Why there are demonstrations in today’s Poland

On Polish Facebook one internet meme became very popular in recent days. In the background we can see a picture of recent riots, small crying kid is comforted by his mom. „Don’t be afraid, son, they are just patriots”. That’s true, recent events in Warsaw scared many Poles. But when asked by a foreigner what is this problem with Polish independence day about, I have no simple answer. To explain it properly, we have to go back several years and look into what led to development of current situation.

Fot. Adam Kliczek

The key figure here is Jarosław Kaczyński. For years he was constructing his whole political career on the claim, that the round table negotiations were a betrayal of the ideas of Solidarity, and a real outcome was creating a class of oligarchs from former communists and former dissidents who shared power between them. According to Kaczyński and his followers, the interests of that group are protected by former secret police.

When in 2005 Kaczyński’s party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) gained power, Kaczyński announced that it’s a beginning of new era. The third republic (Poland after 1989 is refered to as “third republic”, as the period between world wars was “second republic” and aristocratic republic before the partitions was a first one) was to be replaced by the fourth one, and all traitors and thieves will be named and convicted. Soon hand-steering of the procurators and judges begun and new anti-corruption government agencies were created, that were working strictly under political agenda of Kaczyński. But as Prawo i Sprawiedliwość was unable to create government on its own and no other mainstream party was willing to participate, they held power in coalition with two exotic parties: Andrzej Lepper’s Samoobrona (Selfdefence) – party that evolved from trade union of uneducated small farmers – and Liga Polskich Rodzin (League of Polish families) – far right, catholic party. The latter was supported by the youth movement Młodzież Wszechpolska (AllPolish Youth), radical nationalist organisation, often associated with skinheads and football hooligans. Conflicts withing coalition leaded to Kaczyński destroying his partners and then calling for new election. He played va banque and he lost, as Donald Tusk’s Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) took over the power.

This was a tragic moment for Kaczyński and his followers. They saw it as counter-attack of the evil powers that took over Poland in 1989. The mythology that aroused around Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, fueled by religious Radio Maryja led by a priest Tadeusz Rydzyk slowly became an alternative world, in which the only truly Polish press is the one associated with either Radio Maryja or Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, it’s journalists are victims of persecutions that can be compared only with the fate of samizdat press during Martial War, every legal lawsuit against their untrue allegations becomes “an attack on the independent press by hostile forces that took over Poland” and every judge that issues verdict unfavorable for them becomes a part of the conspiracy. Meanwhile in politics Jarosław Kaczyński was skilfully using his last wunderwaffe – his twin-brother president Lech Kaczyński – and his veto rights, that are very strong in case of Polish president.

The Smoleńsk presidential plane crash was like adding petrol to the fire. Followers of Kaczyński are unable to accept that it was just an ordinary accident. Since he was a biggest obstruction to the Donald Tusk government, the assasination scenario became an obvious answer for them and that Tusk reversed hostile international politics of his precedent and fixed relations with Russia and Germany was just the further proof of that Tusk is a traitor who wants to sell Poland to its eternal enemies. Arguments that Lech Kaczyński was considered to be the worst president ever by majority of the Poles and that his chances for reelections were extremally weak fall into deaf ears, just like technical reports about the causes of the Smoleńsk disaster.

Today Kaczyński have a strong group of followers and he managed to take over most of the electorate of Liga Polskich Rodzin. Recently Platforma Obywatelska changed their relations with Catholic Church after Janusz Palikot, who branched out from them, managed to gain 10% of votes with his anti-clerical movement and the pro-church fractions within it also tend to orbit towards Prawo I Sprawiedliwość.

The most core part of that group live in an alternative reality. They have their own media, that feed them with conspiracy theories, they have alternative educational systems, that includes University created in Toruń by Tadeusz Rydzyk media imperium and numerous lectures held in churches and right-wing organisation. They do not accept democratic result of elections, court rulings and virtually anything that is against their beliefs. They call themselves “The true Poles” implicating, that anyone who does not agree with them, or stays neutral, is some kind of “Untrue Pole”. They compare their actions to the underground Solidarity movement of 1980s.

This radicalism completely marginalized Kaczyński on the political scene and in media – as he does not speak to “Polish-language media that serve foreign forces” and only “independent journalists” have access to him. Therefore he needed some tool that could carry him forward. The first step was to create a legend for Lech Kaczyński and others who died in the plane crash. Altough he failed to force building the monument in heritage Krakowskie Przedmieście, before presidential palace, many local movements succeeded. Numerous memorials of late president, describing him as a statesman and comparing him to Piłsudski are scattered across Poland. Instead of the word “zginął” that implicates tragic deaths, word “poległ” is used, that usually is reserved only to soldiers and national heroes who fought for freedom. Monthly marches of rememberance are organized in Warsaw city centre, where it can be ensured that they gain some publicity rather than in Kraków, where the body of late president was laid and it’s said that they will not stop “until the truth about Smoleńsk assasination will be published and the culprits brought to justice”.

Every pretext is good to rise the Smoleńsk question, and every occasion to show their opposition to the government (even such absurd as the situation when Rydzyk’s TV station was not granted frequency on the new digital TV multiplex because it failed to fulfill formal requirements) is used to bring few buses of people on the streets. That was problematic at the beginning, as most of Kaczyński followers are elderly people, but he found some unexpected allies. First, when the subculture of football hooligans was targetted by the government in the preparation for EURO 2012, Kaczyński called them a “patriots, who suffer oppression from the goverment” and that way included them in his camp. The next ally is Młodzież Wszechpolska, who, after it’s mother organisation, Liga Polskich Rodzin perished, found a new ally in Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny (a Radical-Nationalistics Camp) and other extreme right, Nazi and fashist organization, who enjoy nobilitation by being included in mainstream politics. By that Kaczyński ensured a support of young people that are very keen to go on the streets and fight the police, especially after such behaviour is no longer tolerated on a football stadiums. It then can be compared to the Martial Law’s era riots and used as a proof that Poland still isn’t a free country.

Even authorities who usually rein from commenting polish Politics, such as Zbigniew Brzeziński, openly criticize Kaczyński’s actions as unacceptable and leading to “undermining the foundations of the state”. But since Kaczyński has nothing to offer and completely alienated himself from the political system, his only hope to get back to power is by total destruction of the current democratic system. And nobody keeps in secret, last Sunday creation of new organisation was announced. It’s main aim will be to “overthrow the republic”.

But altough these events are very noisy, small minority of the Poles supports it. And altough some are taking part with some radical actions on the opposite end of the political spectrum, most Poles are just fed up with all this noise and with envy compare their independence day to celebrations in surrounding countries.

When I started to write this text, I asked my friends on Facebook “how should I explain to Czechs what all recent patriotic marches and riots are about?”. Their answers could be summarised in one sentence: “Just tell them, that in Poland we have very noisy idiots and don’t waste any time on writing more”. Maybe I should just follow that advice…

Text was published in Czech in Britské Listy

Fotografia: Adam Kliczek, http://zatrzymujeczas.pl (CC-BY-SA-3.0)