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Poland has a new government.

by MarekNYC Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 04:48:59 AM EST

From the front page. A lot of useful information and background.

A week ago a new Polish government was approved by the parliament. It is a one party minority government (Law and Justice - PiS) led not by the party's leader but by  one of his more moderate advisors, yet it was approved and will probably govern with the aid of the extreme right and the authoritarian populist extreme left. In the diary below I'll take a closer look at the new government and its ideological background.


(For a summary of the various Polish political parties see my earlier diary here. Ignore the out of date and unfortunately wrong campaign analysis.)

Before we start in on Poland's present let's look at the historical traditions that the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice Party is drawing on. Its primary inspiration is the politics and policy espoused by Jozef Pilsudski in the interwar period. Pilsudski is generally seen as the founder of Poland's renewed independence in 1918 after over a century of subjugation by Russia, Prussia, and Austria (Nov 11 was Poland's Independence Day). He led Poland in the first  two tumultuous years of independence before withdrawing from politics soon after the conclusion of the Polish-Soviet War, then came back to power in a Socialist trade union backed coup in 1926 against a democratically elected center-right coalition government in an atmosphere of rumors of an impending  right wing coup d'etat.  A long time leader of the Polish Socialist Party, Pilsudski broke with the PPS not long before WWI but remained politically close to them through 1926 when he rapidly moved towards the right. But he also always hated the Endecja, even trying to get the Socialist militia to massacre its leadership in 1921 after the Endeks murdered his handpicked successor. His governments were characterized by authoritarianism, statist economic policies, opposition to foreign capital, a contempt for political parties and an increasing rivalry between those of his followers who wanted to appeal to the socialist electorate and those who wanted to reach out to the increasingly fascist Endek one. His rather ideologically vague political movement was known as the 'Sanacja' which was intended to invoke the idea of cleaning up politics; getting rid of the corruption, partisanship, and cronyism that had supposedly betrayed the hopes and promises of Poland's rebirth. After his death in 1935 the pro-fascist faction won out.

Traditionally, the Polish non-communist left loves Pilsudski through 1920, can't stand Pilsudski as dictator. The PiS prefers to forget the pre WWI Pilsudski, but it's calls for a 'Fourth Republic', denunciation of the betrayal of the expectations of a renewal after communism, and of corruption and cronyism are straight out of the Sanacja playbook. (The pre Partition Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is the First Republic - same word in Polish, interwar Poland is the second one, post communist Poland the third)

In the post-Communist period the Kaczynski twins have flirted with both the far right and with their old comrades from the anti-communist dissident movement who became the neoliberals of the PO and politically defunct but still very influential left-liberals. In the two years before the electoral campaigns they were close to the neoliberals and primarily distinguished themselves by being moderately Eurosceptic, more anti-postcommunist, and socially more conservative than the PO. Economically they presented themselves as moderate neoliberals as opposed to the hardline ones of the PO, but economics were deemphasized.  Then the Kaczynskis flipped sides when they recognized that the post-communists were politically dead and that their only rivals were the neoliberals.

The campaign that followed was marked by appeals to the left wing electorate on economic issues, and economic/nationalism/religious right issues for the far right electorate. These appeals weren't just rhetorical. They negotiated with and got the full support of the godfather and media baron of the far right, Father Rydzyk (much to the dismay of the LPR), and the authoritarian left wing populist Andrzej Lepper, head of Samoobrona. After a vicious campaign the defeated PO was rather bitter. The negotiations quickly broke down and the Kaczynski's solidified their alliance with the LPR and Samoobrona. That means a more left wing approach to the economy, a more right wing one on non-economic domestic issues.

