There are two events in Poland’s very recent history which in a fashion demonstrate the schizophrenia Polish democracy is suffering from. On the one hand, Poland is this burgeoning new dynamo, bustling with economic energy, pulling up trees and surprising everyone (including itself) with respect to how well it has done in the transmogrification move from a centrally-planned to capitalist economy. But on the other hand, society may have moved forward on but there are still pockets of pig-headedness and idiocy that defy reason. This blind faith in conservatism might be called the “Smolensk Syndrome” but that would be simplistic and not entirely true. This attitude is not the result of the Smolensk air crash. Instead, ‘patriotic’ post-Smolensk sentiments are symptomatic of a very peculiarly Polish state of affairs and at their very core lies the demon of intolerance. On deconstructing this attitude we find an even greater demon, that of ignorance.
The two events that we are talking about both concern Law and Justice (PiS) – Poland’s chief opposition party that also suffers from a form of schizophrenia. On the one hand, PiS views are right-wing, family-oriented, Catholic, conservative and nationalist. But on the other, the party espouses not to economic liberalism but more to greater centralisation and, if anything, economic values that are socialist. And at the heart of everything PiS-like is its chief rabble-rouser Jarosław Kaczyński, the
evil twin of the late Smolenskified Lech Kaczyński. The first of the two events, that are symptomatic of Poland’s current intolerance/ignorance and the ever-widening cleft on Poland’s political landscape, dates back to 2010 when the wonderfully named Solidarity activist Henryka Krzywonos (Henrietta Bentnose) decided to openly criticise Solidarity trade union members and Jarosław Kaczyński for their lack of culture, solidarity and tolerance. Her attack on the vitriol of these individuals against former fellow Solidarity workers and activists (now members of the liberal classes) was both pertinent and perfectly timed.
It brought home to many how divided Polish society had really become, between the conservatives and the liberals. The demarcation line may run skew-whiff, but can be loosly drawn along patriotic-religious lines. That is, if you are a follower of the Polish version of the Catholic church, a listener of Radio Maryja then you are on the right side of the barricade (to paraphrase Kaczyński), but if you do not, if you believe in Europe, a secular society and freedom (of speech) for all, then woe betide you.
The second event took place several days ago. Krystyna Pawłowicz, a PiS MP and academic, let loose a litany of ultra-conservative abuse. It was directed at the people attending the Marsz Szmat (pol. Slut March) whose plan it was to protest against sexism and the objectifying of women. Not only was the content of Pawłowicz’s diatribe tasteless (“they should put their disgusting breasts away”… “the streets are public property not a place for deviants and whores”), but it was downright rude.
Try as they might, PiS politicians and spokesmen (not women) were hard pressed to find an excuse for Pawłowicz’s antics. The problem, however, is that Pawłowicz and similar cronies are continually tolerated (and this is not the first time she has let rip). Put Pawłowicz in the mix together with Antoni Macierewicz and Jarosław Kaczyński and you get a truly dangerous, intolerant, concoction. The question is whether this intolerance is down to ignorance or sheer bloodymindedness (or whether this is the same).