It has been over 5 years since I started my “Zatimco v Absurdistane” series. Initially, it was to be just a one-off, but as I was fed up with writing about Polish politics: apart from being a columnist writing about Polish matters for one of the Scottish TV stations, I have been also writing some analysis for an English-language political portal based in Slovakia. This series was born of frustration.
See, I was becoming a bit frustrated by this time. At this point, I have been a journalist for well over a decade and was writing for Britské Listy since 2012 and for the first time, I had no idea what to write about. My editors expected me to make a prognosis and analysis of what PiS can be up to, but even my wildest predictions were usually looking pretty meek by the time the material was being published. I tried to find some parallels to what’s going on there, and I found one: a historical book on Hitler’s rise to power in interwar Germany. We were already beyond that point, the rule book had been torn to pieces and thrown away.
I stopped writing, not knowing how to approach it, but some Britské Listy readers wrote to me, asking why there aren’t any new articles from me, pointing out, that there is very little about Poland in Czech media and I was one of just a few sources. I wrote a piece with a brief explanation of what was happening in the recent weeks, and later, after discussing it with dr Čulik, we agreed on a weekly column, when in a humorous way I would tell about some randomly picked absurds of the Polish politics.
The form evolved, and as one of my other readers told me (a lady, who obviously is very lucky to have plenty of time on her hands, as she has had recently read over 150 chapters in just a couple of days): “it started as funny column, but with time it evolved in a sad chronicle of the collapse of democracy”.
And I think she’s right. This is what it has become. I am still trying to share with my readers some crazy oddities – like the information, that just days after a “sportsman” who was knocked down in a “sport” competition of smashing each other’s faces (see more here) died without regaining consciousness, we hear about another victim of idiotic “sport” – a woman ended up in hospital with damaged liver after a competition called “AlkoMaster” in which the participants drink alcohol in doses tailored for their weight and then have to perform tasks such as “eating live larvae, reading a poem or riding a bicycle”. I am trying to bring you some business information like the fact, that an Uber-eat like food delivery company suspends smaller restaurants from their platform when big customers, like McDonald’s, are predicted to be busier than usual.
The criminal chronicle of PiS politicians could be done as a series on its own. Just this week we had a local PiS councilor caught red-handed on stealing diesel from a farm tractor, but on the other end of a spectrum, we had the papers uncovering a former business of deputy minister of sport, Łukasz Mejza, in which he tried to exploit desperate parents of children with incurable diseases by offering them therapy in some quack Mexican clinic for a mere $80 000 (but even the Mexican doctors offering medically unproved therapies were unaware of the fact that they are partnered with a Polish company).
In a normal country, such revelations would instantly end the career of the politician, yet in Poland, he has nothing to worry about. The party defends him, saying that while he might give people some false hope, there is nothing really wrong. Yet the prime minister Morawiecki promises that the case will be investigated. Judging from the fact, that they are already trying to frame it as a political attack, I can predict who will be investigated here… And I doubt it will be Mejza.
The number of literal criminals, thieves, and scammers in the rank of PiS that we have covered in this series (and there are many, many more of them, enjoying the protection of the “reformed” part of the justice system) is just astonishing. How is that possible, that someone claiming to be changing the country for the better – as Kaczyński does – has been surrounded by so many of them? Donald Tusk shared an anecdote about how he asked Kaczyński a very similar question. According to him, Kaczyński explained that “one can clean the country even using a dirty rag”.
But in such an atmosphere, scoundrels feel they can raise their heads everywhere. The rise of extreme right was a topic I covered several times in Britske Listy – in the Absurdistan series and before. But the changes in Poland cause the situation when knaves and other mean people finally think their time is up. And if yet another university lecturer tells his students crap such as that “woman’s place is in the kitchen”, “removing being gay from the list of diseases is a result of the actions of the homosexual lobby” or that the new anti-abortion ban is good because doctors “can finally focus on doing useful stuff rather than perform abortions” we are no longer even surprised. Because why would we? In PiS Poland such boorishness and backward views are being highly rewarded – just look at Krystyna Pawłowicz, whom I promised to myself no longer quote on this series, as Mr. Čulik would have to sell his house to be able to pay me compensation for all the brain damage incurred by reading her tweets and other public statements, but feel free to risk your own life here. And then remember, he was made a judge in a Constitutional Tribunal, sit down and weep.
