Sunday, March 25, 2007

Is Kwasniewski the answer to all our problems?


He remains popular with many, but is this just a mixture of nostalgia and another example of vacuous ‘personality politics’?

What have actor Sidney Poitier and former communist, former president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, got in common?

They – along with British novelist Ian McEwan – have won some award in the US:

Actor Sidney Poitier, author Ian McEwan, a journalist and a former president of Poland are this year's Common Wealth Awards winners, according to a trust committee member who helped make the decisions.

Connie Bond Stuart, PNC Bank Delaware president, said the awards recognize people who demonstrate both excellence in their fields and serve as an inspiration to others to follow in their footsteps.

Blimey!

And a poll on the pages of the new (and good) tvn24.pl web site finds that 64% would vote for former president Aleksander Kwasniewski if he started up a new party today.

Good news for Kwasniewski, as this week he appears to have announced a comeback.

Poland's former president Aleksander Kwasniewski, 52, has announced he intends to return to politics in the wake of what he terms controversial policy moves by Poland's current right- wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) government, according to the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

'Today.... you can see the take-over of the state by the governing party, the party taking control of areas which should be part of a democratic state or civil society - you can see it everywhere,' Kwasniewski said, referring to the governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Of course, self selecting internet ‘polls’ prove nothing at all, but Kwasniewski has retained much of the support he had throughout his two terms as president between 1995 and 2005.

In those days he was by far the most popular politician in the country – even with some of the old Solidarity supporters.

It was only towards the end of his term in office that many began to get disenchanted – particularly after the honours he gave to a few dubious people on leaving the presidential palace (think Clintonesque cronyism).

And now the bad news

Marek Dochnal, three years ago one of the most influential lobbyists in Poland, for the past two and a half years under arrest on charges of large scale corruption, has testified that Poland's most prominent left-wing politicians accepted huge bribes back when they were in power (more here).

The politicians in question are (allegedly) former SLD PM Leszek Miller, and Aleksander Kwasniewski.

The word of a convicted criminal is not very good witness, but the smell of sleaze clings to all ex-communist politicians here, often for good reason.

Last week more news confirmed this, with lurid details of post communist corruption in taped recorded conversations between another former prime minister, Jozef Oleksy, and businessmen. The SLD has some friends in low places, no doubt about that.

So why is Kwasniewski still popular? It’s certainly not his policies: he hasn’t really given us any, yet. He makes the usual, healing noises about ‘dialogue’, blah, blah. But that’s about it.

Maybe his popularity has more to do with the fact that Poland in the 1990s was quite an optimistic place. The country had a feeling of going forward. But that optimism is a thing of the past. A disappointment with post-communist Poland is more common, these days. It just hasn’t gone the way many hoped it would. There have been too many losers.

So Kwasniewski’s popularity is fragile, resting on a nostalgia for the ‘feel good factor’ and a time when the president of Poland was not Lech Kaczynski.

Maybe it’s as simple as that: People like Kwas because Kwas is not the Duck.

38 comments:

steppx said...

last election in the US, the cry was *anyone but bush* (alas, bush won...or stole...the election) and I suspect your right thats its "anyone by Kaczynski" at this point in Poland.

opamp said...

The reason for Kwaśniewski's popularity was nothing else than the style of Wałęsa in office.

Under Wałęsa we've had Balcerowicz reform (bad) and general political instability. Wałęsa was in fact fueling many of the political conflicts, engaging in them directly, firing prime ministers and even dissolving a parliament. (This is precisely why the present constitution severely limits presidential power compared to the previous one). As a result he was very unpopular at the end of the term. (Case in point: Kaczyńskis were his close coworkers at the beginning, but later he fired them and they became his great enemies. It was not a single case).

So, Kwasniewski won the election promising an anti-Wałęsa style of national reconciliation, which he delivered (by doing nothing, essentially). He started with good popularity ratings and avoided antagonizing anyone, thus retaining them throughout both terms.

varus said...

There is also the question of image,

many Poles voted (2005)for who they thought looked the part of President. That was one of Tusk's biggest problems: his image. Kwasniewski looked like a statesman and leader, his policies or lack of them were secondary, hence his popularity. Therefore if he was to return, he would have a headstart of the the hapless and decidedly un charasmatic Kaczyńskis. The question is, do the rules for president work for prime minister. While Poles are happy to have a glamorous President, they may wish for some one a little more down to earth to actually do the real work as PM.

jannovak57 said...

