I was out and about on the internet the other day looking for new Polish words which might inspire me to new heights of bilingual bliss and was mildly amused by the graphical interpretation that tag frequency clouds often provide. You often get useless alphabetical combinations of words that mean nothing, but every now and again you are afforded an interesting glimpse at the current state of the language. On Słowa na Czasie I found a wonderfully serendipitous lexical marriage: transeksualny trotyl which is a remarkably good summary of Poland’s recent problems. Transeksualny tops the tag frequency list because of the Polish media’s recent fascination with (and perhaps intolerance of) Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transgender (post-transitioned) member of Parliament as well as all things liberal and non-Catholic. Tolerance and Catholicism have become two very large sticks that various political groups use to beat each other with; largely unsuccessfully and without any hope of conciliation. It is therefore no surprise that transeksualny can be found in the tag cloud of most commonly used Polish words (also równość – ‘equality’ and szmata – ‘slut’) The second word of this lexical combination is trotyl (TNT) which has been frequently used in the Polish news to refer to suggestions that traces of TNT were allegedly found on the ‘Smolensk’ plane in which Lech Kaczyński and a host of other Polish VIPs died when their plane crashed. Smolensk (the word has come to signify a moment in time and a political state of being) has divided Poles into those that want to believe President Kaczyński was murdered (generally allied to Catholicism) and those that believe it was a tragic accident (generally allied to Liberalism). Transeksualny trotyl is work well in summarising the Poland of here and now.
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).
After losing his twin brother Lech in the Smolensk air crash, Jarosław Kaczyński appears to be on a political suicide mission. His one goal in life seems to be avenging his brother’s death. Kaczyński’s grief seems to have twisted him to the point of believing that Russia/Prime Donald Tusk/President Bronisław Komorowski (delete where appropriate) are the perpetrators of this heinous alleged crime. One of his closest aides, Antoni Macierewicz, has even openly stated that discovering the culprits of the air crash is now the most important mission for Law and Justice (PiS) and Poland.
The first cracks began to appear following Kaczyński’s loss in the presidential election to Bronisław Komorowski. Kaczyński’s softly-softly approach was soon substituted by a more hardline and aggressive stance. The ‘mask’ of the presidential campaign had been removed, according to political commentators; the real Kaczyński was back. His first act was to boycott the presidential inauguration claiming Komorowski was only president due to the death of his brother.
Kaczyński has since been adding fuel to the flames of the ‘cross scandal‘ outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw with his fellow PiS-ites stoking up ill feeling and controversy. It was at this point that it became clear that his only aim was now to cause dissent, manipulate the truth and attempt to blame someone for the death of his brother on the back of pseudo-Catholicism and the worship of the Christian symbol of the cross.
On seeing this blind fervour and hate growing to monstrous proportions, Solidarity heroine Henryka Krzywonos exploded in a rant against Kaczyński. This was soon followed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s and Lech Wałęsa’s criticisms of Kaczyński and then Bishop Pieronek’s open attack on PiS. Seeing the farce that was threatening to ruin PiS, Marek Migalski, a PiS MEP, also dug into Kaczyński, after which he was thrown out of the party. The dust had not even settled and yet another PiS member, Elżbieta Jakubiak, was ostentatiously thrown out of the party.
Events in and around PiS circles have escalated to the point that even his own party members have begun to question his political nous. Polls too are showing clearly that Kaczyński has simply lost it. The most recent TNS OBOP survey shows that ruling Civic Platform (PO) would claim 52% of the votes in a parliamentary election, PiS would score 25% (a massive 11% drop since April) and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) would manage 20%.
Things have really reached boiling point and one could colloquially add that the shit really has hit the fan in Poland. A ‘faecal’ assailant soiled the plaque commemorating the death of President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other passengers in the Smolensk air tragedy. A 71-year-old threw a strategically aimed pot of poo at the memorial tablet in central Warsaw. He was arrested by police and taken away. This follows several months of squabbling over what should happen to the cross that was temporarily erected outside the Presidential Palace by scouts in memory of the victims of the Smolensk tragedy.
It all started when President Bronisław Komorowski announced that the temporary wooden cross should be transferred to a more appropriate place, specifically Saint Anne’s Church, not far from the Presidential Palace. The cross is of course a religious symbol and not a symbol of state and it is inappropriate to leave it outside the Presidential Palace. His comments kicked off a storm with Jarosław Kaczyński claiming Komorowski was anti-catholic and a proponent of the evil of what he termed ‘Zapaterism’.
The odd thing is that no one, apart from Jarosław Kaczyński, seems to know what evil deed it is that Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has done. With a lack of decent policies, sound ideas and competent opinions, Kaczyński has been using the cross as a political makeweight. In fact, he has said that the policies of Law & Justice (PiS) will now revolve around the Smolensk tragedy. Kaczyński is literally crucifying his own party and followers in pursuit of his own personal mission. His personal loss seems to have clouded his judgement and the cross has begun to symbolise his hurt rather than the mission of Christ and his followers. Those so-called ‘defenders’ of the cross are to Catholics what hooligans are to regular football fans.
A fine example of the utter blindness of these so-called Christians was their behaviour when the day came to move the cross. Priests from Saint Anne’s came to lead the cross in procession from the Presidential Palace to Saint Anne’s Church. The reaction of these ‘Catholics’ was to scream and shout at the Catholic priests calling them traitors and, of all things, “Jews”. Odd, to say the least. We have reached an impasse and the only real way to resolve it is for the two main protagonists, President Komorowski and Jarosław Kaczyński, to sit down and reach an adequate compromise. Then again pigs might fly…
Jan Wróbel in a recent article in Wirtualna Polska talks about the ‘rydzykisation’ (pol. rydzykizacja) of not only Poland but surprisingly also of Civic Platform (PO). He is, of course, referring to Tadeusz Rydzyk the de facto head of catholic Radio Maryja and catholic TV station TV Trwam. He claims that although ‘rydze’ (pol. red pine mushrooms – a pun on the word Rydzyk) have been growing in the fields of Law and Justice (PiS) for quite some time, PO has now become infested. Wróbel believes the tide is turning. Many people were overjoyed when PiS was defeated in the parliamentary elections and the three-headed PiS-Samoobrona-LPR monster was resoundingly vanquished. However, the Smoleńsk tragedy changed all that and Law and Justice, like a phoenix from the flames, has returned and is ready to do battle.
