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PiS-sing Away Poland’s Future?

Kaczynski’s insistence to look backward is a disservice to a great country that has come a long way.

February 4, 2016

Kaczynski’s insistence to look backward is a disservice to a great country that has come a long way.

After Andrzej Duda was elected last year, Polish friends were quick to send out assurances. The young President, they said, was keen on modernizing the country and maximizing opportunities for the young generation.

The new President was not just going to be a (pretty) fig leaf for the irreparably backward-looking, if not revanchist Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the master mind of what increasingly appears to be Poland’s misnamed, or ironically named, Law and Justice Party (PiS).

Likewise, after Beata Szydlo was picked as the country’s prime minister, she was quick to say that she would not act, more or less, as a rubber stamp for Mr. Kaczynksi.

End of make-belief

All of that is poppycock. A few months after PiS took over the reins in Poland, Mr. Kaczynski’s marionettes are acting as if they had received 90% of the vote – and not just 38%.

In other words, just a bit more than one-third of all Polish voters opted for this government. The real figure is actually much lower if one considers the rather low voter turnout.

Undaunted, they are bewildering not just the many Poles that did not vote for them, but also many long-term admirers abroad of Poland’s reform path over the past quarter century.

Kaczynski & Co. pretend to have a democratic mandate essentially to do away with many of the built-in trappings of democracy, the key mechanisms that America’s founding fathers helpfully called “checks and balances.”

Brutish forms of majoritarian politics – pushing all of one’s opponents to the side as if they were pipsqueak – are always problematic.

The extreme arrogance displayed by those who utilize this form of politics as martial arts typically meets one of three fates.

First, they either tend to fall on their own sword as a result of their recklessness or second, their country, which they claim to love so dearly, suffers from a major setback – or third, a combination of the above two outcomes.

In the case of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, that is no theoretical matter. It is a matter of historical record. He already proved a complete failure when he served as Poland’s prime minister for a mere 17 months in 2006/7.

The lesson he learned from that disaster is that he should no longer be the front man of the government, but rather the puppet master. Hence the pair of Duda and Szydlo.

Revanchism is not a strategy

The tragedy for Poland is that Mr. Kaczynski this time around lacks the adult supervision of Lech Kaczynski, his twin brother and the country’s former President who died tragically in an airplane accident. Lech probably was the only restraint that Jaroslaw would be willing to tolerate.

Since Lech is no more, Jaroslaw is determined finally to unwind the marvels of Poland’s post-Communist era. Where he, to this day, sees conspiracies galore (that urgently need to be dealt with now, hence his panicky sense of action), the reality of Polish politics was actually much more inspiring and reassuring.

What made Poland great after 1990 – and makes it stand out from the entire rest of the field in Central and Eastern Europe – was that Polish reformers, especially in the economic and financial sphere, for the most part continued the reform path.

They did this even if there was a change of government from one ideological camp to quite a different one.

Mr. Kaczynski does his country a fundamental disservice if he now makes it appear that his country is another Ukraine – a country riveted by corruption and ruthlessly abused by politicians of various stripes solely for their own and their respective clan’s personal gain.

Emulating Putin?

To be sure, it takes time to heal the wounds of the Communist period. But whatever Poland’s challenges, the assertion that the country has swept too many things under the rug and a fundamental housecleaning is needed begs disbelief.

This claim by Kaczynski and his team is also belied by the fact that, in seizing control of the electronic media, he is stepping in the very footsteps of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, presumably his nemesis and not his role model.

In addition, the defense of conservative Polish values now put forth by the government reads and feels like it was copied from the Russian textbook of authoritarian rule.

With one notable difference: Unlike the Russian Orthodox Church, which has entered into an entirely unholy alliance with Putin via all sorts of shady maneuvers, including the sharing of illicit gains, Poland’s Catholic Church to date has thankfully not entered into such a potentially disastrous pact.


Brutish form of majoritarian politics – pushing all of the opponents to the side – is problematic.

Poland continued to be great after 1990 because it continued reforms despite change of government.

Kaczynski should not make Poland look like another Ukraine – a country riveted by corruption.

Kaczynski in seizing control of the media is following the footsteps of Putin -- not his role model.