Interestingly, they haven't moved on foreign policy. By Kaczynski standards their statements have been very conciliatory towards Germany, Russia and the EU. They plan on maintaining or even strengthening the former government's pro-Bush stance (somewhat opposed by the extreme left, strongly opposed by the extreme right). The defense minister, Radek Sikorski, is a card carrying neocon. The foreign minister, Stefan Meller, is a very Europhile, centrist professional diplomat who has held senior posts under both post-Solidarity and post-Communist governments, most recently ambassador in Moscow. He's also Jewish and a liberal intellectual (professor of French history, longstanding close ties to the French elites reinforced by a stint as ambassador to France) whose social ties are to the old secular dissident milieu and whose parents were Communist activists - couldn't get any worse from the LPR perspective. So far the extreme right seems to be giving them a pass on that - Father Rydzyk's press is in full blown cheerleader mode while the mainstream private press is Europhile and pro-American and the state TV is controlled by the state, i.e. Law and Justice, so the LPR has no outlet for its views right now but their demand for a renegotiation of the EU accession treaty has already been dismissed as absurd by Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz.

There is also a personal dimension to rivalries within the post-solidarity camp (PiS, PO, and the left-liberals who are out of parliament but who constitute a sizable faction of the Polish elites. The leaders of the LPR and Samoobrona by and large did not actively oppose the communist regime.) All of them have known each other for a very long time, and I don't mean in the way that the political elite will know each other in any country. These people were all part of the same cause - getting rid of communism. They worked together, they socialized, they did time. They had the shared experiencing of sacrificing any chance at a career to their political cause (opposition activists were blackballed from all but the most menial work, and sometimes even that). They also frequently argued, at times bitterly, but those differences were always subordinated to the common goal of overthrowing a dictatorship and freedom from foreign rule. Thus the personal dynamics are more those of a shattered revolutionary independence movement in a former colony than the ones people in established democracies are familiar with. That means that they are very bitter, that political breaks are also seen as personal ones and betrayals of the principles they once fought for in common.

What next? - Getting rid of a government that has been confirmed by parliament, even a minority one, is extremely difficult if the government has the support of the president. The only way to do it is with a constructive no-confidence vote. That would require the  PO plus at least three of the SLD, PSL, LPR, and Samoobrona voting affirmatively for what would have to be a PO government. (PiS has about a third of the seats,  the PO about 30%). A very unlikely scenario.

On the other hand the Marcinkiewicz government is starting off from a poor position. It has promised to cut taxes and increase spending in real terms while keeping the dangerously high deficit stable in nominal terms - a mathematical impossibility. So it can't deliver on its left wing economic promises. Its foreign policy appointments indicate a reluctance to give its parliamentary allies any gifts in that area.  To make matters more interesting, the most powerful politician in Poland today is Jaroslaw Kaczynski - formally a simple MP - what happens if he and his chosen PM come into conflict. Considering that Marcinkiewicz comes from the economically liberal, otherwise moderate right wing of Law and Justice, such a conflict can't be ruled out.

My guess is that Kaczynski is hoping to eventually split off enough power and money hungry PO deputies away to get more stability. Sources close to the PiS leadership indicated that they expected something of the sort even before the government vote, they were wrong - the PO voted unanimously against. A problem for Kaczynski is that the more corrupt PO types tend to be hardcore neoliberals, while many of the PO MP's who are ideologically closer to PiS happen to hate his guts. (The two PO MP's that PiS ruled out as parliamentary speaker - Bronislaw Komorowski and Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz are ideologically close to PiS' moderate wing while the senator ruled out as deputy senate speaker - Stefan Niesiolowski, former leader of Poland's hardline Catholic nationalists - is in many ways ideologically close to the hardline wing of Law and Justice, but he can't stand the extreme left and hates the extreme right even more. All are also strongly pro-EU.)

Kaczynski has made a career of extraordinary talent at putting together winning right wing coalitions and then utterly destroying them. He was a leading architect of the Round Table talks, then smashed the Solidarity camp in a vicious and racist campaign in 1990-91. His resulting victorious center - extreme right coalition lasted six months. He was a key architect of the umbrella AWS party that came to power in 1997, and almost immediately started splintering it after electoral victory. We'll see what happens now.

