Wednesday, May 09, 2007

10 years ago Poland and UK were a better place?


Or were they? Maybe even nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…

Us Brits are getting a little nostalgic. I was in London, May 1997, when the British voted in Tony Blair’s New Labour government, and in so doing, kicked out a Conservative Party which had ruled for 18 long years.

Many Brits woke up the next day, after sitting up much of the night watching the Labour landslide on TV, feeling a little groggy but optimistic about the future. Maybe, as the Labour Party election campaign song sung at the time: ‘Things can only get better’…

And things have got better, but Brits seem to fear everything. The British got lots richer, but Tony Blair – who will be finally resigning in the next few days (another Iraq war casualty) - has presided over the death of British politics. In the absence of real competing visions of the world, politics in the UK has literally come down to how often people get their rubbish bins emptied. Maybe that is a kind of progress. But Brits don’t feel optimistic anymore. They feel scared. Of everything, of everyone.

They were optimistic in Poland back then too

Or that is how it seemed. I was living in Poland in 1997. There was a positive feeling about the place. People I knew felt good about Poland. Communism was gone and buried, and a new future was being born. Some were getting rich. Others could express themselves in a way they never could before. A tiny middle class was growing.

Things could only get better.

Fast forward ten years to 2007 and that Polish optimism is in short supply. The exodus of millions of Poles since the country joined the EU strengthens the feeling that post-communist Poland has failed too many.

The political scene has - as one journalist friend, who was out of the country for ten years, but has just returned – got a little ‘freaky’.

So what has changed in those ten years? Were things really so much better then? Maybe not.

For instance, unemployment in 1997 was around 13 percent. Today unemployment is 14 percent, but coming down from a high of 20 percent three years ago.

At the end of 1996 inflation was just under 20 percent! Now it’s around 2 percent.

The national average wage in 1997 was 12,000 zloty (400 dollars) – today its double that.

Fact is, the economy, compared to 1997 – when the economy was slowing down after being the ‘European economic tiger’ - is booming. Growth is one of the highest in the EU. Home ownership has increased, car ownership has leaped, people take more holidays, do more things.

Things really have got better, in Poland. So where is this pessimism coming from? It’s coming from two different places.

Life has not got significantly better for many. The east of the country has fallen behind. The country side – especially the one million tiny farms – have fallen behind. Those on fixed incomes have fallen behind.

The conservatives think that the country has gone to the dogs. Secularism – once the preserve of the ideological communist – has come in from the West, from the EU. ‘Gays demanding rights? Whatever next! They have them anyway (just as long as they don’t exercise them).Liberals? They are just partially reconstructed commies! What’s Poland coming to?’

It’s no shock to find that this is where much of the current government support resides.

In the other half of Poland – the half that did well or better – folks are feeling under attack. The aggressive policies of the Law and Justice led government are aimed at those they think carved up the country, post 1989. Now they want some of the action, the influence. It’s the politics of ‘Teraz kurwa my’ – now it’s fucking our turn.

Basic freedoms – the freedom of speech, of assembly, have been attacked. People are being sacked from the state sector, many times, because they are seen politically unclean.

It’s all very vulgar

So the reason for the lack of optimism is not from purely material factors – Poland is actually doing very well – it’s more from a politics of failure. The winners have not spread there good fortune around, and the losers feel that Poland has declined morally (spiritually) and are determined to get their own back.

Poland should feel optimistic – except for its politics: which is arcane, much of the time, in substance, nasty, unstable.

All things that Tony Blair would not like at all. He has succeeded in killing off any type of politics in Britain. A dull, apolitical consensus is all there is in poor old blighty. The obsession there is that the planet has gone to the dogs, and we are all doomed to an environmental hell.

But in both Poland and UK, things really are getting better. The feeling of things getting worse comes from a fear of the future, brought on by a miserable, future-phobic politic.

29 comments:

opamp said...

The reason why Poles have lost optimism is stagnation.

1997 was a good time, because it was when KoŇāodko of an ex-commie government managed to finally stabilize the economy after Balcerowicz's nuclear strike, sorry, shock theraphy. But the country was still rotting from the past errors and needed reforms.

