Picture the scene: a country on the verge of complete decay. People with no money, no food; social unrest in the streets, freedom of speech does not exist and Big Brother has such power that people cannot trust their own neighbours. This is a state in collapse, ready to implode and disappear.
Birth of Peace
Then, just as this nation is about to evaporate into nothingness a group of people appear who are ready to fight for survival, fight for freedom and fight for the right to speak out. The non-violent Solidarność is born and with it one of the most famous figures of the 20th century, Lech Wałęsa. Solidarity manages to negotiate a level of cooperation with the communist authorities and set in motion a remarkable turn of events which, domino-like, bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Eastern Europe.
Beginning of the End
After the incredible success of the Round Table Talks which sees Solidarność sit down with their adversaries the communists, Solidarity remarkably gain a foothold in government and soon the right-wing, with Solidarity as its chief flag-bearer, becomes a real force to be reckoned with. Poland’s future looks bright and its political system seems to be reaching an equilibrium of sorts. However, with power comes intoxication and Poland’s right-wing begins to bicker, quarrel and eventually fragment. Factions appear and the unity of Solidarity crashes to an unceremonious end.
When Right is Left
A united right-wing is no more. In fact, the idea that the right-wing was ever unified was simply illusory and at most pie-in-the-sky. Solidarity was a trade union. Its doctrine of workers’ rights and equality was socialist in nature, not right-wing. The leaders of Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO) may share a common heritage (in Solidarity) but neither would dream of being called socialist. In reality, the closest Poland has to a Solidarity-like party is the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the offspring of the communist Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR), sworn enemies of Solidarność.
PiS vs. PO
Polish politics is a strange beast. PiS claims to be right-wing, although at times it appears to be socialist (worker rights, pensioner rights and social hand-outs), whereas at other times it verges on fascist extremism. PO, also claiming to be right-wing, is often seen to be ultra-liberal, at times dangerously (for them) conservative. Anyone who did not know that they shared a common heritage would be most surprised. It might prove useful to finally do away with this leftist-rightest distinction as it does justice neither to Poland’s parties nor does it help in categorising them.
The terms left and right do not seem to mean anything anymore. They have become worn-out and arbitrary. In fact, the closest we can get in describing them is through the dichotomy: pro-church/anti-church, or to be more specific, pro-Catholic/anti-Catholic. In other words, in Poland, a right-wing party is (generally) a pro-Catholic party whereas a left-wing party is an anti-Catholic party. If this is the case, does this make Poland a secular or a religious state?