Monday, April 16, 2007

Marek Jurek PiS-ed off

Following a failed attempt to change the Constitution regarding abortion and euthanasia, leading Law and Justice (PiS) politician Marek Jurek throws a pissy fit and resigns from the party.

A bewildering few days last week in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has led to the inevitable: Polish political parties splitting into factions.

A group of politicians from the ultra conservative League of Polish Families, backed by some of the more ultra-conservative members of the ruling Law and Justice party, tried to get amendments put into the Polish Constitution that would prevent a women from having an abortion, no matter what the circumstances. This included if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

The government – including President Lech Kaczynski and his prime minister brother Jaroslaw, favoured the current abortion law, which is already one of the most restrictive in Europe.

In an attempt to get a compromise, the Kaczynskis put forward an amendment of their own saying that the status quo would be put into the Constitution and no matter what outside law was put in place – meaning any meddling from Brussels or international Human Rights Courts – abortion would always be illegal in Poland accept in the cases of rape, or when the health of the mother was seriously compromised, etc…

There were other amendments put forward as well, but all of them failed.

The Speaker of Parliament, top PiS member Marek Jurek, supported the amendments on further restrictions on abortion and has subsequently resigned the speaker’s chair, and now has resigned from Law and Justice altogether.

The amount of members from Law and Justice to vote against the Kaczynski’s is unclear for various reasons, but Marek Jurek was joined by up to 59 to 70 others.

With Jurek resigning from PiS this has opened up a serious rift within the ruling party.

And so it was always thus…

The abortion votes and subsequent resignations show what an unstable thing is the Polish political party.

In Britain we have had, for over 100 years, two or three parties that (used to have) deep roots in British society. The Labour Party was a creation of the trade unions and was supported by all sorts of other institutions that were part of the fabric of British society. Same with the Conservative Party.

But not so in Poland. All the current parties are only a few years old – apart, ironically from the ex-communist SLD – which was imposed on Poles after WW II.

So, bereft of any base in society, splits and factions are a regular feature of Polish political life.

The ultra conservatives are now breaking away from Law and Justice.

The same tensions can be seen in the main opposition party, Civic Platform – with factions centered around either the leader, Donald Tusk, or his more conservative number two, Jan Rokita.

Recently, deep splits opened up in another coalition party, the agrarian populist Self Defense, under the leadership of political bully boy, and only partially reconstructed Stalinist, Andrzej Zbigniew Lepper.

But this splitting tendency has been evident in Polish politics ever since the fall of communism.

It even happened to the Beer Drinkers Party

After the Round Table talks of 1989, Poland suddenly became awash with political parties. One of those was the Beer Drinkers Party, Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa, under the leadership of bearded comedian, Janusz Rewiński.

But after the elections in 1991, the Beer party started the inevitable political squabbling that inflicts all parties here. Eventually the party split in two: the Big Drinkers and the Little Drinkers.

Maybe the split was over how much beer we should actually drink?

So if party splits are the iron law of Polish post-communist politics, then what does the future hold?

Well, Law and Justice could split in two: becoming the Law Party and the Justice Party.

Civic Platform would become the Civic Party and the Platform Party (in favour of better platforms at train stations).

And Lepper’s party – Self Defense – would split into the Defense Party and the Self Party (the latter lead by Lepper, naturally). Lepper would then create a splinter group called the Self-ish Party.

Whatever: the whole sorry mess the ‘right to life’ amendment debacle in parliament last week has demonstrated, yet again, that Poland will never have a stable political life, because all the political parties here, afloat from any roots in Polish society, are about as stable as a highly combustible gas.


YouNotSneaky! said...

This is pretty much why I don't pay attention to Polish politics anymore. It annoys the hell outta me and ultimately doesn't really matter anyway. They'll split, they'll remerge, they'll go into a coalition with their ideological opposites then the cycle will start over. There isn't a single appealing figure in the bunch. Even the ones with sensible ideas are jerks.

michael farris said...

Polish political parties are the political equivalents of crazy guys on the street that talk to themselves and wear tinfoil in their hats.

One of the reasons they inevitably fail is that when they get in power they waste time with stupid time-wasing or just plain destructive pet peeve projects (lustracja/school uniforms/abotion) instead of looking after the well-being of the country.

Interesting side note. A friend (whose generally a good political bell weather) voted PO last time but said if there are new elections he'll vote for SLD or LiD....

