Monday, September 10, 2007

Idiots guide to Polish elections Part I

First part of an occasional series on possibly the weirdest bunch of politicians in the world. Maybe.

Being an idiot is not a disadvantage when trying to understand the Polish political scene. In fact, it maybe an advantage.

So if Polish politics makes you feel a little nauseous, disorientated, maybe even depressed, then the beatroot is here to help.

You see, Poland is a land that has been making up for a lack of elections before 1989 – due to the intervention of something called Soviet communism – by having quite a few ballots and governments since 1989. The last government has only lasted two years.

Poles have always loved Italian style – although they prefer their shoes, clothes and architecture to their short – lived governments and coalitions.

Shame then that they seemed to have inherited Italian politics without the style.

Now the Poles have been called upon to give the consent on October 21 to yet another one.

Maybe less than half the electorate will bother. But what are the issues that they will be expected to drag themselves the polling booths this time?


The Polish economy grew by over 7 percent between January and the end of March this year.

That’s good.

The Law and Justice government claim that this is something to do with them.

That’s bull.

But the government is claiming that because the economy is growing so fast this means that more tax will be coming into the government coffers, which means that they can increase spending on protecting the rural east of the country from the ravages of the market (one of their main constituencies) the poor, state sector etc…

They sound like a bunch of socialists, but they would probably punch you on the nose if you accused them of this. They are, after all, made up of the conservative faction of the Solidarity movement.

The main opposition party, Civic Platform - a small state, but still socially conservative party (also made up of another Solidarity faction) - think that the growth in the economy is all to do with Poland joining the EU three years ago. They aim to cut taxes, cut public spending and shaft the poor. Used to believe in a low, flat tax policy but are now a little bit scared of being so open about this as it seems to have pissed off many voters.


Jaroslaw Kaczynski thinks that he is the modern day Josef Pilsudski – who presided over the Sanacja regime between the two world wars in Poland.

The Sanacja regime attempted a "moral sanitation" of the newly reborn Polish nation, and Kaczynski has got it into his head that post communist Poland needs a moral sanitation to sweep the place clean of …well….post communists.

The Polish post communists – i.e. rich people – say the Kaczynski brothers, are a bit like Russian oligarchs, who got their sweaty hands on the newly capitalist economy post 1989. - except they are not nearly wealthy enough to purchase Chelsea FC or any other English football clubs – like real oligarchs like Abramovich.

The post communists and liberals have carved up Poland in their interests and are nasty and corrupt and ….nasty – say Kaczynski-ites.

The Kaczynski brothers have promised to clean up Poland like Travis in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver wanted to clean up New York (and sweep the post communist/liberal scum from the streets of Warsaw).

The opposition maintains, however, that the government is using the police, prosecution services, and the secret services, to intimidate and harass political opponents.
The ex-communist Left says that it wants to restore order in Poland. Shame then that everyone thinks they are a corrupt bunch of shits....

Foreign Policy

The Law and Justice government is accused of creating the worst relations between its immediate neighbors – Germany and Russia – since 1989, and the EU generally regards Warsaw as a bit of a circus freak.

The opposition - both centre right and ex-communist left – wants to restore better relations with Berlin and seek to calm down antagonisms with President Putin.


The government believes that the true character of the Polish nation can be found in its Catholicism. It has been very close buddies with Radio Maryja, who many believe is less pro-Catholic than anti-Semite.

But never mind: when you are a government that seems to have virtually no friends in the mainstream media, then the extremes are going to be attractive.

Only problem is: the head of Radio Maryja, Father Rydzyk, was exposed via a tape recently telling a group of students in his ‘media school’ that the First Lady, Maria Kaczynski, is ‘a witch’ and the president was too accommodating to the ‘Jewish lobby’

The opposition says that with friends like that, then who needs enemies?

Rydzyk has refused to apologize for his wayward comments, although a commonly heard joke maintains he has.

Rydzyk rings up the Presidential Palace, residence of President Lech Kaczynski. Lech picks up the phone.

Rydzyk: Hello, is that Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski?

President: No, actually it’s his twin brother, Lech.

Rydzyk: Oh, sorry [puts phone down]…

You see…he did apologize after all …


zsommand said...

Apologize...kiss it! ;)

BTW religion: Is it true that you hold masses in the parliament occasionally?

YouNotSneaky! said...