Yet, over the last 10 years no real reforms were undertaken (except for perpetrating the swindle of the century, also known as the social security reform). And what was rotting in 1997 continues to rot to this day.

I mean, if you have had a stinking pile of shit on the street in front of your window for 18 years and you all the time heard from your local authority that it would be removed really quickly, and it wasn't -- wouldn't you just get fed up with it and move to a better neighborhood?

Damo said...

I've only been here for the most part of the past two years so appreciate the analysis in the article and Opamp's comment on the societal pessimism and attitudes of begrudgery (from the have-nots) and apathy (from the have-a-lots).

In Ireland we call the latter me-feiners (me myselfers), a word play on Sinn Fein (which can be transalted 'we, ourselves').

I teach 140 students here in Warsaw each week and it's fascinating to hear from the adults about how they either aspire to improve their English to get the fuck out, or use cynical and sarcastic language to demonstrate the Polish political system's impotency. Of course, it's only a small glimpse of the reality that I catch weekly, and from the short experiences I have in the Suwalki region or Augustow it is quite obvious that the economic and societal perspective divide is stark indeed.

beatroot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beatroot said...

In a way what you are both pointing out is that people feel estranged from the political process. The only solution is a personal, individual one: ‘get the fuck out’.

A) this misses the real gains this country has achieved, and
B) this misses the obvious truth: that in democracies its WE, collectively who are ultimately in control. It’s no good blaming THEM if we can’t find alternatives. Ultimately, we get the leaders we deserve.

Anonymous said...

"people take more holidays"

In 1997 71% of Polish society did not take at least one weeks holiday a year; by 2002 this had risen to 2004.
Not sure what the figures are now, and I'm sure more people are flying off on easyjet, etc. But huge areas of the nation can't even afford to take a holiday in Poland (80% cite lack of money as reason)
From CBOS

beatroot said...

Poles are on a permanent holiday...what ya talking about? I never been in a country that has so many days off. And people have more disposable income than ever before and they spend it.

Damo said...

By no means I am advocating a 'get the fuck out' attitude and this type of analysis is a typical repsonse given to someone who determines parliamentary democracy (corpocracy) as a false choice. For sure the shittiest Republic is better than the most benign form of authoritarianism but it's still shitty and creates a spectator class who are not empowered to be active citizens.

I advocate what you put forward in point B, BR, though don't think it's fair to say we get the leaders we deserve - for example, in the light of Giertych and Lepper's pathetic mandate how can it be that Poles deserve their holding of high ministerial posts? Giertych is a rare breed - a minister who has pissed off teachers and students alike causing mass protests, and yet he remains in his job despite his many policy faux-pas.

Creating alternatives is as you correctly point out the only way to show the public that we shouldn't need to choose between different shades of shite which have the same stench. The Zapatistas are a good example of what can be done autonomously by communities despite massive repression and marginalisation by State forces.

Damo said...

Just realised that the G.W. Bush fan club have pretty much stolen the links from the above Zapatista link I gave. Check out this instead: Zapatistas

geez said...

So, by "staying" in the US, I've gotten the leader I deserve?

Even though he wasn't really elected?

Problem is, then, you deserve him, too.

beatroot said...

No man. If democracts are so hopeless - and they are - then they deserve an arse like Bush. It's nobody elses fault.

geez said...

No dude. Irish-English Libertarian activists in Poland with Polish girlfriends failed to mobilize sufficient world opinion to mold the Democrats in the US into a more effective force.

michael farris said...

"Irish-English Libertarian activists in Poland with Polish girlfriends failed to mobilize sufficient world opinion to mold the Democrats in the US into a more effective force"

Why, Beat .... Oh, WHY did you fail (hysterical sobbing) WHY??????

Damo said...

The first time in the history of the Anglican church that they didn't support a war! All mainstream religions and their leaders condemning it as a unjust
war to wage.

Millions marching worldwide international demonstrations estimated by the BBC to have taken place in over 800 cities, in 60 countries, numbering 6-10 million people!

