated in 1989 which was the true revolution. What we are witnessing today is a Bolshevik- style deconstruction of anything and everything, amounting to a virtual restoration of a Communist People’s Republic except, obviously, under an anti-Communist banner.
The supreme leader does not feel like correcting the course he has charted. Protests enrage him and provoke him to even more unscrupulous vandalism, spiced by mean accusations against those whose actions displease him. Does it render futile protests? To the contrary, they may provoke Jarosław Kaczyński to move even faster and wield the battle axe even harder, but they also steer him towards more frequent errors. These result in lower PiS ratings in the polls and cause thin fractures in the ruling camp (for the moment, they are limited to groans in dark corners and eloquent silence from important politicians on the Right, as well as the ever-clearer distancing of the Catholic Church from PiS).
In the long run, a really solid foundation of power rests not so much in parliamentary majority, as in popular mandate, which can be eroded much faster than a majority, through unwise actions, attitudes and words.
Revenge And Gifts
Surely, no one can have any doubt by now concerning the real programme being enacted by Jarosław Kaczyński and PiS. Point one – revenge: degrading institutions and thousands of people. Second – cash rewards, deployed to sweeten the Government’s shocking brutality and to temper any negative emotions directed against it.
The thirst for revenge is undisguised. To the contrary, it is manifest. It is not sufficient for the Constitutional Court to be destroyed and marginalized, it has to be humiliated and chased out of the capital. Any time now, more institutions will go for the chop, and a lot of people will be oppressed, even those, who are only potentially noncompliant, and certainly those whom the authorities dislike. Already a number of ambassadors have been recalled, who had links to the previous team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, particularly those linked to the pet-hate Radek Sikorski. The civil service will soon experience wholesale deconstruction, with 1500 competent officials dismissed in order to make room for the leadership’s mediocre, but faithful kin. Cleansing is continuing in state-owned companies. And cleansing is the right term, for it is hardly normal, when the head of Poland’s largest company Orlen, a man with great success to his name, is replaced by Chairman Kaczyński’s mate, who gathered experience in retail and rural transport co-operatives. While holding the Treasury portfolio, he made a name for himself stopping privatisation in its tracks. This is not a joke, such is the personnel policy of the new authorities. We are now facing an attack on the public media, the Audit Chamber, the Office of Public Ombudsman, the whole of the judiciary. And, presumably, on many more people and institutions who have demonstrated their independence and competence, or could do so. Such people are a danger to the new government. They may nurse a deficit of attachment.
But revenge is not all. There will be rewards. However, the new authorities walk on slippery ground here. It will take no time for millions of Poles to understand that it is they who are paying for such gifts from their own pocket. And frequently, paying more than the goods are worth. Credit repayments will go up, so will banking fees and supermarket prices. In short, these presents will soon begin to hurt. And they shall hurt the regime as well.
While we are witnessing this madness of destruction in the superstructure, there is theoretically some hope that it won’t be as bad with the economy. But there is nothing to indicate that, so far. The Polish Zloty is ailing, stocks are slipping, deficit is growing, and public debt will follow soon. Quietly, but at a stable pace, investors are withdrawing from the stock exchange and giving up on their long-term plans concerning Poland. Why? It’s simple: in just a few weeks the new Government has carried Poland from the sphere of stability into the sphere of higher volatility. The new Government’s economic team looks serious enough, with the Deputy PM Morawiecki, who is well regarded in business circles. But members of the entrepreneurial class who have talked to him lately note his thinly disguised distancing from many steps taken by the new regime. And they are speculating how long has Morawiecki got left in its ranks. The most frequent reply is “a few months”. With deputy PM Morawiecki’s eventual departure, scales would fall from the eyes of those, who are still hoping that “at least they won’t mess up with the economy too much”.
Without a fuse-box
Normally, in a democracy, there are fuses in-built into the system of power. But Jarosłw Kaczyński switched them off from the outset. He will break the Constitution Tribunal soon. The head of Government is but the Leader’s tool. It is particularly painful to see a total emaciation of the President, assuming he had ever had intellectual and character attributes which would spur his ambition to play an autonomous part.
Within four months, President Duda has degraded his office in great style, spent his authority, and made a laughing-stock of himself personally. The man who called himself indomitable, is quite universally perceived as a puppet. Not only his competence is being questioned, but his character and common decency also.
