Monday, September 03, 2007

Poland’s Rubicon crossed?


This is Editor of Gazeta Wyborcza Adam Michnik commenting after the arrests of an ex-interior minister, an ex-police chief and an ex-head of the PZU national insurer (see here, here and here) last Thursday.

The Rubicon has been crossed; the Rubicon separating a law-governed democracy from the country of a creeping coup d'etat. There is no longer any doubt - the Kaczyński brothers and their milieu will use whatever means and tricks possible to hide the truth about the grim secrets and to remain in power until the elections….

The opposition are saying that the Polish police force, public prosecutors and secret services are being used to intimidate, harass and gag political opponents.

Michnik – imprisoned for being an anti-communist activist in the 1960s - draws some alarming parallels between the Kaczynski administration and even darker days in Poland.

[…] to arrest political rivals shortly before elections is something new. One is reminded of the 1946-1947 period when the Soviet-imposed communists invalidated electoral registers, imprisoned opposition candidates, and ultimately rigged the elections. After that, until 1989, there were no free elections in Poland.

Hyperbole? Paranoid?

But I have seen some very scared people in this country in the last two years. And that fear, whatever its justification, has had real effects. It’s not just Michnik who fears opening the door early in the morning and being confronted by men in a black balaclava on backwards, only their eyes peeking through the scary wool ware – as Janusz Kaczmarek was early Thursday morning.

This government believes that a kind of Polish oligarchy grew up with the fall of communism. I think that is partially right. A lot of sticky fingers got their hands in the pie early. It is the same in all ex-communist countries.

But the Kaczinskis go one step further than that. They see an organized conspiracy between ex-Stalinists and the new middle class liberals in the media and in business generally, in the old secret services, judges, constitutional courts….and even in organized crime.

Hyperbole? Paranoid?

The way the Kaczynskis have gone about breaking up the supposed oligarchy – the uklad – has been to create a parallel universe, the old Polish political tactic of cronyism. Nothing new there: Polish governments have been doing that for years. But they have done it with a zeal that few have seen since…well, back in those darker days.

This has created its own pinball of paranoia throughout the country.

Whatever – the politics of paranoia gets results. The Kaczynskis zeal plays well with many in Poland. It’s basically the new Polish politics of class.

Small traders, rural folk, those in unemployment black spots, who have not done as well as the shiny elites and new middle class, will vote for this type of populism.

The shiny elites and new middle class – often same bunch and children of the old communist elites - despise the government and its allies. And it’s easy to see why.

An election is coming. And after the election not much will change. Poland is now a country rife with good old fashioned class conflict – and when you strip away all the hyperbole and paranoia, that’s just about the long and short of it. An election will not solve that.

27 comments:

geez said...

Funny, Michnik looks like he can pass for another twin o' da dux.

jannowak57 said...

Beatroot said “The way the Kaczynskis have gone about breaking up the supposed oligarchy”

Perhaps Mr. Michnik has learned the time honoured western media practice of manufacturing hysteria in order to sell more newspapers. Lets face it, he was part of the crowd that miss-handled the transition to democracy and thus created the oligarchy/ uklad. His failures in 89/90 resulted in the existence of the unholy alliance of party functionaries, ex-secret police and organized criminals that function beneath the surface in every aspect of Polish society.

One would think he should display a more humble demeanour to the Kaczynskis who have been left to clean up his mess.

beatroot said...

Maybe it was a 'mess'...but to suggest that the Kaczynskis 'have cleaned up a mess' is well, ...like suggesting that a bull should get a job as a salesman in a china shop.

michael farris said...

The famous układ isn't much different than the kind of unofficial old-boys elite network that you get in any western country.

What's different is that PiS and its supporters (and much of the Polish public) has no idea of How Things Work in the west (or anywhere else). Therefore, they find informal social-business networks combined with the fact that the same kind of people tend to drift to the top in any political system to be some kind of sinister conspiracy.

Anyone with brains realizes there were some mistakes (some serious) made during the transition. But considering the scope of what had to be done, it went about as well as could seriously be expected. Finding scapegoats and trying to rewrite history is a chumps' game.

Harry said...

A chump's game is it? Explains why the duck boys are so desperate to play it.

geez said...

This former Polish oligarchy / uklad...

Was it as bad as the Bush administration has proven itself to be?

geez said...