Kwasniewski reminds me of the frustration some homeowners have with getting rid of rats in the basement. You set up traps and nothing happens, you put out poison and nothing happens ultimately you have go down to the basement and club them to death.

There are some good examples from Polish history on how to dispose of Kwasniewski.

beatroot said...

Yeah, that's a good point. If Kwas ever became prime minister he would hale to do something! And that means policies and all that stuff. He would have to form a coalition and make all sorts of controversial deals and alliances. And he would have to get himself a cabinet. And who would be in the cabinet? A load of his old chums? It would be what the ducks would call the ‘uklad’. It certainly wouldn’t include many of the present government. And that would mean the same old divisions in Polish politics that are in place now.

If the secular centre left are going to make a comeback then they are going to have to disassociate themselves from the ex-communists. Kwasniewski will never be able to do that.

YouNotSneaky! said...

Yeah, but the Duck was THE most popular Polish politician while Mayor of Warsaw. The public is a fickle mistress.

polishpenguin said...

The public is stupid. How can you vote for a man that was on the side of a president that ordered a martial law on people? Baffles me to no end.

opamp said...

How can you vote for a man that was on the side of a president that ordered a martial law on people?

Because many believe that if he didn't the things would have turned out much worse.

jannovak57 said...

opamp said: "cause many believe that if he didn't the things would have turned out much worse."

That was the group composed of communist party members and the ZOMO, not to be confused with anyone Polish!

beatroot said...

Jan. You are just plan wrong. Opinion polls regularly show here that many many Poles think that if martial law had not been declared then the Soviets would have come in in tanks and things WOULD have been much worse. I am not saying I agree with that (I simply don’t know) but many Poles think that – not just commies….

varus said...

Beatroot said: "many Poles think that if martial law had not been declared then the Soviets would have come in in tanks and things WOULD have been much worse. I am not saying I agree with that (I simply don’t know) but many Poles think that – not just commies…. "

And that just shows the brilliance of the whole think. Soviet records unearthed after the fall of communism show they had no intension of doing this. The 'Soviet threat' was a cover story put out by the military regime. The sad thing is people still belive it and don't question it. Many people were happy to be spoon fed infomation from a state controlled media

beatroot said...

varus - has that really been proved beyond all reasonable doubt? I think not.

Michael Farris said...

And the question now should not be 'was the USSR really prepared to invade?' (who knows? I'm surprised varus has such faith in newly unearthed soviet records) but 'was military intervention by the USSR a reasonable fear at the time?'

Unless the US (and world) media was also state controlled it was a reasonable fear.

That doesn't answer the question of whether martial law was ultimately justified (in the interest of preventing large amounts of civilian deaths) but that answer is probably unknowable and pretending to know is just shining a spotlight on one's ignorance.

varus said...

Michael said: "That doesn't answer the question of whether martial law was ultimately justified (in the interest of preventing large amounts of civilian deaths) but that answer is probably unknowable and pretending to know is just shining a spotlight on one's ignorance"

Maybe we should split that into two questions: 1) Is martial law justified to prevent large amounts of civilian deaths. 2) Were the subsequent actions in Poland during martial law justified if we assume that point 1=yes.

There is a difference between the initial call of martial law and then certain actions that happened under it.

Mr K said...

“Soviet records unearthed after the fall of communism show they had no intension of doing this”.

I wouldn’t bet my money on the credibility of Soviet records.

“The 'Soviet threat' was a cover story put out by the military regime.”

Maybe so, but keep in mind that the commanders of the Polish military at that time were guys who had known first hand what the “Soviet allies” are capable of. Jaruzelski, Siwicki and others spent time in camps in the USSR during WWII and knew that their lives are simply disposable. They might have actually believed that some form of Soviet “help” was possible.

This still doesn’t mean that the martial law was justified.

jannovak57 said...

There is clear evidence that there was not going to be a Soviet invasion of Poland and no basis for any argument to the contrary. The disinformation campaign launched by the Soviets and the Polish communists was brilliant and effective however the idea that Moscow’s servant was going to save Poland from a Soviet invasion defies common sense. The fact there are still believers in this theory is not surprising since there has been a poor effort to re-educate a population raised on communist lies.

