1. A Need for Change?
Most Poles, when asked, agree that there is a need for change in their country’s political system. Some of them ask further: “but how and when should it occur?”
What causes this common attitude?
One of the reasons may be the fact that the transformation from communism to a semi-democratic system that happened 30 years ago in such an abrupt manner was accompanied by selling off of the country’s assets, economic scandals, failed Balcerowicz Plan, as well as seizing the power by corrupt elites. Sadly, the consequences of those events are felt to this day.
It is a common knowledge that during the ‘90s Poland was used as a testing ground for the project of the systemic transformation. Citizens were told that all financial transactions conducted in the process of privatization had to be classified. In this way, the people in power – promoted to their positions as a result of the Round Table Agreement in 1989 – sold off national assets, without explaining to the society who were the buyers and what was the price.
The “reformers” argued that there was no other method of improving the nation’s existence; that the only possibility was a quick and full privatization of the national economy. Politicians, and the media, argued that the crisis could be resolved in one of the two ways: the communist one and the liberal one. The idea of liberalisation of the economy became the most popular slogan, palmed off on the disoriented and exhausted society.
The most important means of quick selling of the country’s assets was the famous Balcerowicz Plan. Intended to last for about six months, it basically goes on to this day.
According to various unofficial estimates (the official ones are either non-existent or classified), Poland has lost 0.5-2 billion dollars as a result of this “perestroika.” Compared to these numbers, the public debt accumulated during the Gierek rule seems like “pocket money.” This unprecedented robbery committed against the Polish nation created a situation in which Poles could own only their labour since their whole capital went to foreign hands. Industrial and bank assets were sold off for about 10 percent of their worth, which made the economy of Poland dependent on other countries. Since economics and politics are almost inseparable, the scale of foreign influence on the Polish economy raised fears of a similar thing happening in the sphere of politics.
Then came about the idea of joining the European Union. Again, no one hesitated, nor did any proper estimates – it was simply “the only way to go.”
Historically, the decision to join the EU was made unanimously by the left and the right. Moreover, both sides competed each other on who was to be granted the “honour” of signing the treaty of accession. However, there were no substantive negotiations with the EU. The only talks that occurred concerned merely political and ideological matters of how to subordinate Poland to the EU’s bureaucratic structures.
The Poles have never opposed the idea of building common Europe. The thing that raised their doubts, however, has been the ideological foundations of the EU, the dominant role of Germany in its structures, and the place that Poland was to assume within the ranks of this superpower.
Pushing Poland into joining the EU served as a smokescreen for all ongoing economic scandals created by the so called ruling class and the reformers of the early years of Polish independence. As a result, these elites managed to secure their wealth and positions, while their anti-state activities fell into oblivion.
It is interesting that during the time of Poland’s accession to the EU both sides of the political spectrum – Law and Justice and Civic Platform on the right, and Democratic Left Alliance on the left – were unanimously in favour of it. This confirms that there are no differences between political left and right in Poland. There is no ideological struggle between them, and the only thing they strive for is power, i.e., the domination over the society. The division between both sides is fictional. It serves as a propaganda that pulls the wool over the society’s (as well as the world’s) eyes and claims that there is an ideological pluralism in Poland, or that the Polish democracy is in an excellent condition.
Moreover, the ruling class needs this distinction to be able to manipulate society. Usually, elections in Poland are won by the side that is considered less compromised by its ineffectual governance in the preceding years. However, due to the fact that the opposition used to govern in the exact same (bad) way, disoriented citizens either forgot how things were or, simply, have no other options to vote for. The situation resembles a cheap theatre in which the viewers hope that this time they will see an exciting show, but – since the actors are always the same, and only their costumes change – they get fooled and disappointed every time. On the other hand, there are also those who believe that this time it is the libertarians or the nationalists (or yet another minor faction) that will win and bring the necessary change. In reality, however, it does not matter who wins the elections and rules for the next four years.
The form of governance that has crystallised during the last 30 years in Poland is a semi-democratic system in which the dominant position is occupied by the so-called political elites. It has nothing to do with true democratic pluralism. The system’s fundamental principle can be described by the attitude of “we vs. you,” with the ruling class (who constitute “the political authority”) on the one side, and the society on the other.