I'm wondering why, too, if the former Polish "oligarchy / uklad" was so oppressive, and the situation for the Polish masses so desparate, why more Poles didn't opt to become terrorist bombers???

Can't say it's a Catholic vs. Muslim thing given the history of the IRA.... and not to mention Ted Kaczynski...

Martin said...

Beatroot,

"Poland is now a country rife with good old fashioned class conflict – and when you strip away all the hyperbole and paranoia, that’s just about the long and short of it. An election will not solve that."

Question - what will?

jannowak57 said...

beatroot said... “but to suggest that the Kaczynskis 'have cleaned up a mess' is well.

Read it again, I said “have been left to clean up his mess” this doesn’t suggest they have completed the task but rather undertaken it.

michael farris said... “The famous układ isn't much different than the kind of unofficial old-boys elite network that you get in any western country.”

Your kidding me! Its only resemblance to an organization in the west would be the ODESSA that was organized in Germany to look after the former members of the SS. Or perhaps the Mafia.

Who’s rewriting history it’s generally accepted that the 89/90 transition was a screw up that left a poisonous and malignant entity running through the core of Polish society.

geez said...” This former Polish oligarchy / uklad”

What do you mean by former? Also this is a Polish problem and nothing to do with Bush.

geez said... “why more Poles didn't opt to become terrorist bombers??? “

This is a societal problem that can be resolved administratively without resorting to violence. Only in event the oligarchy / uklad reacted violently could a violent solution for this pestilence be entertained, therefore lawful self-defence.

Beatroot, " An election is coming. And after the election not much will change. Poland is now a country rife with good old fashioned class conflict “

Can this be a correct analysis or is it an over simplification? In the last few years there has been a significant shift of power away from the oligarchy / uklad whose front organization the SLD lost to a nationalist Christian political faction (PiS). Logically the nationalist Christian (PiS) grouping is more representative of Poland than say the oligarchy / uklad are. Caught in the middle are the group we can call the live and let live liberal faction of society that made the dirty deals in 89/90. As these groups cannot be reconciled we continue to have political struggle.

In the competition for power groups other than nationalist Christian are barely represented in the exclusive PO and PiS struggle for power.

On class conflict due to economic policy, which political party is offering Wild West capitalism as an option to the voters? Will PO liberalize the Polish economy from it current state to something beyond recognition, I think not perhaps the dial will be adjust a bit in the direction of liberalization.

Unless there’s a major upset the election is about style rather than great differences of policy.

geez said...

"In the last few years there has been a significant shift of power away from the oligarchy / uklad whose front organization the SLD lost to a nationalist Christian political faction (PiS)."

So why the continued PiSsing and moaning about the uklad? Sounds like blaming the bogeyman to me.

beatroot said...

A shift in the balances of class? Don’t think so, Jan. There has been a counter-uklad set up…a reverse cronyism, but that is not what I mean. Crobyism is always temporary anyway. Especially in places like Poland.

This is where you simplify – as do this government and much of the media. They see class interests as being fully conscious the whole time. They see uklad as a conscious arrangement.

It does not work like that. Sons and daughters of the nomenklatura have done better since 1989 than those in many other areas of life. The rural east have lost out. The heavy industrial working class has lost out. State employees have lost out.

But a middle class has emerged and often this has been a result of what happened directly after 1989.

People act in their own (class) interests but it is not a conscious arrangement most of the time. The politics of liberal secularism matches a middle class worldview. They don’t sit in rooms working this out.

Lepper’s worldview comes from a class position. Etc.

Brad Zimmerman said...

Martin asks:

""Poland is now a country rife with good old fashioned class conflict – and when you strip away all the hyperbole and paranoia, that’s just about the long and short of it. An election will not solve that."

"Question - what will?"

Personally I don't think there are any quick fixes. I believe it will take a long time and a fairly significant improvement in the economic situations of the majority of Poles before they stop trying to look into the past where they believe their wealth and happiness might have been.

This is exactly why I dislike PiS and like (not love) PO. You can't fix the past by going after some people that might have gotten too much from the transition. Grandma in the village isn't going to benefit from that at all.

What will benefit people is better jobs and better paying jobs. That of course takes time and investment both from companies outside of Poland and in. Those jobs will mean taxes are getting paid which then leads to hospitals getting money, seniors getting their benefits, roads getting built or rebuilt and so on. Theoretically anyway.

