Meanwhile in Cuckooland 240: Mood in Poland now.

Bruce Berrien CC2.0

In recent weeks the Polish politics sped up so much, that I am failing to keep track. After initial hiccups with new government trying to take over of the public TV, which was not without issues, everyone expected them to get stuck and to spin the wheels, but no. The pace of the less spectacular, but perhaps even more important work, came as a surprise to everyone. And, as divided as Poland is, this filled the majority with hope, and PiS followers with frustration and anger.

Let’s step back from the usual tracking of individual events and allow me to describe the general mood in Poland. I visited Poland recently and it feels as if someone finally opened a window in a stuffy room full of stale air. Most of the people welcome the fresh air, but the minority angrily shouts that they are cold and they prefer when the window is closed.

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The Tusk’s government is really striking iron when it’s hot, so much that if you tried to keep track of it, you’d suffer sensory overload: just the new justice minister Adam Bodnar (a former human’s rights ombudsman) reforms the prosecution office, tries to clear the judiciary from the judges illegally appointed by PiS and creates special task force to investigate accusations of embezzlement such as The Justice Fund – a special financial institution under of control of the Ministry of Justice that was supposed to support victims of crime but was turned by previous minister Zbigniew Ziobro into his party’s fund for buying votes and rewarding their political allies.

Bodnar’s work is especially difficult, as his decisions are constantly challenged, and as long as there are PiS-appointed people in courts and prosecution office, he needs to de-facto operate in a system where there are two parallel legal systems: the free one, acknowledged by international institutions, and the PiS controlled one, which tries derail all his activities even if that means capturing the paperwork for the case in question to ensure “their” judges will make the ruling (see Wąsik and Kamiński case).

The legal system seems to be full of Gordian knots and sometimes Bodnar will have no choice but to cut it. As Ben Stanley, the Welsh academic and journalist living in Poland observed, Polish democracy can be repaired quickly, by the letter of the law, or efficiently, but one can only pick two of those three…

Other ministers might not have such a gargantuan task ahead, but it does not mean that they did not begin working immediately. The new female minister of Education jumped head first into her work and there is now a huge discussion about proposed changes to the curriculum, which are not only supposed to free students from the need to memorize useless facts and teach them how to cooperate, research and do analytic work, but it also aims to clear the schools from church’s influence – from reducing the number of religious teaching classes to removing works of the pope John Paul the Second from the reading list.

Both Donald Tusk and Radek Sikorski– who became a Minister of Foreign Affairs again – travel a lot, bringing our foreign relations back on track, which is a breath of fresh air too, as Morawiecki for example rarely was invited anywhere important (unless he represented Poland at some international summit). The Polish voice is heard in Europe again, and not only as a incoherent screaming of EU’s enfant terrible – the international press is finally truly interested in what Poland’s position is on this or that matter, and I’ve already heard voices coming from Western publicists that Poland might be a leading voice when it comes to establishing a new stance against Russia in case if America under Trump’s will withdraw its support from Europe.

The government has also ordered several audits, some of them related to the PiS flagship projects like the construction of the first Polish nuclear plant or of the Central Airport Hub near Łódź. The latter is especially controversial, as it is seen by many as one of Kaczyński’s vanity projects that makes no economic sense – just like the marine canal through Vistula Split leading to a little, insignificant river port in Elbląg. PiS had several overpaid people working on the Airport Hub project, but so far it seems that apart from publishing spectacular visualisations and angering local people by trying to underpay them for their valuable, fertile farm ground, the only real achievement of the company tasked with the construction of this airport seems to be donating 400 000 to a renovation of altar in a local church.

There is now a massive public discussion about the project. Some call for scrapping the airport part of it and focusing on improving Warsaw’s second airport in Modlin, leaving only the railway part of the project (as long overdue two rapid railway lines have been incorporated into the airport hub project), some would like to see it finished, but scale down the aviation part to fit more realistic traffic predictions, and PiS, of course, cries that if Donald Tusk won’t realise their vanity project in all of its grandiose, it means he is a traitor and a German shill.

Incoherent screams seem to be the only thing left to PiS. It seems that Kaczyński was completely unprepared for the possibility of losing elections and is now growing more and more desperate, to the point that he seems to be losing connection with reality altogether. In just a recent couple of weeks, he accused Tusk and speaker Hołownia of treason, threatened political opponents in jail, and expressed his fears that the next thing we should expect from Tusk is a political murder. At the same time, he seems to be unable to cope with the real world (to the extent that several of his party members are needed to help him put his coat on). It’s a huge change for a man, who is not getting any younger and who was living in the bubble for the last 8 years, surrounded only by his acolytes. Now, confronted with inconvenient questions from reporters who suddenly can access the parliament’s corridors, he often loses his temper, rants incoherently or even attacks the journalists verbally. It is clear that he is now more a liability than an asset to his party’s attempts to recover after their defeat.