This whole "Kaczynskis = Sanacja/Pilsudski" thing combined with the "threat to democracy" thing reminds of ... what Michnik was saying about Walesa when the "ignoramus with an axe" got elected president (more precisely when Walesa got elected president and quit paying proper respects to the editor in chief)

beatroot said...

I think they do mass, yeah...

Sneaky. But PiS do think they are modern day Pilsudski-ites...I ain;t making this up, guy...I just improvized a little with Sanacja.

michael farris said...

I hope PiS really stresses the "New Piłsudski" angle in Poznań, where Piłsudski is not a traditionally popular figure (due to lukewarm support for the 1918 uprising).

And, now that we're here, Piłsudski wasn't exactly a believer in democracy, but that can o' worms should be maybe left for another day.

YouNotSneaky! said...

Beatroot, sure, but so did Walesa in 1990.

Metka by Traczka said...

The MPs do pray at the parliament, of course. They have special chappel. Last year they were praying for the rain for example.

Anonymous said...

You really, really should put an inverted comma after the "s" in "idiots guide to Polish elections"

beatroot said...

I like it the way it, cheers! It has a certain ambigious character...:-)

Darth Sida said...

Beatroot writes "That’s bull" but ready to explain how come other of the 10 states joining EU in 2004 show worse unemployment rate decrease figures than Poland? (Says Eurostat.) When one should attribute Poland's scoring best to, say, mass job migration, they'd be ready to explain how come, the migration excluded, 1.2 million new jobs in Poland showed up in (2nd qt) 2006 -2007. (Says GUS.) Sorry I took so many words. Should've put it: "that's bull that that's bull".

Anonymous said...

And how "Catholic" was Pilsudski?

And folks rooted in the countryside with a past (or present) in the Peasant Party don't have very favorable memories of him either... He did jail Witos among others.

Seems the Sanacja analogy fits more than does the Pilsudski comparison.

The Dux seem more Dmowski-ite in many and maybe most ways, no?

beatroot said...

Just because an economy has grown - and Poland's has been spectacular, this does not mean that the government had anything to do with it.

Better question would be: what has the POlish government done to stimulate growth and jobs?

Answer that, Toolittle.

Geez - Pilsudski led Sanacja....

Darth Sida said...

Beatroot, I think the burden is on you to prove the bull, not on me to prove the unbull. You could start from saying why Poland's case has been "spectacular". Do other fresh EU states have govts worse than PiS's?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know Pilsudski coined the phrase to describe his gubmint and all that.

What I'm suggesting is that the K-skis are more like Dmowski in their bearing and ideological underpinnings. Pilsudski's sense of "moral sanitation" was far different than that of the K-skis methinks. But they, too, want to do the sanacja bit to "morally sanitize" the country -- mainly, me thinks, to maintain political power and avenge old perceived betrayals. My perception from admittedly what little I've read is that what they do has very little to do with what I understand as "morality."

And doncha think that Pilsudski was very much a reluctant aspirant to power in contrast to the K's? There are so many contrasts that comparing the K-twins to P-ski seems an incredible stretch. And the Catholic Church oft looked askance at the positions and actions of P-ski. Indeed, that one Canadian article you initially linked mocked the comparison idea using the cartoon of Jaroslaw riding his cat looking at a painting of P-ski atop his horse.

But then again, BR, you said we shouldn't be looking to the past but at the present and into the future. Then you brought up the historical comparisons.

So in regard to the present: maybe the gubmint doing "nothing" is what stimulated job creation?

Then there's the question: What kind of jobs?

Like in: Great, now my wife and I have to work five jobs between us to eke out an existence!

Seems to me the exodus is far more telling than the amount and/or kind of jobs created...

beatroot said...


I can’t prove a negative. If the government is claiming that it had anything to do with the good economic performance of Poland then I want to know what they contributed.

They certainly have not contributed anything to the highway building sector, as there has only been 500 meters built in two years.

So I ask again – what did they do to contribute to Poland’s economic growth.

And ‘spectacular’ I meant Poland’s economic growth, not the government…

Geez - it ain;t me bringing up Pilsukdski - or the past - it is PiS politicians. He is their hero.

And the conservatives are split into two camps in Poland - Pilsukdski-ites and Dmowski-ites. Kaczor takes inspiriation from Pilsudki and Giertych is Dmowski.

This split goes back...well...decades.

Darth Sida said...

Beatroot, against your bull you're making me turn a PIS-pitbull, which I don't like. I like F-words: figures, facts, fruits (as in "by their fruits ye shall know them".)