It is puzzling why Andrzej Duda cares so little for his office, or the success of his presidency, or his political future, or even for pretence of decorum. But by now, such questions fall within the realm of psychology, rather than political science. President Duda is not an independent player in Polish politics, nor is he likely to ever be one. He has severely disappointed all those, who thought he could be not only the new face of Poland’s Right, but also its reformer. He was, briefly, a face, a reformer he will never be. It all points to a careful psychological profiling of Andrzej Duda prior to his selection as PiS presidential nominee. And Jarosław Kaczyński did not err.
The World is dismayed by the excesses of the new regime and its personnel decisions. No one has ever managed to destroy the positive image of Poland so fast. Built over many years, it has been ruined within weeks. We have become the black sheep of Europe. Majority of serious press titles in Europe express their deepest concern while writing about Poland; they say our democracy is in peril. Meanwhile, PiS politicians allege that it is hostile groups inside the country who prejudice the liberal European media. But the argument is pure nonsense: they write what they see, and they see us in a bad light.
Tectonic movements of the electorate.
One should not draw far-reaching conclusions from the melting of PiS ratings in opinion polls, and from a growing support for Nowoczesna, if only because we have only just had an election. But these poll results ought not to be pooh-poohed either. It looks like PiS is rapidly losing political centre-ground, without which it would not have won presidential or parliamentary elections. It is not impossible that PiS may yet rebuild its support, at least in part. But, seeing the destructive swing of Chairman Kaczyński, it looks unlikely.
Political future of Poland depends on the attitudes of this very middle ground, as well as the young, who have recently drifted to the right and certainly will not change this course in the near future. It is time for a solid analysis of the reasons why so many moderate electors and so many young people voted PiS.
It is alredy clear that many of those who voted for Andrzej Duda and PiS did no vote for any revolution, or destruction, but for a good, competent, and rational government. Today, they can see a disparity between their expectations and the reality. Moderate Duda and PiS voters may have well suspected the other side of blind admiration of Civic Platform (PO). They have to understand there was no such unconditional love for PO, but rather a great fear of the evil which Jarosław Kaczyński’s rule would bring. It is plain to see that such misgivings were well-justified. It is hard to tell in retrospect, then, who behaved like lemmings: those in fear, who voted PO, or those hopefuls, who voted PiS.
Recent opinion polls may go to the heads of both supporters of Ryszard Petru, and other enemies of PiS, but I would advise caution. Let us assume momentarily that PiS disappears in front of our eyes. Do we really think there is any other team out there, capable of taking over and holding power? of giving Poland a push in the right direction and implementing a real ‘Good Change’? I do not think so. Today, an alternative to PiS rests solely in the polls and emotions. Petru’s party is still a small grouping, stronger as a media presence, rather than as an organisation with a programme. Civic Platform possesses these attributes, but has not even got a leader. The opposition needs a good deal of time to grow up its capability to hold power, which it will surely win, in due time.
PiS still has considerable time before its voters are disillusioned in truly large numbers, before the party’s populism is spent, and its radicalism produces its sinister effects.
Have the Poles gone mad?
Today, many Poles have succumbed to a mood of a national atonement. A question is often asked: how has it come to that? How come, we have democratically delivered all power in Poland into the hands of a great destroyer, possessed of a thirst for revenge? Auto-reflection is always a good thing. But we should view what has happened in a much wider perspective.
Well, a cumulation of doubts or objections following eight years of government by one party, of a hypocritical, lying, but effective campaign by the main opposition party, of an atrophy of the Left, and a curiously inept presidential campaign by Bronisław Komorowski’s team, has resulted in one man bagging the whole power. However, his presidential candidate won the election by only a small margin. And although his party is holding a parliamentary majority, its electoral result comes only fourth since 1989 (after SLD in 2001, and PO in 2007 and 2011 garnered over 40 per cent of the vote). Even though a lot has transpired politically, nothing unusual has happened in purely mathematical terms.
Let us cast an even wider glance. In France, extreme Right gained 27 per cent of the vote in the recent 2nd round of local elections. The deceitful Donald Trump remains a favourite to get the Republican Presidential ticket in the US. A pretty extreme Leftist, Jeremy Corbyn has become a labour leader in the UK. The gene of extremism has been activated elsewhere, too. Some are fuelled by Smolensk, others by Mexicans, others still by refugees. Meanwhile populism has gone on-line and attained tools it has never had before. Poland has not gone mad at all; it has just listed dangerously to starboard. But opinion polls are showing clearly that a decisive majority of Poles are now well aware where the problem lies. And they wish for a correction. Let us spare ourselves excessive laments and chest-beating. We canot say: “Hey, Poles, nothing’s happened”. But neither has the people fallen on the sword. Give it a break.
