I have not posted here until now a link to my Telegraph piece about the Polish elections that ended up giving the Law and Justice Party an overall majority – the first time that this has happened since communism ended.
Law and Justice [ie PiS] don’t fit into the UK’s political vocabulary. Some UKIP and Tories here, dabs of New and Old Labour there.
They were set up by the identical Kaczynski twins, Lech and Jarosław, who found fame in communist Poland as angelic boy film-stars but went on to achieve prominence in the Solidarity movement against communism. Lech Kaczynski was elected Polish president in the 2005 elections, but died with dozens of other top Poles in the 2010 Smolensk air disaster. His brother Jarosław has stayed active as the driving-force behind Law and Justice but has encouraged younger modernising loyalists, most notably Poland’s new President Andrzej Duda, to come to the fore.
Here’s my favourite picture of the Kaczynski twins. Quite how Jarosław kept going after the devastating loss of his brother defeats me. Continuing:
Law and Justice are usually denounced as nutty Catholic reactionary right-wingers by the chattering classes within Poland and around Europe. In fact they are a sui generis movement of truculent, carefully Eurosceptic étatist-patriots. They urge a “strong Poland”, by which they mainly mean robust and sternly honest state institutions, and a square deal for state employees and pensioners.
Latterly Law and Justice have made a successful effort to broaden their appeal towards small businesses and younger voters. But they are instinctively suspicious of big business and banks, and loath to do anything radical to reform state processes or advance privatisation/deregulation. They are comfortable playing to conservative Catholic instincts of older Polish voters, but they see the Catholic Church as a patriotic force: they are not religious zealots.
This Telegraph piece got a lot of play in Poland (for obvious reasons) and led Onet.pl to interview me along similar lines. Here’s the result – in Polish. To save you trying to translate the Google Translator version, here is most of the text of what I agreed with them:
Law and Justice Party has just won Polish parliamentary elections. Mr Andrzej Duda won presidential elections in May. Does PiS’ electoral success in parliamentary elections on Sunday mean that Poland completed rightist and conservatist turn?
Not really. Charles de Gaulle famously said that he had ‘a certain idea of France’. Jarosław Kaczynski comes across as having a similarly subtle view of Poland…
The cleverness in the PiS approach is that it cherry-picks policies and attitudes from all parts of the political spectrum. It’s therefore no surprise that just as PiS has done well, the rest of the Polish political scene now looks uncertain and fragmented. The success of the Petru free-market platform is an especially heavy blow to Platforma, who now look to have no clear ideological framework and may face further disintegration? Plus, of course, the incompetence of the various Left groupings who have successfully divided their own vote also make the results look more ‘conservative’ than they in fact are.
Would you compare PiS’ electoral success to latest electoral triumph of Conservative Party in general elections? Could Jaroslaw Kaczynski become “Polish David Cameron” or rather “Polish Victor Orban”?
I don’t like comparing election results between countries. The voting systems and cultural dynamics and personalities are so different.
Basically, there are two ways to win in democratic politics. One is to show voters that your opponents’ ideas are bad/dangerous. The other is to steal their best policy trousers and wear them as your own. Both David Cameron and Jarosław Kaczynski have shown themselves to be skilful on both fronts, to the point of making rival leaders look uncertain or ridiculous.
Does Poland face some ‘Orbanisation’? Maybe. But that’s because modern Europe itself has no clear response to the most profound challenges to our various national identities our continent has ever seen, arising from ‘globalisation’ in general and the Middle East’s crises in particular.
It always amazes me just how Polish Poland is! The overwhelming majority of people you see in shops and offices and buses in Warsaw are Poles, born in Poland. Get off the plane back in London and you find immediately yourself in a totally different cultural space, full of people and languages from all over the planet.
Given Poland’s history, it’s not surprising that many Polish politicians are uneasy about letting unlimited ‘diversity’ rapidly transform Poland’s cultural identity. But how best to strike a sensible, honourable and politically sustainable balance, given the demographic pressures Europe (and Poland) faces? No-one really knows.
Is PiS electoral success the start of PiS’ domination in Polish politics for years? It seems that PiS has a chance for gaining part of voters of other rightist and even leftist parties permanently.
Interesting question! Is PiS emerging as a ‘natural party of government’ for Poland? It looks to have a strong position now, not least because it has done a good job in attracting younger voters and talking up support for small business. Plus PiS seems to be in tune with a wider Eurosceptic popular mood across Europe.
Previously (ie when I was in Poland from 2003-2007) PiS came across in its government personnel policies as oddly vindictive, brooding on petty jealousies going back into the Solidarity period. If it moves on from that to be a lot more gracious and inclusive and open to sensible flexible Internet-age ideas, it will be very well placed for some time to come. Unlike other Polish parties, PiS somehow conveys a unifying vision and sense of identity beyond familiar personalities. President Duda’s election campaign showed how powerful that can be. Maybe Platforma came unstuck because its leaders projected a sense of complacent personal entitlement? Voters always find that annoying. It’s not a mistake PiS leaders are likely to make soon.