The "theoretically" part is why I'm happy that Poland is in the EU and, IMO, benefits greatly from it. I don't really trust most Polish politicians to do what's right, just what benefits them. Having some oversight in the form of the EU and its bureaucracy ensures that things don't get too fishy.

In the end, though, for some people nothing will be enough, ever. They won't be happy until they're dead and gone.

jannowak57 said...

geez said “why the continued PiSsing and moaning about the uklad”
The task is incomplete and still requires a lot of attention before we can declare it complete.

beatroot said... “A shift in the balances of class?”

This whole idea of class is confusing; the idea that we in a time span of 18 years have created class-consciousness is somewhat amazing. I believe people are conscious of their economic status but whether they would act, as a group politically to further their interests is another question. Likely we will have something of a class structure as all western countries do (or similar to) even those, which pretend not to. That structure would be based on the more or less free market economy, which is still a work in progress. The pre-war class structure has disappeared long ago and the PRL structures are no longer relevant.

Cronyism exists everywhere a fact of life but to suggest the uklad is not a conscious arrangement is wrong one can declare it to be a loose structure or informal but certainly the participants are conscious of their actions. The uklad can’t be categorized as a class.

The middle class is the result of a free market society.

As would be expected sons and daughters of the nomenklatura have done better since 1989 than those in many other areas of life, those raised in families which are better off and have a higher level of education always do better check the same statistics in any western country.

The free market society or more or less free market, doesn’t guarantee that everyone can be a winners it however gives people choice. For example if your stuck in the rural east not being able to make a living on a 10 hectare plot perhaps it’s time to encourage your offspring to try something else.

geez said...

"The task is incomplete and still requires a lot of attention before we can declare it complete."


Seems to me the PiS party will draw this out as long as they can take advantage of peoples' frustrations and envy. Same way Rydzik plays on some Poles' weirdness about Jews.

I wonder, too, what percent of Polish society has already declared this process complete? My guess is the majority is fed up with it all already.

The election results just don't show it given the multiplicity of parties and oddball coalitions.

geez said...

"The task is incomplete and still requires a lot of attention before we can declare it complete."


Seems to me the PiS party will draw this out as long as they can take advantage of peoples' frustrations and envy. Same way Rydzik plays on some Poles' weirdness about Jews.

I wonder, too, what percent of Polish society has already declared this process complete? My guess is the majority is fed up with it all already.

The election results just don't show it given the multiplicity of parties and oddball coalitions.

michael farris said...

"Seems to me the PiS party will draw this out as long as they can take advantage of peoples' frustrations and envy."

We have a winner. New elections won't change a thing for two supremely simple reasons:

No party can get an absolute majority.

After all the bridges that have been burned recently, a coalition that would have a majority in the sejm is going to be virtually impossible.

A PO / PiS (with PiS as junior partners) might work but if PiS wins new elections (the likely scenario) we get more of what we've already got.

beatroot said...

I agree with what you say about class, Jan.
But the development of the class structure here will and is affecting the way people behave politically.

And Geez/Mike....the use of the uklad and 'fighting corruption' is going to be the central part of PiS's election campaign. Look at how the opinion polls have turned around since the Kaczmarek thing. PiS has gone into the lead - in one poll at least - we wioll have to see how 'rogue' it is. But the issue plays well with a great many people who would love someone like Ryszard Krauze to get shafted.

michael farris said...

The problem is that in Poland's current electoral system, winning an election is pointless unless:

- you get an absolute majority

- you can form a coalition (hopefully with a not too extreme partner)

PiS could easily win the election. But I don't see them getting an absolute majority or being able to form a coalition.

sonia said...

Beatroot,

I think you're misreading those developpments.

Those three arrests were in connection with an anti-corruption investigation involving Andrzej Lepper, a former PiS coalition partner.

It isn't the case of Kaczynskis attacking their political opponents. They are simply fighting corruption in their own ranks, among their own political supporters.

They should be applauded for it. And Lepper deserves to rot in prison.

geez said...

Perhaps the old "class for itself" and "class in itself" distinctions might be helpful?

And it's not as if there was no class system before these past 18 years from which the present class system evolved, unless you want to make-believe that communist Poland was a classless society.

And does anybody really believe that the dux had no clue that Lepper was creepy and corrupt when he was welcomed into their coalition? If they were deserving of any applause, they should not have allied with him in the first place.

And thanks, Michael, for your sage commentary which seems to get to the quick of it.

beatroot said...