With elites like that no wonder that the country fails to tackle important issues – such as COVID or a recent refugee crisis. The government actions on the former turn into a pure comedy, like today, when the health minister limited the numbers of guests allowed on events such as weddings or first communions (the joke goes, that in January the government will ban topless sunbathing, and it won’t be permitted to set a Christmas tree in April). When it comes to the latter, it ended up with complete discreditation of our country, several deaths, and the endless suffering of people trapped in the forests after the government reacted with hysteria over just a few dozen of hundreds of people, breaking their rights and imposing de facto martial law on a significant chunk of the country, dancing perfectly to Lukashenko’s tune.
But there are some thingsthat bloom perfectly under PiS: instigations and slander of the people who happen to think differently, or are just not in line with the government narration for example. Like attacks on Katarzyna Wappa, a local resident near the frontier who not only helped migrants stranded at the border but also openly says she’s not Polish but Belarussian. Those attacks can take more physical form, like when the police armed with big guns unlawfully entered a bed and breakfast facility run by two women under the pretext of searching for illegal migrants. Sometimes the victims of such actions can get justice, but it takes time and money – a Chechen refugee slandered in a propaganda anti-refugee material in TVP back in 2016 has only won her court case this week (TVP has been ordered to apologise and pay 10 000 zł to her and to refugee charity).
What is going well as well is destroying Polish industry. While PiS likes to brag about their flagship projects such as building a giant hub airport in the muddy field, digging a canal through the Vistula Split or building new ferries (of which only one seems to be coming to fruition – the canal to Elbląg – and it is the one that is the most useless, as the river port of Elbląg is too small to have any significance justifying this extremely expensive investment), elsewhere the important things are silently being extinguished. For example, while Poland keeps buying American military surplus vehicles such as second hand 4×4 armored cars or Abrams tanks, our own defense contractors such as Bumar Łabędy, a factory with 70 years of experience in building and servicing tanks, are driven to bankruptcy in such a way, that one just can’t refrain from asking the question: what is an end-game in destroying our military independence and making the Polish army reliant on the providers of equipment incompatible with not only that used by the most of our European partners but also with the European tooling and measurement systems? In the wake of Russia amassing its army at the borders with Ukraine or participating in a massive exercise in Belarus, the questions if the Polish ruling party is not deliberately acting in the interest of that country suddenly no longer sound like a ranting of a mad conspiracy theorist in a tinfoil hat.
All that happens, when the position of Poland on the international stage is being tarnished. Just a decade ago Poland was seen as the most successful example of transformation from an authoritarian country to a member of the European family and it seemed that we only have a bright future ahead of us. Today our president spent most of his time jet-skiing in his presidential residency on the seaside in summer or skiing in the mountains in the winter, and nobody really wants to speak to our prime minister about anything that matters. Even the refugee crisis has been solved completely above our heads, without even as much as asking us of the opinion – what a contrast it is to the major diplomatic role Poland had played during the orange revolution in Ukraine or the Russian invasion of Georgia.
Meanwhile, after one of the prosecutors discovered that she is most likely spied upon using Pegasus software, Israel decided to no longer provide this service to Poland. They now consider us as an “autocratic regime”. And mind you, this is coming from a country responsible for several human rights breaches run de facto as an apartheid state. Still, will we see yet another round of anti-Semitic vomits coming from our government again?
Who knows. They say history repeats itself. Back in 1968 a staging of a classical Adam Mickiewicz’ drama “Dziady” had been deemed “too political” by the communist government and the play has been taken down, sparking mass protests and starting a domino effect, that ended up in anti-Semitic cleansing and expulsion of thousands of Jews from Poland. We are not there yet, but a recent staging of Dziady in one of Kraków’s theatres “caused concern” of the Minister of Culture and a strong reaction of the local school ombudsman (the crazy ultra-Catholic fanatic, regular of this series). Luckily, they stopped at giving recommendations that school students should not watch it (which brought an opposite effect, schools run to theatre in droves), but the comparisons are already being made.
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I am often asked about the future of Poland. I no longer dare to predict anything, but I am not optimistic. Recently I had the honour to interview Józef Pinior, a legendary leader of the anti-communist organization from 1980’s, for my Polish language podcast. He told me one thing that stayed in my mind since.
He told me that in 1981 everyone was ready to stand up against the communists. In 1989 many people were too busy going abroad to work. Today we are members of the European Union, with the freedom of movement. Many young people choose to build their lives elsewhere rather than staying in Poland and continuing their struggle for a better future of the country. And I don’t blame them – I did it myself.
So as long, as the borders are open, many of the potential leaders, open-minded, European-focused Poles will continue to emigrate, while those close-minded, nationalist, or simply ready to cynically exploit the flaws of Poland under current government will stay. Even with the growing anger of the Polish society, the opposition might not be able to gain enough momentum to shift that skewing balance. And if the PiS will finally drag us outside of the EU and the border barriers will come down again, it might be already too late…