Should PiS change constitution and introduce clear presidential system? It would be one of the deepest changes in Polish political system. would it be good decision in Your opinion?
I don’t have a view on that. But with such a strong position now in Parliament and an energetic young President, it’s not easy to see why PiS would do much better by any such change. The current constitutional balance has served Poland well enough. “If it’s not broken, why try to fix it?”
There were some tensions between Poland and the United Kingdom on Polish immigrants in the United Kingdom. Is it possible to end these tensions? For some PiS’ politicians The United Kingdom should be closer Poland’s ally. Is it possible? Could Prime Minister Cameron silence His criticism on the matter of Polish immigrants in The United Kingdom?
I don’t understand why David Cameron stresses the supposed problem of movements of EU citizens. Yes, the UK has taken in great numbers of EU workers including from Poland, and that has put British workers under pressure. But it’s not possible to persuade other EU capitals to change that without a major retreat from core principles. Poland was a Soviet communist prison for decades. No sane Polish leader can accept cutting back Poles’ freedom of movement across the EU.
However, a strong case can be made that the EU as currently constituted has taken too many powers from member states, and that that needs recalibrating. Intelligent integration is one thing. Unwise over-centralisation creating new conditions for confusion and dis-integration is something else. PiS should find solid common ground with London in looking for significant rebalancing within the way the EU now works (or doesn’t work). That shared instinct of course does not guarantee any particular result. An eventual UK vote to leave the EU would create totally new uncertainties.
What PiS’ electoral success mean for position of Poland in European Union? Aren’t you afraid that some politicians from Western Europe would scare some people in “old Europe” about “orbanization” of Poland?
No. It’s up to PiS how it now uses its strong position, including by embracing (or ejecting) Poland’s top experts on the detail of EU processes. Poland’s new government and overall national leadership have a very strong popular mandate by normal EU standards: that always impresses leaders in other capitals. The previous PiS-led coalition looked weak and introspective in terms of its operational EU capabilities. Having a new President who has personal experience working in the European parliament and seeing things from that perspective makes a big psychological difference.
But as I always say, it’s not enough to be smart. You also need to be convincing. In the mess the EU finds itself in on so many fronts, there are immense risks for every member state, but also strategic opportunities for leaders confident and smart enough to take them.
So Poland now has a new government starting to take up the reins of government. Some of its members may or may not be nutty. But they are definitely ‘extremely conservative’ and even (horror) ‘controversial‘:
Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party won the country’s October parliamentary election in a landslide, securing an outright majority that gave it free rein to form a government without any coalition partners. Today (Nov. 9) the party unveiled its new cabinet, and it’s extremely conservative, notably anti-Russian, and features several controversial comebacks—including the country’s most famous conspiracy theorist.
Once you make the elementary mistake of calling Law and Justice ‘right-wing’, you can write anything you want.
The appointment of Antoni Macierewicz as Defence Minister is bold, if not provocative. Mr Macierewicz is a (very) fierce anti-communist and critic of the way that former communists have had too easy a time of it in post-Cold War Poland. That of course does not make him extreme or nutty. Nor does it mean that he isn’t!
He and I had a quiet drink before I left Warsaw in 2007. He made the excellent point that the main strategic benefit of Poland and other former Warsaw Pact countries joining NATO was to deliver a heavy blow to the lingering Soviet/Russian military industrial complex in central Europe: without NATO membership requirements making the Polish military and its processes far more transparent, the Russian military intelligence services would have kept a very deep grip on many key people and positions, destabilising Poland’s democracy. No doubt Jarosław Kaczynski is happy to have someone utterly inflexible and ‘patriotic’ on this subject as Defence Minister at a time of increased regional tensions because of Ukraine.
The idea that Zbigniew Ziobro, back again as Justice Minister, is some sort of previous ‘symbol of abuse of power’? Drivel. He was sensible and correct (enough) in that role from 2005-07: he’s older and wiser now, so there’s no reason to expect anything drastic or improper.
Jarosław Kaczynski has manoeuvred craftily for many years to try to give effect to his ‘certain idea of Poland’. Now he has a straight run at it: a young, inexperienced President and an absolute majority in Parliament for people who share his ideas. He absolutely does not want to mess up this tremendous position. If he keeps things steady, Law and Justice indeed might become Poland’s natural party of government and stay in power for a very good run.
Or, then again, it all might fall apart in a blaze of footling scandals and recriminations. Many Poles would say that that’s the safe way to bet.
My guess? They’ll have ups and downs, but not do too badly.