Civic Platform could have never expected the support with which millions of people endowed Lech Kaczyński following his death in Smolensk. In many ways, he is a martyr… a political martyr. His death has in many ways helped turn around the fortunes of both PiS and his brother Jarosław Kaczyński. Before his death, all polls were showing a landslide victory for Bronisław Komorowski against Lech Kaczyński. Following the tragedy, Jarosław Kaczyński was only several percentage points away from defeating Komorowski in the presidential campaign. Radio Maryja and TV Trwam helped in this campaign but the truth of the matter is that many people were simply fed up with PO’s promises, PR and politicking. They wanted more substance and Jarosław Kaczyński was the man to give it to them.
Even though Komorowski won, Civic Platform wants revenge. It wants revenge for all those weeks of post-Smolensk emotional turmoil, Kaczyński adulation and Kaczyński hero worship. It too needs its Rydzyk, a hate-filled character that can move mountains. Civic Platform has unleashed its biggest monster. PO has unleashed Janusz Palikot. Compared to him, Tadeusz Rydzyk is a cherub. When we talk about a rydzykisation of Polish politics, we are actually talking about a politics of negation, of antipathy and of hate. Rydzyk has perfected this to an art (to the benefit of PiS). Now PO, with all their talk of a politics of love, of positivity and cooperation, are doing the same with Palikot. Is he, as so many supporters of PiS believe, a harbinger of moral decay, or is he a sobering force in Poland’s emotional-driven political battleground?
Poland’s Smolensk tragedy has taken on ridiculous proportions. First of all, the Smolensk air crash seemed to have unified, albeit briefly, the entire Polish nation. Poland’s politicians joined hands in gestures of goodwill and to honour the dead; there was talk of a new ‘beginning’ in Polish politics. The world stood aghast as millions of Poles mourned the tragic death of their President, political and military elites. Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jarosław Kaczyński was said to be a ‘changed man’. However, little over three months after the crash and the squabbling, bickering and bile have returned with increased vehemence. PO (Civic Platform) and PiS are once again at loggerheads and Janusz Palikot and Jarosław Kaczyński have returned to their old ways.
The first ‘crack’ appeared when it was being decided where to bury Lech Kaczyński. A great deal of people were against the President being buried on the hallowed ground of the Royal Castle at Wawel but the decision to lay Kaczyński to rest at Wawel together with Poland’s kings seemed to be taken without consultation. The church said the family of the deceased had requested for Lech Kaczyński to be buried in Kraków, the family, on the other hand, said it was the church’s decision.
The presidential elections clearly showed the fault lines running through Polish politics and the country as a whole. Jarosław Kaczyński together with his PiS colleagues made great use of the Smolensk tragedy for political gain but despite an amazing upsurge in support and post-Smolensk emotion, the PO candidate Bronisław Komorowski won the presidential elections. This was the tipping point for many. Kaczyński dropped his mask of ‘niceness’ and returned to his usual politics of negativity and ‘finding the enemy’ immediately calling for an inquiry into the death of his brother.
Soon after winning the elections, Bronisław Komorowski declared that he wishes for the cross erected outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw commemorating those who died in the Smolensk tragedy to be removed and placed elsewhere. PiS politicians and supporters of Radio Maryja together with an organisation known as the ’10 April Group’ (who have elevated Lech Kaczyński to almost holy man status) are up in arms.
For those who do not believe in the seriousness of this division, it is enough to listen to the rhetoric of the ’10 April Group’, who believe Kaczyński to be a martyr and the words of Antoni ‘The Master’ Macierewicz, head of the recently-formed ‘Presidential Aircraft Crash Investigative Group’ made up entirely of PiS politicians. Macierewicz called the aircrash a “crime” which the “government were responsible for”. He also said that the work of the Investigative Group is the “most important activity we have ever undertaken in our life and is of major concern to all Polish people”. Mountains out of molehills?
If anyone had previously believed Poland was a secular state there is no doubt now that the opposite is true following the tragic Smolensk air crash. In some ways it was comforting to see the very public outpouring of grief after the disaster but what was striking were the religious overtones that accompanied the grief. Mourners spoke of the “need” to join in grief and the “duty” of every “real Polish, Catholic patriot” to say goodbye to the President. What was even more striking were the mourners who queued for up to eighteen hours to kneel and make the sign of the cross before the coffins of President Lech Kaczyński and Maria Kaczyński. To outsiders looking in, it would appear that tens of thousands of Polish people were saying farewell to a holy man, a saint perhaps.
Now it seems that a piece of the Tupolev Tu-154 has taken on Holy Relic status. Inhabitants of Smolensk found a small piece of the plane and gifted it to Poland. Father Roman Majewski of the Jasna Góra Monastery, Poland’s most famous holy sanctuary, has said that this relic will become “a testament to the tragedy and a symbol of our love for our nation”. The tiny piece of the Tupolev Tu-154 will adorn the new ‘robes and crown’ of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland’s holiest relic. As well as the piece of the Tupolev, the Virgin Mary’s new robes, designed by Mariusz Drapikowski, will also contain fragments of meteorites found on the Moon, Mars and Mercury.