As the European parliamentary elections loom - scheduled for Sunday, June 7 in Poland - the amount of space in the press and time taken up on air by stories about the anti-Lisbon Treaty Libertas party far outweighs the amount of votes they will get on polling day.
On February 1 this year, a few hundred delegates turned up in Warsaw for a meeting with Libertas founder, the Irish millionaire Declan Ganley, the man who helped successfully organise the “No” vote in Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. See video of Ganley in Poland in January here).
Although Ganley said, when everyone was wondering who would support them in Poland, that extremists would not be welcome in the Polish section of Libertas, a weird and extreme bunch turned up for the meeting. Mirosław Orzechowski from the catholic-nationalist League of Polish Families (LPR) was there, so was Konrad Bonisławski from the League’s old youth wing, All-Polish Youth, an organisation frequently accused of anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism.
There were also disaffected politicians from Andrzej Lepper’s Self Defence and a few drop outs from the Law and Justice party, as well. If Ganley didn’t want the marginal and the extreme - and his central message about the 'democratic deficit' in the EU is correct - 'then he certainly has got them. Who else is there in Poland? The EU is the only game in town around these parts.
Fast forward three months to the pan-European launch of the Libertas election campaign in Rome on May 1 and who is one of the star speakers? None other than Lech Walesa, who had apparently, just days before, given his support to the European People’s Party, the largest voting bloc currently in the European parliament and made up of christian-democratic parties, with members including Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Walesa told the Libertas delegates: “Declan Ganley and Libertas have the potential to change Europe for the better. This European Project has all the ingredients to become a historic force for good in the world, and grow into so much more than it is today. But for the to happen, we need to heed the Libertas message and put the people back at the heart of the project.”
Walesa told incredulous Polish journalists after the congress that he did not support Libertas but was asked to speak at the manifesto launch. So he did. He also made no secret of pocketing appearance money, thought to be as much as 100,000 euros. Since then he has made other appearances at Libertas events.
Walesa’s motives for dallying with Libertas - a party which now has the official backing of LPR’s Roman Giertych - are not merely financial. Walesa is addicted to being at the centre of controversies and desperately seeks the limelight when he can get it.
But he has embarrassed Donald Tusk - and much of the Polish political establishment - by being associated with Ganley’s ragbag of extremists, populists and chancers.
Walesa’s antics have also ensured that barely a day goes by without Libertas making the headlines in Poland. Their campaign manager, Daniel Pawlowiec (onetime journalist for Radio Maryja’s Nasz Dziennik newspaper and junior minister for the League of Polish Families in the Law and Justice government) has got hours of free publicity from the Polish media’s obsession with Libertas, way and above the support the party has in the country.
The media exposure for Libertas in Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza has calculated that it has received the third most amount of airtime on public television, despite being nowhere in the opinion polls - is helped by the apparent support of the state broadcaster TVP.
It’s speculated that this support comes from weirdo TVP president, Piotr Farfał, who has connections going back years to Libertas affiliate for the European elections, the League of Polish Families.
But the contradictions within Libertas policies - which seem to change depending on which country it is campaigning in - are beginning to suggest that this strange coalition may not stay together very much longer than the election campaign.
The central message of calling for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty may be easy for many to support. But Ganley’s support for internal markets within the EU - including campaigning for opening up labour markets for Poles in Austria and Germany - are in contradiction to recent comments from the Irish branch, and home, of Libertas. Party spokesperson Caroline Simmons has called for a Blue Card (visa) system to stem the tide of immigration coming to Ireland, which would, “reduce the burden to Ireland of caring for inhabitants of other member states,” she said. Libertas Ireland East candidate Raymond O Malley says we have “got to stop the tide coming in.”
The Blue Card system would limit the right of Poles and others to work in Ireland to two years and would deprive them of drawing welfare benefits, even though they would still be expected to pay taxes.
That a state broadcaster is promoting the interests of any political party - let alone one as marginal as Libertas - is, of course, a scandal. But the Polish media in general, and parts of the political establishment, seem to have a gory fascination with Ganley’s ragbag army.
And on June 7, Polish voters are going to make them all blush by ignoring all the fuss and voting for someone else - there has been no interest shown in opinion polls at all for Libertas - or more likely, voting for none at all. Recent opinion polls predict the turnout on June 7 to be under 15 percent. It was only 20 percent in the last election in 2004, just one month after Poland joined the European Union! The media might be fascinated by all this, but what the public feels about it seems to be a side issue.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Posted by beatroot at 5/24/2009