And if blogger doesn't get its shit together I'm gonna go nuclear on their ass it won't accept my password unless I sign onto blogger first and won't let me post anonymously either ...ggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Anonymous said...

All the current parties are only a few years old – apart, ironically from the ex-communist SLD – which was imposed on Poles after WW II.

Uh. PSL's history can be traced back to 19th century, but you have to account that they have renamed (and split and reunited) several times.

because all the political parties here, afloat from any roots in Polish society, are about as stable as a highly combustible gas.

And one of them (LiD) is even aptly named after lithium deuteride...

Anonymous said...

Do we have a real split or a momentary hissy fit?

Lets face it these dumb-ass ultra conservatives in the PiS and the league of Polish Families will fall back into line on the old basis of self-interest. Although one can never over estimate the stupidity of the Polish political classes, surely they must realize they will never get close to power unless they ride into power on the tailcoats of the ducks. As a stand-alone political movement they have no chance. Now that the PO is getting fractious, it may be time again to make some overtures in that direction and see what happens. Here’s a duck wet dream, in with a few deadbeats from the PO and out with Self-Defence and League of Polish families.

In the western world politicians hate the abortion issue, as it’s a no win scenario. The development of Polish political parties is probably were it should be based on only a 17 year period of democracy, we’re a long way from calling Poland an established democracy. If we examine the first 17 years of democracy in some of the “old” Europe countries it probably was not a model of rational and orderly behaviour. The advantage Poland has today is that the EU is Europe’s guarantor of democracy so that for Poland and the other former Warsaw Pact states they have time to mature their political processes. Simultaneously the growth of civil society and the middle class must continue so it can underpin democracy. It’s messy and moving along ever so slowly.

Anonymous said...

That quip about Lepper was just HILARIOUS!

beatroot said...

Here’s a duck wet dream,....I have always always thought that eventually there would be some kind of POPiS coalition. It's what many of their more saner voters wanted in the first place.

But would it make much difference? Probably not. They would split up too.

varus said...

The problem lies in the electoral system.

Proportional representation = coalitions and unstable government.

This is not just a post-communist phenomena, Italy is hardly the stabalist democracy. PR may be fair, but it just doesn't work. Call me biased, but the British system allows for more stability and therefore long-term planning.

beatroot said...

Hi Varus. That is not really correct about Italy. For the last years or so Italy has actually ditched its old PR system – that is why Berlusconi managed to hang on for so long last time.

And in the UK, most elections are PR now – in Euro elections, in Northern Ireland and in the Scottish parliament. The Scots parliament seems stable (although watch New Labour get hammered in the elections soon there…).

I think the UK should have a PR system – the two old parties are redundant. But I agree – I think Poland should have the UK system! That way you would get all the horse trading BEFORE the election, and not afterwards.

But it still wouldn’t solve the root problem: Polish political parties have no historical or social roots in Poland. No real relationship with the voter.

PR won’t solve that.

varus said...

Br (first hi! had a busy weekend and so no blogging for me)
I agree about the roots problem, but as far as PR goes it encourages factionalism as their is more chance of getting into parliament. I would hate to see Westminster adopt PR, as for the devolved assembalies/parliments they work in as much as they have limited scope for action. If they had the full range of possibilities that a national parliment has then i think we would see more partisan politics going on> Scotland is perhaps the exception as it has quite a range of powers, but they still only have a population of 5 million and are united by their dislike/distrust of the English (which helps).

Damien Moran said...

'Consenting Oligarchy' (witty description of parliamentary democracy by Nicholas Walter) is what I think best describes the current forms of parliamentary politics supported by some grassroots electoralism once every four years or so.

The disempowerment of citizens' roles in civic society and their post-electoral passivity is a sad fact. Healthy examples of manifesting dissent has been recently witnessed by the teacher's march, but the unions are so weak and union leaders gelled to their leather seats content with their benign access to corridors of power that they rarely work in the interest of their union members.

The difficulties in being civically responsibile and active in one's everyday community (due to long work/commuting hours, etc.)and the frustration that people feel when they hear of more political splits, failure to commit to cross-party dialogue, lack of progress in better working conditions, etc. can all too often disengage otherwise engaged citizens from seeking more democracy.