International lawyers in huge consensus, outside of the U.S. that is, of the illegality of the war!

What do the Democrats want to become an effectice enough force? (hint, hint, they don't want to become one but rather want the continuation of U.S. military, political, cultural dominance throughout the world).

Although an admirable display of resistance to the pre-emptive invasion by Blair and co. F15th was indeed too little, and this may have been due to the failure of the leadership of the anti-war movement who used it as a marketing opportunity to sell their political ideologies, headscarves, badges and t-shirts more than actually resisting the war and its' many components itself.

There were little or no attempts by the main organisers of these demo's to encourage people into effective direct nonviolent resistance as a short or long-term tactic, nor to ratchet up the tension against the warmongering states of the U.S., Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland et al. It was a missed opportunity. Church leaders and opposition politicians played their part in suppressing the righteous anger of the public which could have been facilitated in a nonviolently explosive mannner to blockade military bases, weapons factories, gvt. buildings, recruitment centres, etc. Am I dreaming? Maybe. But the war blessing U.S. Catholic church for one are a pure fucking disgrace
and could do with listening to their pope when it comes to the ethics of war.

For sure, the move into mass nonviolent cooperation may not have worked in the short or long-term, but at least it would have facilitated a more empowering experience for the individuals involved to become active particiapants in their social movement, and also would have had a better chance in intervening directly against the preparations for the war rather than making people feel completely disillusioned when the war did eventually break out. Also, not every one would have had to risk arrest, etc. All that was need was a minority to resist and the majority to stick by them as they journeyed through jail, court, financial losses etc. It's called 'solidarity'.

Molding the Democrats into a more effective force

The problem with the Democratic leadership - they were not against waging the war in the first place (bar an admirable few), just how it was subsequently blundered by the Republicans. Kerry, Clinton, Lieberman et al. are hawks in their own right.

There was no effective mainstream political opposition and it's hard to see how there could have been giving the state of the Democratic party. We should remember also, it took over 8 years, 2 million + dead, and a shit load of army intra-army resistance for the Vietnam war protests to help succeed in ending that war. Albeit, the moral cry was more about the American dead than the countless Vientamese that perished. The effect of the resistance in the west over the past couple of years is hard to measure but nevertheless there have been small and important victories for truth along the way.

The protests of the 20's and 30's in India were a necessary prerequisite for the success of the Indian Independance campaign - and likewise, to be an effective social movement the anti-war movement need to regroup, reempower, be more democratic, cut down on the marketing strategy focus and help facilitate a new generation of empowered nonviolent activists to tackle the future wars of Brown and ??? (Clinton, McCain). Holy fuck the future does not bode well!

Sorry for the length of this piece.

beatroot said...

For what it is worth, what was wrong with the anti-war ‘movement’ was that it didn’t really know what it wanted. And the democrats couldn't oppose it because that would mean opposing the ‘war against terror’ in general.

The anti-war movement was never anti-war. It was anti-war if the UN security council did not give its support. It was bad for Bush to bomb Iraqis but it was OK if Kofi Anan said so. And also the other aweful thing about the anti-war movement was that slogan – ‘Not in my name’. That is not a slogan of political engagement but one of disengagement.

Now...what’s Hilary’s phone number?

Anonymous said...

Of course Poland is richer than it was 10 years ago. But that's not good enough because short of war, famine and plague countries get richer over time. When is the last time you read of a country not experiencing a huge crisis recording a drop (not just a slowdown in the rate of growth) in GDP?

Poles have every right to be discontent with small improvements - especially when they are so inequitably spread around.

geez said...

Damo wrote: Do the Democrats want to become an effectice enough force? (hint, hint, they don't want to become one but rather want the continuation of U.S. military, political, cultural dominance throughout the world).

<><

Not all Democrats. Certainly not the case with Dennis Kucinich and many but not enuff more. No doubt, Hillary will win the nomination. But I doubt that she will win the prez erection. Election? Never mind.

beatroot said...

Bill won the erection.

Damo said...