Feathers will fly
Obviously, the battle of the Constitutional Tribunal is but a skirmish. The really “interesting bit” is still ahead of us. It is not accidental that Jarosław Kaczyński placed the likes of Macierewicz, Błaszczak, Kamiński and Ziobro in key positions in the Government. He will also take over public media, squeeze the judiciary, and he will have had the necessary logistics in place to play this game. But the dynamic of revenge and destruction will clash head on with the dynamic of social resistance.
Jarosław Kaczyński and citizens for democracy are on a collision course.
A crash is inevitable. What no one knows is where, when, and with what effects. To be continued…
Donald Trump and Jarosław Kaczyński have a lot in common. But, wealth apart, they differ in one more respect: Trump is unlikely to win the elections.
I suggest you should listen carefully to what Donald Trump is saying. You will easily discover this twin-likeness, excusés le mot, with Jarosław Kaczyński.
Let us put aside for a while Trump’s height, his beautiful wife, his many children, his billions in accounts, and his love of luxury, because all these things obscure the deep similarity. When all these attributes are stripped, the common character and inclination will show.
Just like Kaczyński, Donald Trump is a ferocious fighter against the elites. In both cases, it is slightly perverse, because both of them embody the establishment. The billionaire Trump, with his wealth, connections, love of fine banqueting and residences, belongs to the elite of elites. But similarly, the ascetic Kaczyński.
He is interested in money only insofar, as it furthers the interest of his party. But in a social context, he is as good a member of the establishment as any: an ex-Senator and a current Parliament Deputy, an ex-Minister in the Presidential Chancellery, and an ex-Premier. He may not hold a bank account, but why should he, if he owns the whole of Poland. Few people have benefitted more from the transition of 1989 than Jarosław Kaczyński. He owes his career, position and titles to the 3rd Republic, which he hates to the core. So why this war against the establishment? Because, like every populist, he can use it to grab and hold power.
Trump, just like Kaczyński, owes his great notoriety to the media, which he hates to the core. He only accepts them insofar, as they make a good tool in his hands. They provide him with free publicity, but are also freely critical. Being absolutely devoid of self-criticism, he rails against the awful mainstream media at every turn. He simply cannot accept anything, which he cannot control in total, or anyone who fails to serve him.
Jarosław Kaczyński is possessed of an evident media gift, because he has a real personality. It may sound like a mockery, but the camera does love him. Kaczyński provides tv broadcasters with their ratings, gives internet sites their clicks, and guarantees good circulation to the press. He probably knows this well and uses it. But, in parallel to that, just like Trump, Kaczyński is heavily criticised by those media he does not yet have under his full control. And, being of an authoritarian mindset similar to Trump’s, he abhors criticism and, consequently, sincerely loathes independent, normal, so-called mainstream media.
Kaczyński is totally focussed on “Project Kaczyński”, just as Trump is on “Project Trump”. He has a clear goal, but his thinking is clouded by a tendency to paranoid and conspiratorial thinking. Just like Trump, he sees conspiracies and enemies all around. The Republican candidate (or at least a candidate of some of them) has declared of late that the election may be rigged. Meaning: rigged, if he fails. Just like with Kaczyński, who classes elections as honest, meaning won, and dishonest, i.e. lost. Trump is prone to talking nonsense, as when he spoke of thousands of New Jersey Moslems allegedly lauding the 9/11 attacks. His spokeswomen even suggested that they sprung from a Government-initiated conspiracy. But Trump and his team lag far behind Kaczyński, since the whole ideology of PiS is largely based on a conspiratorial foundation myth of the Smolensk attack.
Like Kaczyński, Trump puts himself forward as a champion of the people, but displays a similar deficit of empathy, expressed in his disdain for political opponents, and not just them. Trump thinks that Hillary Clinton ought to wind up in gaol. Is it not what Kaczyński thinks of Tusk? Kaczyński says that people marching against him are “second sort”, spiteful brutes. Trump is capable of treading on the parents of a US Muslim captain killed in Iraq, because they dared to question his candidacy. Kaczyński is likewise capable of spitting on anyone opposing him. This urge is so strong that they both give in to it even against their own obvious interests, which suggests a certain paranoid-narcissistic trait.
Donald Trump is allegedly in great thrall of nuclear weapons. While coached in foreign policy, it is said that he asked several times: “Can’t we just nuke them?” For obvious reasons, the leader of PiS cannot even ask such questions, but he is capable of deploying verbal nukes in relations with our most important partners. Why should he restrain himself?
There is but one fundamental difference between Trump and Kaczyński. In his quest for power, Trump cannot keep quiet, or hide behind his puppets, And this is why he is likely to lose. This is a huge, and regrettable, difference.