(A slightly different version of this diary was posted as a comment on whataboutbob's diary Polish conservative socialism?)

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I take it that Radek Sikorski is the Radek Sikorski who is/was Secretary General of the New Atlantic Initiative ?

Of which John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld (for example) are advisory board members (albeit ' suspended while on Government service')?

Does this have interesting implications for the direction of Polish Politics?

by saugatojas on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 10:36:05 AM EST
The one and the same Radek Sikorski. But the implications are likely to be minor if any. The previous post communist government was strongly Atlanticist and supportive of the Bush administration. Law and Justice is even more pro Bush, so Sikorski's appointment is more a reflection of the new government's views than something that will influence its policy in a pro-Bush direction.
by MarekNYC on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 04:13:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Earlier this year there was a minor scanddal over the then Warsaw mayor's, now president elect, banning a gay pride march.  Following in his footsteps the mayor of Poznan (note, a PO politician, not a PiS one) has done the same. His pretext - it could lead to violence. Which is unfortunately true, the Mlodziez Wszechpolska, the youth organization of Poland's extreme right, routinely attack gay events. Always a nice sign when extremists get to exercize vetoes.  In any case, the real reason is the unrelenting pressure from the Church, PiS politicians, and LPR ones.  Their stance is best expressed by the new minister of culture's statement that one "shouldn't confuse the brutal propaganda of homosexual attitudes with appeals for tolerance."  

And in other fun news it seems that PiS is going to propose legislation that would allow its appointees to take full control of state TV.

by MarekNYC on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 05:48:50 PM EST
Ah, how characteristic for our region - it seems every single right-wing government's first thought is to re-start the media war.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 05:17:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I meant: every single government's, without qualification.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 05:17:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In order to restart a war it has to have stopped first, DoDo.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 06:12:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There goes my simple flippant sentence...

OK, the few liberal governments didn't practice media war here, and some of the post-communist leftist governments didn't either. But other post-communists governments and the left-populist governments usually did (the one I thought of when I first backpedalled was Mečiar's, you know the mafia don-like Slowakian ex-PM I mentioned in another thread).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 07:27:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where I'm coming from is this: the media war in Spain started around 1993 and has not stopped since. It doesn't matter who's in power. From my point of view the most belligerent are the right-wing media, but since 1996 all the national media are rather partisan. I have taken to reading La Vanguardia more because, being Catalan, they are mostly neutral on Spanish politics, and I don't have strong opinions on Catalan internal politics.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 07:41:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you mean by media war?

I didn't meant the bellingerence of the media: I meant goverment attempts to gain control of the media. Both by gaining control of both state and at least a good chunk of private media, and by passing legislation limiting the powers of media. In my region, fortunately, even when governments succeeded, they usually lost elections anyway - and the next government either restored press freedom or tried to take over itself.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 07:47:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, you mean a war over the media.

The Spanish version of that is public control of national TV and Radio. I think the current government is trying to end that by making its management not be appointed by the government anymore.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 07:50:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, though at this early stage the government is only seeking to cement its control over the state owned media, like every government before it, though the first post communist one is a special case - after overturning a dictatorship with a media monopoly you obviously need some changes.

The previous government effectively died because of its attempt to force favourable coverage from the private media. It did that by creating a carefully tailored media law that would favour their own pet media mogul while hurting the top centrist media company - Agora, the owners of Gazeta Wyborcza. (It included a provision that barred owners of national papers from owning non-print media, which only affected Agora.  There were no similar anti-concentration provisions against other big media companies) They then offered to remove the anti-Agora provisions in return for cash, top level posts in the company, and favourable coverage. The titular head of Agora, former leading dissident Adam Michnik, recorded the conversations and then splashed them over the front page of the paper. That started the first of several special investigative commissions that revealed the degree of corruption within the SLD.

by MarekNYC on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 06:40:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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