There is a great word in Polish which is popular amongst politicians. Politics abounds in highfalutin language and exaggeration which is part of the reason why I so love this word. “Meritum” can be roughly translated as “the heart of the matter”, “crux” or “substance” and it’s both the sword and shield of every self-respecting politician in Poland.
Of Sword and Shield
When wanting to go on the attack, a politician will use the “meritum” sword to tell the nation that their party is a party of action and not words, they will not bandy around the problem but stick to the “meritum”. When attacked by another, the politician will employ the “meritum” shield claiming the opponent is unwilling to talk about the ‘real’ issues (the “meritum”) but is once again using empty slogans. Welcome to Polish politics.
For all their waffle it seems there is absolutely no “meritum” there. You may all say that this is common to politics in every state in the world. Perhaps. But Poland is in a current, dangerous state of policy-free politics. According to a few observers and several historians, the reason for this particularly worrying state of affairs lies in the resolution of the Round Table Talks of 1989.
Knights of the Round Table
The round table set a precedent for the whole of the communist bloc and for many other countries around the world – here a road-map was created that allowed for peaceful power-sharing. The Communists sat down with Solidarność and agreed to formulate a plan for the common good and future of Poland. What, I ask, could be more noble than that? However, the Round Table Talks were more than just a European and world precedent, they were a historical precedent for Poland. And it is this fact, this peaceful transition and transferral of power, that is at the core of Poland’s current problems.
In Search of an Enemy
Poland’s long history has been full of victories, defeats, revolts and uprisings. Each and every change of power brought with it a bloody upheaval. Every time. However, when the Communists decided to cede power to Solidarność, not one drop of blood was shed. This was a peaceful revolution in the true sense of the word. However, it also meant that the enemy was now an ally, a colleague, someone to work with. What Poland was lacking was an enemy…
Ever since the Round Table Talks, Poland has been blindly searching for an enemy, someone it can vent its anger at for fifty years of communist oppression and the savagery of two world wars that were largely enacted on its front lawn. Despite the wise words of Tadeusz Mazowiecki and his “thick line“, divisions were created. It began with the so-called “War Upstairs” in 1990 which saw the splintering of Solidarność. An enemy was found but no real substance, no “meritum” was behind it.
This incessant search for an enemy continues today. Polish politics is no longer divided into clear demarcations – “Commies” and “Solidaries”, nor is it divided by ideology and substance. Several former Communists are members of ruling PiS (the self-declared successors of the Solidarność legacy), PO (who also hail from Solidarność), like PiS, also seem to have no clear policies and to all intents and purposes are a more liberal faction of PiS, LiD is an odd amalgam of former Communists and Liberals which, for all its hot air, has no real manifesto, Self-Defence will take anyone that will join, and finally (far) right-wing LPR have recently teamed up with UPR, a party known for supporting the legalisation of drugs, prostitution and euthanasia.
Policies? What Policies!
It seems the one thing that all these parties have in common is a blatant lack of substance. Even little PSL is no longer the Peasant’s Party it was once so proud to be. We are witnessing a complete erosion of policy. Parties do not wage war against each other holding their sword of substance in one hand and their shield of consistence in the other. The battle-cry has simply become “attack” regardless of the fact that you are actually attacking someone who shares your views. A good example here is Stefan Niesiołowski (now of PO) and Marek Jurek (now of newly-formed LPR) who were founder members of the National Christian Union. PO is labelled as a liberal party whereas LPR is right-wing.
In Praise of Substance
Personal animosity and the hunger for power is now far more important than historical background, ideological legacy or political beliefs. Poland is in desperate need of a political debate of substance where all parties are obliged to publish their manifestoes, their programmes for the future and their core ideologies. Yes, the average Polish person may be interested in the drunken antics of former President Aleksander Kwaśniewski or the waffling of Nelly Rokita but neither of these facts are more important than the concrete manifestoes of their respective parties.