With inflation at 2.5% in Poland, people spending less time with families, more time spent in front of the computer (I should learn from this), eating breakfast/putting make-up on while driving to work, childcare difficult to gain access to and afford, people's quality of life
will decline though economic growth may climb.
Ireland is a very good example of how average 7% economic growth since 1996 can lead many people feeling isolated and left behind and either too busy or tired to be happy and active community members.

Passivity is promoted by powerful media institutions that help manufacture consent to the fallacy that power-hungry Armani suit-wearing corporate and political elites (socialist, capitalist, etc......)act in the public's best interest.

For sure, the model we have here in Poland is better than the autocracy it put with begrudgingly and fought against in the past, but if 'democratic' politics are to become more relevant for the ordinary punter then more direct forms of democracy need to be promoted and practised - within resident committees, local community councils, workplaces, schools, trade unions, and other public institutions.

The Polish public are increasingly apathetic towards politics as a result of their political representatives letting them down and not fulfilling their electoral mandates as promoted through their catchy slogans and manifestos.

It's a sad state of affairs

Anonymous said...

Which national public isn't becoming increasingly apathetic? I haven't looked at any comparative and/or longitudinal voter participation studies recently but I can't imagine too many high voter turnouts anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Healthy examples of manifesting dissent has been recently witnessed by the teacher's march, but the unions are so weak

Unions are weak? UNIONS ARE WEAK?

Teacher's unions are the reason that the education is a stinking mess, because they have for years blocked any attempts to differentiate teacher's pay by achievements. They have been vigorously defending the system where the main criterion of wage determination is the amount of years worked at school (your PhD doesn't count, sorry). They have managed to convert the Handke's reform into a senseless rearrangement.

Never underestimate the power of unions in the state sector.

beatroot said...


Which national public isn't becoming increasingly apathetic?

And this is probably even closer to the problem and its linked to cultural and political changes over the last 20 years or so.

People are giving up with parties all over because they no longer have any social roots in society.

And the progressive ideologies that used to inspire social change are exhausted. Even the idea of social change – any change – is seen with suspicion.

Look at the Left. It used to believe in fighting for equality for all and for dragging society forward through struggle.

Now instead of equality – such as the old anti-racist movement - it believes in the \multiculturalism’, in special victim status, in ‘positive discrimination’….and of course in the apocalyptic vision of environmentalism.

So in an age that has given up hope of social progress, politics is seen as irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I love reading your blog. I'm a sophomore at Northwestern University studying political science/international studies, and I have been looking for a way to learn more about Polish politics instead of the typical way of listening to crazy Polish uncles arguing at Easter dinner.

That being said, the first thing I learned in my studies was about the decline in (and importance of) public opinion. I can only hope that your blog will inspire someone to say something, no matter what it is.

I would say instead of apathy, the problem is hypocrisy. I've met so many people, not only collegians but regular, everyday citizens, who will preach about the devastation being caused by this or that political party....yet they do nothing about it. Everybody loves to talk about politics, or why my political views are wrong, but their arguments are not very convincing if they themselves choose not to vote. Maybe if the 50% of the population that thinks their vote doesn't make a difference actually DID vote, then we would see some change.

But I'm an idealist at heart. :-)

Anonymous said...

the problem with Poles is: they're bloody induvidualists > they can't bear anything in common with anyone else (the popular saying: three Poles, four opinions). As you have noticed - they split up - not more than after 7-9 months after election , there's always sth going on- and then they struggle to the next elections. Pitty it's gonna be elections in two years time. But maybe earlier????? that could be good..

(as I'm not able to log on blogger - have you banned me???)

Damien Moran said...


You may well be right in what you assert. I'd be glad if you could refer me to a source to read more about the teacher's union undermining such issues and why they are the reason the education system is a 'stinking mess'.

From the teachers I know who work in the State system it seems to be more related to the lack of resources the schools have, the large class sizes, the hierarchical and dictatorial nature of some directors, the generally shite wages, as well as parents not plucking in to help implement mesaures to improve their kids behaviour, progress, etc. which make the education system in Poland a challenging experience for students and teachers alike.

Generalising that the state of the education system is 'a mess' needs qualification on your behalf as it undermines the great efforts put in by hundreds of thousands of students and teachers and their consequent achievements in making progress together. I'm not saying your wrong, just give me info. as I'm interested in learsning more about this issue. What I've found on the
quality of education in Poland
would seem to give some credence to your evaluation.

Though according to KRASP 81% of state higher education institutions have received outstanding and positive ratings.