The greatest proponents of the invasion theory are the people who served in the military, security forces, civil service and the communist party because to admit the truth would be tantamount to a confession of having committed treason.

During the existence of the PRL millions of Polish citizens in a country that venerates patriotism committed treason and we have yet to come to terms with this.

Jaruzelski had but one duty to stand with the nation against the foreign oppressors he chose instead to be the instrument of foreign oppression. He and his government committed treason and they should be brought to full account for this treachery.

Kwasniewski was part of that government.

It’s time to declare the structures of the PRL to have been criminal organizations.

Michael Farris said...

"During the existence of the PRL millions of Polish citizens in a country that venerates patriotism committed treason and we have yet to come to terms with this"

Isn't this self-contradictory? Millions of citizens committing treason does not, cannot equal 'venerating patriotism'.

What do you propose be done with the treasonous millions?

opamp said...

There is clear evidence that there was not going to be a Soviet invasion of Poland and no basis for any argument to the contrary.

An invasive operation against Poland from the territory of Czechoslovakia has been undertaken around Dec. 6, 1980 and aborted literally the last moment (this has surfaced a couple of years ago with the declassification of certain Czech archives). So in 1981 a Soviet invasion was certainly believable.

A commonly overlooked fact is that Poland was a transit country for supplying the Soviet Army in East Germany, and a revolution in Poland would endanger its supply lines. No sane Soviet strategist would allow this, as it was opening a chance for a successful NATO attack against East Germany (the Soviets perceived NATO as an aggressive force).

i powraca wiatr said...

Władimir Bukowski found files in the Mitrochin archive which record Jaruzelski requesting Soviet intervention in Poland.

I couldn't agree more that Poles are a far les optimistic people today than in the 1990s. When people ask me how the country has changed, that's what I tell them.

jannovak57 said...

Michael Farris said... “Isn't this self-contradictory? Millions of citizens committing treason do not cannot equal 'venerating patriotism'.”

Its hard to explain, you needed to be there. But we never considered THEM to be Polish.

Michael Farris said...” What do you propose be done with the treasonous millions?”

The leaders i.e. General Staff of the Army and cabinet officials of the government, put on trial for treason.

The next level, the senior officials barred from the civil service and elected office for life.

The rest ignored.

In the case of the first two groups each would be stripped of rank, pension and property acquired from the state.


opamp said... “An invasive operation against Poland from the territory of Czechoslovakia has been undertaken around Dec. 6, 1980 and aborted literally the last moment “

There were a number of military movements around Polands border done to put the pressure level up. The Soviets would have required nearly a million troops for such an operation, which would have meant partial mobilization, and there is no evidence of that taking place.

The Soviets weren’t panicked about their military situation in the GDR if they allowed events in Poland to go unchecked in the worst-case scenario for them would be a Poland having the same status as Finland. But more likely Poland would exist surrounded by the communist states; a member of the Warsaw pact and the Soviets would keep their transit rights.

beatroot said...

i powraca wiatr (returning wind…interesting! Have you a flatulence problem? :-), Jan etc….

Yeah, whether there was going to be an invasion, and what role the Polish commies had in it, is contested and not so clear cut as Varus suggested.

And thanks for confirming my impression about optimism. Remember 1997? Remember how short the skirts were? It was the same in the 1960s, (in the west) when people felt life was getting better.

Hem lines are barometers of social feel good factors…

opamp said...

But more likely Poland would exist surrounded by the communist states; a member of the Warsaw pact and the Soviets would keep their transit rights.

Because of course, any independent Polish government would accept a massive NATO nuclear strike along the Vistula river in case of war. Yup. Independent Poland would blow up WP from the inside (well, this is exactly what happened several years later).

Not to mention the possibility of the U.S. inciting local Afghanistan-style guerilla warfare.

All in all, too much risk.

The Soviets would have required nearly a million troops for such an operation, which would have meant partial mobilization, and there is no evidence of that taking place.

This thesis is disputable: first, they had enough troops to quickly amass the required number in Poland and then announce mobilization to supply the back lines. Besises, announcing mobilization would have ruled out the surpise element, significantly increasing losses during the invasion.

And even if this theory is to be believed, one cannot rule out that they would perform the required mobilization and attack several months later. This scenario has been developed in a book named "Krfotok" by Edward Redliński.

Michael Farris said...