Re: "can't prove a negative"
If you can't prove a [-bull], why claim a [+bull]?

Re: Highway building sector
Read W. Orliński (not fond of PIS [and I'm euphemistic]). Yet, the title of his blog entry says it all even to the non-Polish reader: "SLD, PiS, NSDAP, PZPR", in this order, the parties that have made most (for) Polish roads. (Two of the parties are no more to vote for.)

Re: 'spectacular' growth
But how come other economies have not been that spectacular?

Re: Civic Platform: "They aim to cut taxes"
"The election sausage" you call it. Myself, can't say I didn't notice reduced disability pension premium, cutting (away) inheritance tax or excise on cars. And these happened to happen with PIS in power, not other govts since 2004. So should PIS manage to push through the Senate the pro-parent-with-child(ren) fiscal system, I might forgive them not cutting the Belka tax.

Furthermore, I've heard Tusk et consortes promise how they're going to fight the "budget deficit". Fight what, pray? Can't news like this get comments on the net? (Hello? 616M surplus.)

Re: Foreign policy
Govt "is accused"? So? I accuse the accusers of having "disinterested" allies. See polishpress for more.

Re: Religion
It's not Maria K that Rydzyk called "a witch" but why would one bother to double-check the facts, right?

A fine bull market.

Unknown said...

fair enough. The EC has just praised Poland;seconomic performamnce too. I am just wary of government's claiming credit for things that have happened when they are in office. )I never hear government's taking the blame for bad economic performamnce.)

Gordon Brown has constantly claimed credit for the UK's good performamnce, even though most of the conditions for that growth were in place before New Labour came to power.

So PiS should be honest enough to say that it is the polish people that have done well over the past two years.. and the government just got lucky.

Bull run...

Anonymous said...

I recall some years ago the Yankees were in first place and the second place team was about 20 games behind. (That's a heckuva lot).

So SLD was in the lead in terms of KM of roads built with PiS in second over the years? How many KM behind were they? Or is the guy counting number of roads and not total KM? There are so many ways numbers can be bent to support this or that argument.

There are many other variables that need to be taken into account such as the relative importance of roads. How many roads built by PiS were done so to pander to a particular electorate while other more important possible construction projects were neglected or purposely put on hold?

I'm not saying this was necessarily the case (although it prolly has been and was the case with other gubmints as well). But my point is that you have to take many variables into account when summing up accomplishments.

The nagging question that keeps hitting me involves the emigration of so many young people. No matter how you slice and/or dice it, that cannot augur well for Polish society -- considered on many different levels -- even beyond economics.

BTW, why do just about all economists sound like Marxists to me?

michael farris said...

"Rydzyk: Hello, is that Jaroslaw?
President: No, actually it’s Lech.
Rydzyk: Oh, sorry …"

I don't think Rydzyk would apologize even then, he'd criticize Lech for trying to confuse him by answering the phone when he wanted to talk to his brother.

Darth Sida said...

Geez, I'll simplify how Orlinski sums up kms of roads (=> highways [autostrady] only, some re-built, and only ones opened (i.e. formally commissioned for use):

1) SLD opened 200km, and started (building of) 125km and 269km for their successors (Pawlak and Belka, respectively).

2) Post-Solidarity right-wing govts opened 291 km, yet started few km of their own: 2km (Suchocka), 20km (Buzek). Kaczyński scores 90km.

3) NSDAP: 152km of roads ready for use plus 114km under construction.

4) PZPR: 106km of roads ready to use, 25km under construction and some dozen km of "ghost-roads" (e.g.: Bolimów-Wikitki road).

The author provides further notes on his methodology, but it's more than less more or less like this.

Anonymous said...

Dzieks, toolittle, for some additional details but I'm not so sure they simplify the matter. The devil's in the details.

Darth Sida said...

Geez, yes, the devil's there. Still, people saying "This /that govt hasn't done anything (about our highways)" simplify the issue(s) even more.

Anonymous said...

Hi from Italy..yeah our governments are not long living usually (berlusconi's second government is the only one in the history of italian republic who made it for all the 5 years term, until now) but at least in Poland you made it to have only 4 parties in the parliament,with yesterday elections: in Italy was considered normal until the end of the 80 to have 30 parties and still today parties with 1% of votes, like Mastella's one, can give a seat in parliement who make possible to a single person to change coalition voted by electorate.
sob sob

(soon i'll marry a polish guy so i will have in life the incredible experience to vote for both italian and polish politics, how great eh?


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