'The Unions are so weak' statement was a general one about the recent state of play in Poland, which statistically had the 2nd highest percentage decline of mainstream trade union membership in the E.U. in the period 1993-2003 - experiencing a 70.6% drop, pipped at the post by Bulgaria's 76.5% fall. Important to point out the stats. only relate to OPZZ, NPZZ Solidarnosc, and FZZ.

Polish trade union membership is at about 12% at the moment. The teachers strike in March, organised by ZNP
and NSZZ Solidarnosc, was merely demanding the 7% pay increase initially promised by the gvt., which was then reduced to 5%, and finally to the recent offer which would amount to a 2% increase - whether that would even occur is hardly set in stone and with inflation at 2.5% such an exercise in dissent is a positive show of people willing to stand up and voice their concerns about broken promises.

It's snoring time.....

Frank Partisan said...

Splitting is something that can expected of any movement worth its place.

beatroot said...

Hi Iza
But I'm an idealist at heart. :-)

Wow. Idealism! Why does that sound so old fashioned, these days?

The problem today, generally, is we are surrounded by a political culture of low expectations. In 1969 they were sending people to the moon. Now we get excited if the space shuttle comes back from an orbit around the earth with all its heat resistant tiles still on! That’s how conservative we have become. So idealism is cool. Glad to have you as a reader.

Anon: of course I have not banned you and I am annoyed you think I would do that. It’s a more boring reason you cannot log on: is CRAP. It’s as simple as that.

But you are right about the excessive Polish individualism. It’s probably another damn historical legacy.

Is probably right about the unions here. Very conservative and want to keep things the same – even though things have always been crap. Personal initiative is not welcome in the state sector. Teachers have also condoned cheating….I worked in a university here once. Couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Although I currently work in another part of the state sector…and things have always been even more ridiculous there. It’s just a place where people come to earn insurance contributions so 15 years later they will retire with a shitty pension. The state sector in Poland is SAD.

But Damo is right – it won’t get better unless we pay people a decent wage.

The private sector, on the other hand, rocks! Full of young people wanting to do stuff. So there are two culture in Poland. State sector sados and the private sector where there is some ambition.

varus said...

Beatroot said"Teachers have also condoned cheating….I worked in a university here once. Couldn’t believe what I was seeing. "

This has something to do with the style of learning. Traditionaly polish education has focused on an unbelievably high level of factual details. Students were required to learn parrot fashion imense lists of dates etc. This is changing and analysis/opinion style learning is coming in with essay writting now an important element of polish university life but the change is slow. Teacher's had to turn a blind eye to some extent as the goal set by theMinistry was way to high. Britain went way to far to the opposite extreme with little emphasis on factual information so that most recent (last 20 years) school leavers can barliy recall important events in British history, let alone the world's. I just hope that the nmuch need changes in emphasis and style that are occuring in Poland will strike the right balance.

alex said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


The term 'stinking mess' is subjective, but I meant: high prevalence of drugs and violence and decreasing educational standards. Not that we are already at the U.S. level, but the system is slipping in this direction and fast at that. (Giertych's idea of Zero Tolerance policy was aimed at the real problem, but of course, the execution sucks. As always.).

Regarding the unions (specificaly teacher's unions, i.e. ZNP). You can read this collection of critical voices or another critique.

Basically, the main problem is that teachers have certain privileges enshrined in a document called Karta Nauczyciela (Teacher Charter). For years the education ministry has been trying to get rid of it, and ZNP has always been protesting. It states, inter alia:

- The actual work time of a teacher is 18 hours per week (and they also have two months of paid vacation). The theory is that remaining 22 hours per week should be spent at home at related activities, i.e. grading homework or doing the paperwork. The problem is that this is completely inauditable. So while one teacher can be slacking off by doing nothing during these 22 hours, others (usually younger ones without "political backing" at school) end up working unpaid and unaccounted for overtime. The teachers should simply work at school 40 hours a week, with their time split 50/50 or so between teaching and paperwork. This would eliminate many patologies (including teachers loosing exam papers on the way home -- yes, it happened).

- Teacher Charter includes many provisions that guarantee employment, so a teacher who has worked long enough is practically impossible to fire (and this is why the Ministry has been unsuccessfully trying to get rid of the charter for years). So a school principal simply cannot fire an underperforming teacher. No way, unless the teachers comes to work drunk. Reason? Prevalence of underperforming teachers.