Sonia, I know it is a complicated story...but the Lepper corruption case has opened up a whole new strand of the story about how or if either the Justice Minister or Kaczynski or both are using the secret services etc to monitor and intimidate political opponents.

That is what Michnik is getting at.

Geez - never rule out a PiSPO or a POPiS coalition. Nothing is impossible with these guys...

geez said...

Having been removed from academia for some years and then some, I was surprised to find that there is quite a lot of work still being done by sociologists on class -- and there's quite a decent wikipedia entry on "class" (it's really worth checking out).

Here's a quick summary therein about new approaches:

Arguments for relevance of class today

Jordan suggested that those in poverty had the same attitudes on work and family as those in other classes, this being backed up with surveys expressing that the poor/working class/lower class feel almost shame about their position in society.

MacIntosh and Mooney noted that there was still an upper-class which seems to isolate itself from other classes. It is almost impossible to get into the upper-class. They (upper-class) kept their activities (marriage, education, peer groups) as a closed system.

Marshall et al noted that many manual class workers are still aware of many class issues. They believed in a possible conflict of interest, and saw themselves as working class. This counters the postmodern claims that it is consumption which defines an individual.

Andrew Adonis and Stephen Pollard (1998) discovered a new super class, which consisted of elite professionals and managers, which held high salaries and share ownership.

Chapman noted there was still an existence of a self-recruiting upper-class identity.

Dennis Gilbert argues that class is bound to exist in any complex society as not all occupations are equal and that households do form pattern of interaction that give rise to social classes.

geez said...

Actually, that was under the entry of "social class":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_class

beatroot said...

Marshall et al noted that many manual class workers are still aware of many class issues. They believed in a possible conflict of interest, and saw themselves as working class. This counters the postmodern claims that it is consumption which defines an individual.

These are studies of developed western economies. In Poland it’s a little different but …

Industrial working class in Poland certainly has a class consciousness, I would say. They still see the union as important etc. But there are less of them now.

And of course in Poland you have a self conscious peasantry still.

Solidarity and the old communist union still have clout in Poland, far more than in societies like UK, or US. The government has recently being kissing up to Solidarity over minimum wage rates etc….preparing them for the election (they have also pushed through a change in the labour code relating to maternity leave etc…again preparing the ground.

And of course, Lepper plays to his constituency as this is his base support.

So politics is fragmented into class in a way that was recognizable in the UK, for instance, in the 1970s.

geez said...

Any idea where are the strongholds of the old CP unions? Or is their strength just spread out nationally? If so, what kind of candidates do they support and do they ever get elected?

YouNotSneaky! said...

Well I'm with Brad above in that I like (not love) PO and with Sonia that this really isn't about "going after political opponents" so much as cleaning up corruption and with Jan that this corruption IS associated with the uklad (just look at the number and extent of scandals that took place when SLD was in power - and Kaczmarek was up to his ear in shit back then too). The simple reason why a lot of folks vote for PiS is just that they are probably the "cleanest" party and one (unlike, unfortunately PO) willing to go after corrupt officials. They've been talking about doing this ever since, oh, I dunno, late 90's. And now they're in power and actually doing it and everybody's acting surprised and accusing them of playing politics (which the Kaczors do, quite well actually).

And come on, Michnik is and almost always has been a schmuck. He hates the Kaczynskis more than he hated the commies ... scratch that he never hated the commies, he actually sort of liked them as long as they "behaved themselves" and showed him proper respect. The man's middle name is 'hysterical hyperbole' when it comes to anyone who's slightly to the right of Trostsky. Wasn't the term "oszolomon" originally used (unfairly) in reference to J. Kaczynski?

YouNotSneaky! said...

And uh, is there any evidence for the "the special services to stage provocations, wire tap political opponents," or is this just the typical Michnik making vague and unsubstantiated charges against people he doesn't like - note that he begins the accusations with a weasely "It is hard to say whether..."

As far as "arrest inconvenient witnesses" well, Kaczmarek at least looks like he's potentially guilty. There seems to be enough probable cause for the arrest. I know a bit less about the other two but it doesn't look like they're saints either.

It would help the "arresting political opponents on a road to a coup" case a bit if
1) these supposed political opponents didn't look dirty
2) the leading charges to that effect weren't being made by Andrzej Lepper who even by the standards of Polish politics is one big swinia.
and even the fact that Michnik's on board with it, at this point in the man's career, probably makes the Kaczynskis' actions look better, not worse.