"Its hard to explain, you needed to be there. But we never considered THEM to be Polish"

Define "we"

If not Polish, then what? (unless the answer begins with J, in which case please don't answer).

But please, by all means explain how you think your program should be carried out absent any clear majority will...

Mr K said...

“During the existence of the PRL millions of Polish citizens […] committed treason…”

Well, well, Jan, I don’t think there were millions of them. We are talking about top leaders of the Party, the government and the military and maybe some local officials (I doubt sołtys had a chance or the will to commit treason).

But I agree with you that we never considered THEM Polish. That’s why we always referred to them as THEY rather than “our government”.

Michael Farris said...

"But I agree with you that we never considered THEM Polish. That’s why we always referred to them as THEY rather than “our government”."

And has that changed? To my students, PiS is definitely 'they' and not 'our government'.

jannovak57 said...

Michael Farris said...” To my students, PiS is definitely 'they' and not 'our government'.
Your students have a big advantage, which was not enjoyed by the students of the PRL, your students can vote against the PiS. When the students of the PRL complained about the government they got a hardwood stick across the side of the head.
Your students should strive to become informed voters and cast a ballot for the party of their choice, if they choose not to they should shut up.

Michael Farris said...” by all means explain how you think your program should be carried out absent any clear majority will... “
The current vetting program is said to involve as many as 400,000 people what I am suggesting involves a radically smaller number of people not to mention people a lot more guilty.

Michael Farris said...” Define "we"”
In the days of the PRL there was a clear distinction between the governed and those doing the governing. The communists were a distinct class with special privileges and economic conditions that differed from the general population. Not to mention religious belief. We meaning the rest of the nation, which existed in substandard economic conditions and were practicing Catholics for the most part.

Mr K said...

“And has that changed? To my students, PiS is definitely 'they' and not 'our government'.”

Yes, it has changed. The communist rulers were imposed on us, whereas the PiS took power as a result of democratic elections.

You don’t like the current government? Oh, well, learn to live with it, that’s just a “negative” side effect of democracy.

BTW, ask your students how many of them actually cast a vote during the last elections.

geez said...

As ucked pup as the PiS is, at least they never danced with each other -- as "oni" did at the command of and for Stalin's amusement.

Mr K said...

"As ucked pup as the PiS is, at least they never danced with each other -- as "oni" did at the command of and for Stalin's amusement.'

You must have read Terasa Torańska's book. :))

geez said...

A classic that should be required reading for anyone discussing Polish politrix.

beatroot said...

Mr K

The communist rulers were imposed on us, whereas the PiS took power as a result of democratic elections.


And that is a crucial point. In democracies, the people get the government they deserve…

Excellent debate, you guys…

Michael Farris said...

I agree that PiS aren't as bad as the communists and that young people who complain and don't vote are foolish.

I also stand firm in my belief that PiS is the worst post-communist government.

If you want to know why there's so little optimism vis a vis the 90's look no further than the sour countenances of the ducks' and their partners in government by paranoia and revenge.

For all the talk of the 4th republic and cleaning house, PiS is a fundamentally pessimistic party whose message reverberates the most with pessimistic people who are looking for people to blame.

For all the incompetence and corruption of AWS and SLD, their messages were fundamentally optimistic in looking forward to a brighter future and they did occasionally deliver the goods (as in getting Poland into the EU).

polishpenguin said...

You can only blame the people themselves. If only 49% of the country voted, tough luck then. And then those who didn't vote complain the most. It's amusing.

Mr K said...

"In democracies, the people get the government they deserve…"

That's it. :))

Anonymous said...

Mr K, you have summed it up nicely...as an educated, intelligent friend of mine said, "Kwasniewski had dignity. He looked like a real politician. I miss him." In other words, a post-communist smooth-suited blob with numerous scandals to his account is better than a mumbling little man who keeps reminding us about our recent unfortunate history. What is more pleasant to hear about: Poland's fantastic present and future (You too can own a Lexus and be taken seriously by the West!) or PIS' obsession with rooting out "covert cooperators" during the PRL? This is why both PO and the post-commies will always have the loyalty of the young professional classes here. Poland's government waffled too long on cleaning out the ranks, and the same people (ie leftist intellectuals) who once elevated Solidarity members to sainthood now call the pursual of their oppressors a violation of the norms of Western civil society.

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