- Connected with the above, is that there is almost no negative verification. So the bad teachers are not fired, while the smart ones either become equally demoralized or switch to a better paid job.

- (Yes, the teachers' pay is woefully inadequate, but simply raising it without dealing with demoralization of staff will not do anything).

- There is a strong trend in the regulations to favor teaching experience and preparation over technical competence. This in fact means that people with practical background are not allowed to teach. (This is particularly of importance in professional classes. So, i.e. electronics is not taught by designers with practical experience but by people who have learned it themselves twenty years ago from books). So the classes are disconnected with reality.

- The schools are not responsible to the funding agencies (i.e., communities) but to a governmental oversight body. This results in mountains of paperwork on many levels, including teacher's time wasted on filling out the unecessary forms instead of teaching.

I think that would be enough.

Now, I do not want to sound harsh on all the good teachers out there (because there is alot of them). But the fact is that the system, defended by the unions, promotes mediocricity.

beatroot said...

I have to agree with Opamp. But I don’t just think we can blame Karta Nauczyciela – that is in keeping with much of the current Latour Code (which is the real problem). Sacking people because of incompetence is very difficult in Poland, in general.

Systems of incentives are vital in areas like teaching, where the pay is crap. And to give incentives you have to create ‘performance indicators’. But how to measure a good teacher?

Hours worked? 18 contact hours a week is not huge and a 40 hour week is much less than teachers work in the UK, for instance. If teachers were given decent facilities at work then they should and would not be taking work home.

Value added? In the UK there are now a whole host of statistics based on grade performance. If classes as a whole get better grades than in previous years then this is seen as a ‘performance indicator’. But what with grade inflation going on (kids are not allowed to fail, even if they are dim or don’t do work) then do the grades mean anything?

Technical ability? Just knowing your subject does not mean that you can teach it. So regular training for teachers is essential and should be part of their evaluation.

But there is going to be a problem with recruiting staff. There is going to be a teacher shortage. So being able to hire teachers more easily is a priority. Trying to lure potential teachers from industry is going to be hard with wages as they are, but they have to try.

And all this comes down to the unions – which are basically like much of Poland – they want to keep things as they are. And things are is based on a social model that went out the window on 1989.

So unions are conservative here. If they want to remain relevant then they should be the ones leading the changes, and not dragging their feet and trying to keep things the same same same.

Anonymous said...

But how to measure a good teacher?

Easy. Final exams graded externally at the end of the year.

Ironically, the framework for this is in place (i.e. graduation exasms) but the results do not translate to staffing decisions.

Damien Moran said...

Thanks for the links. Gotta get out my Polish dictionary and start learning again so I can read and understand them.

How to measure a good teacher?
Grades should only be one issue of many. But for sure they should nto be the only as a wide range of issues can affect students' performance, including their own laziness and the lack of parental support, absenteeism, sickness, etc.

Internal observations should be done at least once a semester by school management, facilitated in a non-judgemental but rather supportive manner. This can lead to teachers becoming far more effective and dealing early on with problems they experience in class.

A huge problem is that teachers pick up bad habits from Day 1 and don't receive enough peer support feedback about issues they have in class. Internal training is also lacking. Office workers playing computer games and blogging while they should be actually doing work spend 40 hours in and out of their office chair, apart from all the smoking and toilet breaks, yet how much work do they actually do?

I agree with many of the points raised here, re. unions et al. (that was part of what I meant when I used the word 'weak') - the unions want a largely passive membership, just as the directors of schools want a passive obedient staff getting on with their duties, not rocking the boat.

Importantly it also comes down to teachers getting off their arse, demanding help with resources and peer support - if they really like teaching and give a fuck about their students education then it is in their best interest to facilitate students' empowerment and influence on shaping meaningful education and critical thinking. This in turn can only be bred in teachers if they receive quality pedagogical education. Anyone know whether post-graduates/pegagogical students training to be teachers have teaching practice over a full school year which is observed at least 4 times by an external examiner. This is the system in Ireland and I found it excellent. Average of 2 classes given in school in the morning, lectures in the afternoon, internal and external observations and guidance.

This will create quality teachers.

Last point - students should also be asked on a regular basis whether they are happy with how courses are taught - shock, horror!!! Getting their feedback will prove to be beneficial to the teracher, school and most importantly the students' education.

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