Can the Real Poland Step Forward?

Social Schizophrenia?

Social Schizophrenia?

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.

Living in the Past?

Living in the Past?

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).

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6 Responses to Can the Real Poland Step Forward?

  1. Sylwia says:

    “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.”

    This may seem schizophrenic to you because you try to explain the Polish political scene according to the two party systems in existence in the UK and US. But there’s no such a division in a multiparty system like ours. Still, if we stick to that, to me PiS has always been a leftist party, and when they won the elections some years back it was because of their leftist program – they made many promises to the poor. I was actually quite surprised learning from foreign press that they’re considered the right, and I’m sure Donald Tusk was too, which is why he said after winning the previous elections, that now we’ll see who is the real right here. PO is much more to the right than PiS, even though they’re a centrist party.

    Moreover, if you look carefully, the program of PiS is just a mild variation of the Communist one. No matter what the Communist Party used to say, if you look at what the former regime was actually doing, it’s very similar to what PiS is doing today, and I mean both their socialist and nationalist programs. The only thing that differs are their allies, the Communists prefered the USSR over the USA, while PiS does the opposite. Still, the way they keep looking for a common enemy and all that propaganda is the same.

    In fact, I wish people stopped using the division into right and left. First, in my opinion it has long been dead, the only real leftists I know are mentally still living in the 19th century. Second, I think it’s very misleading, esp. in the West where many people are used to thinking that right means capitalist, mean and greedy, while left means all that’s good, humanitarian and benevolent.

    Well, the Nazis (National Socialists) were a leftist party too, of which many on the left today like to forget.

    • Raf Uzar says:

      Sylwia, I think you’re spot on. Left and right cannot be transposed to another culture or country but I suppose that’s all we have. Yes, PiS are extremely leftist but their views on so many issues are so conservative (ergo right wing). What terms do you think we should use? Perhaps, we could come up with some new ideas? ;-)

      • Sylwia says:

        If I had to call them anything, I’d probably use conservative left or even ultra-conservative left for PiS, while PO would be the liberals or centre-right. And I’d probably always emphasise that there’s a huge difference between the right and left here and elsewhere.

        You could probably compare PO to the Democrats in the USA, they’re quite similar, but PiS has almost nothing in common with the Republicans. Which brings another problem: when people hear about a party in Poland they often assume it represents half of Poland, so they look for the equivalent of the Democratic and Republican halves. While in fact no party in Poland is ever so popular to have more than 30% support, and the only party similar to the Republicans is UPR (with Korwin Mikke), which tends to have less than 1-5%. So in many ways the Polish society is not as rightist as the American, but in others it’s also much more leftist in both the conservative and non-conservative halves.

        Ah well, I may make no sense now. What I mean is that you could probably make a half-half division of Poles according to their worldview, but when it comes to economy, Poles in general are much more leftist than Americans.

        It’s all even more complicated by the fact that there aren’t many parties in Poland that would like to be called “left”. After 1989 there was only one left party, the post-Communists, today known as SLD, and all the other parties considered themselves “right”. To Poles “right” equalled democratic, fair and tolerant, while “left” were the scumbags who terrorized us for half a century. So “right” meant anywhere to the right from the left, which is why Solidarność got chopped into pieces while SLD remained SLD. Simply, Solidarność was created by people with various views. The only thing they were unanimous about was their opposition to the Communist Party. They wanted another system, but each of them imagined it differently, which is why Kaczyński is so bitter. It’s not how he had imagined it, and he wants to believe Poles in general shared his dream. Hence he seems paranoid, because it’s easier for him to think that it’s all some conspiracy against him than that people simply disagree, and then it all looks like his public psychotherapy. So even if many could agree with his economic program, they’re still scared about his mental health.

        The same happened after WWI, and in fact the society was even more divided back then. If I remember well, at some point there were nearly 30 parties in the Sejm, including some dozen of Jewish ones. That’s because people used to have dreams about a better version of three very different countries. In effect, a conservative Jewish party from Galicia couldn’t find a common language with a conservative Jewish party from the Russian Empire etc.

        Yet another difference is our cultural political heritage. The Polish nobles didn’t allow for the existence of any parties in the First Republic. They thought that people who belong to parties vote according to their party’s interests instead of their own conscience. So there were lobbies, but not a single party. Even though Familia (of the Czartoryskis’) is sometimes called an unofficial party, in fact it wasn’t one. Whenever they wanted to introduce a new legislation they had to find support for the particular legislation, while people who supported them in, say, the Commission of National Education often opposed them in other matters.

        In effect, Poles consider themselves neither left nor right. Those who voted for PO or PiS don’t say I’m a POist or a PiSist. Their support is only terminal. They simply have to choose from the available options, but political parties is something dirty in the Polish mind, which in turn makes the parties so concerned about worldviews, because they want to fit as best as they can into actual moods of the society. And here I’m not sure Kaczyński’s private views are as conservative as it might seem. PiS wasn’t so conservative when they created the uncomfortable coalition with LPR and Samoobrona (another very leftist party created by post-UB officers). What happened was that after that government failed Kaczyński saw his more liberal voters go to PO, while LPR voters drifted towards PiS. I think he adjusted his party’s worldviews to those of those voters.

        On the other hand I hope that the political scene as we know it will soon die. I believe that, with the development of internet and social media, our system will change into some kind of direct democracy, while politicians will be more like managers controlled by the voters.

      • Raf Uzar says:

        Sylwia,
        “Ultra-conservative left” – sounds strange, doesn’t it? :-)

  2. rob zed says:

    What an excellent article Raf I am aware of the issues you have mentioned here but would have never been able to word it in this manner.i am not politically that well informed but sort of work things out .I am glad to know you with your intellect
    it makes me realise that I am on the right track of though.
    Again Thankyou for such great work very stimulating. R

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