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.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Posted by beatroot at 5/09/2007