It is not that they are not trying, though. There is a clear tactic they picked, and it is simple: constantly cry about how Donald Tusk’s government is destroying democracy and the Constitution. They even try to organize manifestations “in defence of the constitutional tribunal” etc. but it’s only preaching to the choir. Everyone else finds it to be a pinnacle of hypocrisy and also slightly amusing – especially that they call themselves “Wolni Polacy” which can mean “Free Poles”, but also “slow Poles”, and the going joke is that they are so slow, that they realized that the Constitutional Tribunal needs defending 8 years later than everyone else.

Initially, they also threatened to use Duda’s veto powers to derail government work on budget, forcing snap elections, but as the polls show that they keep losing support, somehow they abandoned that idea. Instead, they are trying to show Duda as a statesman and a responsible leader. He went to visit some African countries, and on his return, he summoned the cabinet council (it’s basically a government meeting chaired by the president) to give the impression that he was in charge, but Donald Tusk derailed this attempt by changing the topic to the question of the illegal eavesdropping using Pegasus system under the previous government.

This is a very delicate topic for PiS, as it has emerged that during that eavesdropping frenzy Wąsik and Kamiński were listening not only to political opponents but also to their party colleagues, including Mateusz Morawiecki. And if, as some suspect, it is confirmed that they were also spying on Andrzej Duda, then he will look like an utter idiot for doing everything to spare them their jail sentences.

We will surely learn more about this, as a parliamentary commission to investigate the Pegasus scandal has already been established (along with the one investigating illegal presidential elections during a pandemic, which is already working). Some more parliamentary investigations are being established, along with special prosecution teams tasked with investigations of alleged PiS crimes and embezzlements. Based on the information available so far one could assume that the scale of theft was not only unprecedented but also much bigger than anyone expected. The new government is bent on bringing everyone to justice – probably they learned their lessons after they failed to bring Zbigniew Ziobro to the State Tribunal back in 2015.

But it’s not all rosy for Donald Tusk. As the state coffers turned out to be in a worse condition than official reports of the PiS government reported, he might have to tighten the belt here and there and cut down on his promises. The issue of farmers and haulage operators protesting against unfair competition from Ukraine will also have to be resolved, and it will require a skilful diplomatic balancing between the EU and Ukraine while taking care not to feed pro-Russian propaganda. At the same time public gets angered by the fact, that according to humanitarian activists operating in the area, not much has changed on the Belarusian border concerning illegal push-backs and people still die there as a result of actions of the Polish Border Guard. Last but not least, The coalition with the Left might prove challenging to Tusk. As women’s strikes were a major factor responsible for removing PiS from power, the new government focused strongly on women’s issues. That results in the fact that men feel left behind, and it’s not just some right-wing alpha-male conspiracy theories. There are genuine men-related issues that need to be addressed, such as men’s mental health for example, with a record number of male suicides. There is also a matter of equality as since PiS made a u-turn on the pension system reform introduced by previous Tusk’s government, the males are again expected to work 5 years longer even though they statistically live much shorter lives. Last but not least, with the looming threat of war with Russia, the topic of military service returns, and many men are asking what all that talk about equality is worth if they are still the only ones expected to give their lives in defence of the country.

The Left is ignoring those calls, prominent left politicians such as Anna-Maria Żukowska even openly mock men for raising their issues. This, I am afraid, might further strengthen extreme-right Konfederacja, which already has a strong over-representation of young males amongst their electoral base.

As for now, Donald Tusk’s government seems to be doing well, rebuilding what PiS destroyed and working on bringing the responsible to justice. They can largely ignore the noises made by PiS, as those are mere expressions of helplessness mixed with extreme hypocrisy, so they pose no threat and do not do Kaczyński’s party any good in the polls. Tensions inside the coalition might turn out to be a bigger problem, and Tusk can’t forget that he is back in power thanks to the votes of much more left-leaning voters than before after PiS tried to force church and conservatism onto Poles with brute force, the people reacted by pushing strongly to the left and demanding far-reaching social, cultural, and economical changes. Returning to pre-2015 politics of “steady as she goes, as long as Poles have hot water on the tap” (to paraphrase Donald Tusk’s expression from more than a decade ago) will simply be not good enough any more.

This text was published in Britské Listy
Photo: Bruce Berrien via Wikimedia (CC 2.0)




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