All of the substitutes of democracy, like free elections, free media, separation of powers, are merely a façade or propaganda used for covering up financial manipulations, selling off of the country’s assets, and seeking scraps that fall from Brussel’s table. They are necessary to tame the Poles and the international community. It is a fact that in recent years there has been an infringement of democratic principles in Poland, and there are several indications of that:
First, the balance between particular powers (legislative, executive, judiciary) has been violated for a long time.
Second, free elections are pure fiction – all candidates are determined by the political parties based on their internal lists of accepted individuals.
Three, there are no free media. There are only entities that pose as media, called “official” and “samizdat” publishers. Polish political journalists are fully aware of the problems caused by parties with non-democratic style of leadership, the representatives’ dependency on their parties, and the general ineffectiveness of the Sejm. Why are they silent about it? Because it is the only way to guarantee themselves any presence in the world of media dominated by the major parties. It is the same as during the times of the Polish People’s Republic: “We know what we know, but we talk and write only about things we are allowed to do so.”
Thousand of members of the bureaucratic force in Poland hamper entrepreneurship, while every new statute generates tremendous costs. Legislation spans for over hundreds of thousands of pages, and there are hundreds of thousands of public officials – in spite of the fact that we cannot afford it. We accumulate debt, issue bonds and pay enormous interests to foreign banks. On the other hand, many elements of the country’s infrastructure, like schools etc., are underfunded. Due to the excess and complexity of our laws, we become poorer and more dependent on other countries. We still have not cut off ourselves from the era of the Polish People’s Republic. We lack people and politicians who understand the idea of raison d’état, who care about the economic development of Poland. It is truly tragic that our political system allows situations in which a person’s actions – although destructive for the economy, the country, and the people – may still be perfectly legal. What is worse is that, due to the legality of those actions, many citizens will consider such an individual as completely innocent. Apart from being absurd, this shows how much the consciences of Poles have degenerated over the last three decades.
We should not be surprised that everything is going in the wrong direction, and that sooner or later it will ignite a giant conflict. We do not mean necessarily a civil war, but rather a conflict of an economic, cultural, social, or event religious nature. The actions of our politicians and state’s leaders resemble a bad cabaret. In order to see this, one only needs to take a look at newspapers and news channels (naturally, we should always remember not to rely on their opinions and form our own views).
Governance is not a children’s game. It is a difficult and complex “job” that requires traits like intellectual input, understanding of how a given political system works, wide imagination and intuition. Moreover, it requires a perfect knowledge of psychological and sociological principles that determine the dynamics of diverse groups, organisations and individuals with differing socio-political views.
In order to develop these qualities, one must possess a great wisdom and a potential to be as humane as it is possible. It is also necessary to be a genuine patriot all the time, not only on special occasions.
Since Polish politicians lack all of the above characteristics, it is not surprising that state of affairs in Poland is as it is – the country is divided, conflicted, and completely confused.
This gives rise to the strong need of a new form of governance, one that would engage ordinary citizens in the decision-making process and end the current elitist, top-down system. Purely “cosmetic” changes (such as “the good change” slogan of the Law and Justice party) will never do anything to mend the foundations of the Polish political system.
The libertarian and nationalistic groups that have been emerging in recent times are also impotent in this regard. The reason is that they too subscribe to the top-down form of governance and strive for power, while treating society in an instrumental way. These groups seem to lack skills, or maybe even the desire, to create a true alternative, and since they do not go beyond the mainstream slogans, they are quickly sucked into the system.
At some point, a radical change must and will occur. But what for now? Well, the cheap theatre continues its repertoire: giant planes, meetings, celebrations, elections, medals and monuments, anniversaries, scandals, appointments and dismissals, budgets and limousines, shady factions, singing of the national anthem just for show, hypocrisy and contempt for citizens…
And what is the point of all this? The answers are always the same: “For Poland to grow strong and the people to live prosperously” (as Edward Gierek put it), or: “in the name of national interest.” Sadly, no politician is able to define it.
The need for change is necessary and justified. Everyone knows it and feels it, however, only few have a real plan of taking a radical step.
To be continued…
© Mirosław Matyja