Sunday, 14 February 2016

PiS: The Challenge to Liberal Democracy in Poland

There is no doubt the new PiS government, elected on October 25 2015, has made a protracted power grab and attempted to use its electoral mandate to change the rules of the constitutional game. None of the legislation being forced through Parliament in late 2015 through Christmas into the New year of 2016 appeared in its manifesto.

It was feared even before the election of PM Beata Szydlo that both she and President Duda were mere figureheads and that the party chairman Jarek Kaczynski was the controlling force behind what was clearly an act of political choreography. Polish voters were deceived by the pretence Kaczynski had largely taken the back seat.

It is said that the last outgoing PO passed a law in November allowing it to elect two out of five judges to replace those who were due to stand down anyway. This is true and blatantly partisan. The other three, however, were positioned legitimately but the Constitutional Court rejected the PO law as unconstitutional.

PiS used that as a pretext to claim all five judges were illegitimate without waiting for the court's verdict on the legality of the judges who were appointed and to swear in their own appointees. As with most political moves PiS takes, it exploits the shortcomings of the opposition and builds that up into an excuse to act even worse.

 The Orwellian doublethink at the centre of PiS 'ideology' is clear. Having obsessed about collaborators with the communist People's Republic, as a means to position itself as the representatives of 'Law and Justice' against corrupt others, the constitutional changes were brought in by two PiS representatives who did, in fact, collaborate. 

Moreover, one of the constitutional court judges appointed by PiS-Henryk Cioch-was an actual member of the Polish Communist Party and was actively involved in prosecuting Solidarity members. Yet Antoni Macierewicz, the Defence Minister, is on record accusing Tusk of being a spy connected with the East German Stasi secret police !

The PiS 'political narrative' is very much about projecting on to opponents the sort of actions that their representatives themselves routinely indulge in. That from a pyschological perpective makes it easier to rationalise the authoritarian concentration of power as a means to 'defend' Poland from alleged 'enemies within'.

The new laws drafted up by PiS in November 2015 were the work of Stanisław Piotrowicz, who was also directly active in repressing opposition to the Communist government in the 1980s. While Piotrowicz was not responsible for prosecutions under Martial law in 1981, it is reported,
in 1982 his name appears on an indictment against Antoni Pikul, a 28-year-old architecture graduate who had been arrested for distributing the then illegal Information Bulletin on behalf of Solidarity’s Co-ordination Committee.
In fact, the great irony with PiS and some of its supporters is that their mindset are products of the People's Republic as it was before 1989-1990. The obsession with 'enemies within', the insinuations about sinister cosmopolitan elites ( i.e Jews and profiteeers ) being the cause of all honest Poles suffering was used by People's Republic functionaries

Indeed, Macierewicz did not claim that he thought aspects of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were true on Radio Maryja back in 2002 just as a 'provocation' ( a favourite part of the conspiratorial language PiS politicians use ) For sure, the idea of 'Judeo-Bolshevism and capitalism is closely interconnected with a paranoid worldview PiS promotes.

It is clear PiS did not have a 2/3 majority in the Sejm to start making changes to the constitution, not least within a two month time span and as part of a broader attempt to assert political control over the judiciary and to bring the public media under the direct control of the government and avoid accountability to journalists. 

This is to be done through new laws empowering it to fire all executives in charge of TVP and Radio Poland and replace them by appointees chosen by a media council selected by Parliament. Even so, is it really at all the same as a 'coup' or the creation of a 'dictatorship', though it is a move towards a more authoritarian version of democracy. 

The media law is disconcerting as there may well be far more coverage of insane conspiracy theories as fact, such as a sinister Kremlin-PO plot to kill off Lech Kaczynski in the Smolensk air crash. Apart from that, the PiS government proposed a new draft law to ramp up surveillance powers of the state over society 

The special services would have the right to extend wiretapping from three to eighteen months and to monitor online communication and social media. This would indicate PiS is anticipating resistance to its rule and the need to spy on potential dissenters the better to try and discredit them without the need for open political debate.

The obsession with 'enemies within', the insinuations about sinister cosmopolitan elites ( Jews ) being the cause of 'honest Poles; suffering, the idea the Solidarity elites sold out to the hegemonic communist nomenclatura class has embittered Polish society for a quarter of a century since the Round Table Talks of 1990.

That was the explanation given for the protests in Warsaw in 1968 by Wladislaw Gomulka. He blamed the protests against the regime's attempt to stop a performance of Mickiewicz's play Forefather's Eve on 'Zionist agents' in order to outmanouevre General Moczar's bid for power.
Moczar blamed the mass killings in the 1950 carried out by Stalinist Poles on the work of the Jews he termed "Muscovites" who were compared unfavourably to "partisans" who had stayed in Poland to fight the Nazis during the Second World War. That propaganda trope has remained potent. 

There is a belief among those supporting PiS, one given voice by its politicians and ideologues, that since 1990 Poland is divided into those who 'really' fought against Moscow and Communism and those who only pretended to because they had a 'plan' to destroy Poland by other means.

Both global communism and global capitalism as promoted by corrupt post-communist elites are held to be part of a seamless 'plot' by 'them' to cheat the honest Pole, turn Poland into a colony of Germany and Russia and demonise it for resisting a German led EU superstate.
The danger of this rather paranoid worldview is that it offers a false substitute for a real life understanding of what has happened in Poland since the end of Communism as well as offering a way to rationalise the failure to raise living standards for a good number of Poles by creating scapegoats.

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