Can the Real Poland Step Forward?

May 24, 2013
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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Death of Solidarity

August 31, 2010
Spotlight on Poland

Spotlight on Poland

Nobody could have envisaged that the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of Solidarność (in August 1980) would turn into a farce and sound the death knell for Poland’s first trade union. It is fair to say that the anniversary celebrations symbolically, yet unintentionally, brought about the end of the heroic Solidarność of August 1980. The Janusz Śniadek-led politically-distorted Solidarity of 2010 has absolutely nothing in common with the Solidarity of 1980 that brought together people of varying views, opinions and political allegiances. Lech Wałęsa’s refusal to attend the celebrations was a clear cutting of the umbilical cord and demonstration of the fact that the legacy of Solidarity 1980 is to be found elsewhere, not in Solidarity 2010.

Tusk Called For Solidarity But Was Booed

Tusk Called For Solidarity But Was Booed

What was shocking about the celebrations was the reception that Prime Minister Donald Tusk got from the trade union members. Tusk, a former Solidarity member and activist, was hissed and jeered at when he asked the audience what had happened to the old Solidarity which brought together religious people, atheists, opposition activists and communists alike all for the good of the country. There was no room for hate. To this the hall erupted in a chorus of whistles and boos. Likewise, President Komorowski was greeted with hostility. It was only when PiS head Jarosław Kaczyński took the stage that the hecklers finally settled down giving him rapturous round of applause.

Kaczyński Giving Tusk 'The Evils'

Kaczyński Giving Tusk ‘The Evils’

Why was Jarosław Kaczyński giving a speech in the first place? He neither espouses to the ideals of tolerance and solidarity nor was he an integral member of the original movement. His place at the anniversary celebrations was misplaced, misconceived and misguided. He had neither the authority not the right to stand up and talk about ‘solidarity’ with the views he holds. In his speech he talked about manipulation and lies whilst looking straight at PM Tusk. Unsurprisingly, he talked about his patriotic brother Lech Kaczyński who, he alleged, had struggled with Tadeusz Mazowiecki (Poland’s first non-communist post-war Prime Minister) and Bronisław Geremek (Minister of Foreign Affairs) who were ready to give up the fight.

Henryka Krzywonos Strikes Back

Henryka Krzywonos Strikes Back

A hurt and shell-shocked Mazowiecki confronted Kaczyński afterwards telling him that what he had said was a complete pack of lies to which Kaczyński replied that he had a different view of what had happened. Mazowiecki retorted: “This has nothing to do with anyone’s views. It is about the facts and what happened. Gemerek’s no longer with us. How could you?! The facts are completely different”. However, what really rocked the celebrations was Henryka Krzywonos’ impromptu speech.

Henryka Krzywonos Saves The Day

Henryka Krzywonos Saves The Day

The former Solidarity heroine and tram driver hit the headlines when she brought traffic to a standstill and initiated a Solidarity-led strike in August 1980 when she stopped her tram. After hearing Kaczyński and the jeers at Tusk, she ploughed into the audience and Jarosław Kaczyński claiming that the members of Solidarity had worked for the good of everyone and to boo at PM Tusk was simply out of order. As for Kaczyński, she said she did not know what had happened to him but he should stop stirring things up and let people get on with their lives. “It is you,” she said to Jarosław Kaczyński, “who is destroying Lech’s [Kaczyński] dignity”.

Solidarność began life as a movement fighting for the rights of workers. Sadly, this non-violent and tolerant institution, open for all, became embroiled in politics and has since become the lapdog of Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS). As Henryka Krzywonos, one of the original signatories of the Solidarity Gdańsk Agreement (pol. Porozumienie Sierpniowe) said, “The name ‘Solidarity’ binds and obligates us”. It certainly does; solidarity obligates us to work together, in tolerance and openness with one another.