Yip, I know about Kucinich and the others (as I said in my comment, an admirable few). And for sure the Dems. would be better off wiht more of their ilk. But the essence of my comment stands: they do not stand for any real alternative to the current world order that is part and parcel of fucking up many parts of the planet.

I wish they did, but do not forecast they will in the near future.

geez said...

But I'm not sure non-violent illegal or legal protest will change anything either. I've engaged in both. As Alvin Lee of Ten Years After once crooned, "I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do" ... beyond trying to figure out how to vote to make sure the lesser of two evils gets elected (if Hillary gets nominated as I predict, I don't know wtf I'm gonna do), trying not to be too much of a consuming pig, trying to be nice and helpful to people (no doubt my biggest failure), praying, and trying at least to be entertaining to God and others.

beatroot said...

Just voting geez leaves politics up to the politicians...not a very good idea at all...

geez said...

Or...

"Don't vote; it only encourages them (the politrixians)."

I think D. Day may have said that.

So you're running for office, BR?

Damo said...

Cardinal Newman wisely commented once something along the lines, you can never be certain - but you can always be sincere.

It is the sincerity of grassroots political struggle and its' actors, who are more than often very ordinary good folk rather than Marxist-Leninists, Liberation Theologians, or Bloggers (not that ya can't be a merger of some of the above), that motivates me to keep on keeping on or to use some Pauline discourse, to fight the good fight.

One of the gravest tragedies anyone can fall into is cynicism or resignation to the 'best of two evil self-interested candidates' syndrome, key pillars to ensuring the current system of shitology will continue to prevail. We may only score small victories that are unfortunately far too often short-lived, but they have very real consequences for very real people - whether it be for the agents of change in the '86 ousting of F. Marcos in the Phillipines, the East Timorese student movement decision to use NVDA against Indonesian violence (I've been privileged to have a friendship with one of the main student leaders who persuaded his fellow students to not take up arms).

There is a rich history of nonviolent resistance in the States. Have a look at Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the U.S.'.

Another good resource to keep abreast of nonviolent activists and their movements in and out of the courts, prisons, military bases, etc. can be found here Peace News. We should not always measure ourselves in terms of quantative success, though of course we should resign to be fatal defeatists either. It's important to continue being faithful to the ethical principles
that motivate us to keep giving a shit about those who are being crucifies everyday throughout the world and not accept the false democratic choices we find ourselves trapped in by our current political systems in the U.S., Poland, Ireland, etc. Republican or Democrat, Whig or Tory, PiS or PO, Fianna Fail or Fine Gael - no thanks!

By the way, Sub-Comanadante Marcos next book will be about Sex, not politics - inspiring indigenous revolutionary communities are there for us to learn from

Damo said...

Geez,

I still haven't sourced that comment I suggested D Day made, that is, the church is a whore but she's my mother. Any CW's I know though tell me that they think she certainly did sya it in an interview. When I foind out for sure one way or the other I will let you know.

beatroot said...

Geez

Politics is not just about what politicians do, or don’t do. Ideas, ideologies, movements, solidarity, do not come from elected politicians, they come from active participation by us all. That can take many forms. And these days participation has got a lot easier. The important thing is to not just wait for the next election. Politics is not like baseball – it’s not a spectator sport.

geez said...

I prefer baseball.

beatroot said...

Baseball is a game for autistic cricketers.

league of the militant autistics said...

Expect a picket line outside Radio Polonia!.

League of Tourette Syndrome suffering parrots against autistic baseballers said...

If you stood around in baseball gear in downtown Warsaw – which is for some reason, Edwardian in style – you would get arrested for breach of the PiS.

geez said...

Just for that we'll also bring in the Polish Little League baseball team funded by Mrs. Paul's Fishsticks (a frozen foods company run by a Pol-Am, not a baseball team):

http://eteamz.active.com/llbeurope1/

And whatever happened to the Warsaw Sparks?

http://www.amazon.com/Warsaw-Sparks-Singular-American-Autobiography/dp/0877452768/ref=sr_1_1/102-3669712-5955325?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1179242552&sr=1-1