The situation in Poland—what it’s all about?


In 2015, first the victory of Andrzej Duda at the presidential election and, a few months later, of the opposition party, PIS (Law and Justice), at the parliamentary elections, was an unexpected cataclysm. The “establishment” consolidated around the ruling party PO (Civic Platform) was certain to stay in power. Indeed, they had everything: the President, the parliament, the government, an almost total control over the media, the support of the judiciary and the vast majority of the businesses. Maybe even more important they were the obedient clients of the Brussels’ leaders and the vassals of Mrs. Merkel. Their policy was the emanation of the key Brussels’ players will, enforcing all over Europe a policy of austerity, lack of transparency and inhuman neo-liberalism. The sudden defeat of this Polish and European “establishment” was a shock. Therefore, since the day 1 of the PIS rule everything is done, with the support of the majority of the media in the country and abroad, to undermine the new leadership. Everyone, by conviction or total lack of knowledge about the Polish reality, seems willing to play a part in this game. But what is the truth?

How was it under the rule of PO?

At that time the international press painted a rosy, and totally false image of Poland, as an oasis of economic success and democracy. No doubt the country continued to grow, but who benefited the most? The top 15% of the population was making huge fortunes, whereas half of the families could barely reach the end of the month. The emigration of talented people progressed at an alarming pace to pass the 2 million mark. At the same time, the unemployment rate remained well above 10%! The new fortunes were in most cases the result of corruption, with high-level gangsters and Mafiosi playing an important role. In spite of the fact that the judiciary was part of the establishment (more than half of the judges are people from the communist times!), scandals and affairs were made public one after the other (but immediately put on the low burner). It was public knowledge that many members of the “elite” were exporting considerable amount of money on accounts in Switzerland, Luxemburg or other “safe places”. Many people had dubious suicides and a sad joke in Warsaw used to say that the country had a wave of “serial suicides”. But the judiciary, as the backbone of the system, was more interested in chasing the small offenders than gangsters and Mafiosi.

The international press was apparently happy with that. Poland had a good image. Indeed, Brussels and Mrs. Merkel had all the reasons to be happy with the willingness of the Polish rulers to accept their own “vassalage” (everyone remembers the then Polish Premier, Donald Tusk, kissing the hand of Chancellor Merkel). Foreign capital owned 80% of the media and the press and controlled 2/3 of the Polish industry. All were making huge profits out of Poland.

But foreign media and Polish media were happy. Poland was the success story of Europe. 80% of Polish media were controlled by foreign capital (90% of the local media were under German domination). On top of this, public radio and tv were in the absolute control of the government. Only one program in public television was run by a journalist known for his sympathy to the opposition (and frequently suspended). Of course, this had nothing to do with democracy, but who cared in an Europe ruled from Brussels?

The Polish public opinion concluded it was enough and decided to vote for a change. Obviously, the task of the new government is from the beginning extremely difficult. The fact that what they do is so often presented in the media in a distorted way, far from the realities, is obviously not helping.

Is the Polish government anti-European?

It is often assumed that Mr. Kaczynski and his friends are “skeptical” about Europe. This is absolutely not true! The Polish rulers are in fact calling for a renewal of Europe. They want an Europe that would be once again inspired by the ideals of the Fathers of Europe, Schuman, de Gasperi, Monnet, Adenauer, who were fighting for a new European humanism based upon the Christian values, which are our roots, and the respect of the nations.

Five weeks before being elected President in 2012, Francois Hollande, still capable of thinking at the time, recognized in a big speech on Europe’s present and future: “Europe, moving away from the nations has become weaker and weaker. She is not anymore responding to their expectations, she is viewed as powerless against the forces of the market, even obsessed by the need to deregulate, incapable of standing tall in front of the liberal globalization. I do not want such an Europe. I want to change it”. In fact, not mainly people, who do not like the idea of Europe, but- more importantly- those, who love truly Europe, with its authentic humanist traditions, are today against the EU. Brussels is making a joke of those traditions. To be an European today is to be against THIS EU, against this corrupted, undemocratic, bureaucratic, neoliberal magma. To be an European today is to be against THIS EU of the lobbies, of a business without heart or understanding for social justice, of a fighting liberalism and a laicization so out of bonds, that it has become a new religion, of the lack of respect for the diversity of Europe and its nations.

Being for this noble vision of a renewed Europe, the current Polish rulers are going back to the most noble ideals of the European humanism and, indeed, they are going back to the ideals of the founding Fathers!

Is the Polish government ultra-right or even “fascist”?

This is another incredible affirmation. Unfortunately, very often, it does not come only from a lack of knowledge. The new Polish leadership is truthful to the ideals of Solidarność and the teaching of Saint John Paul II. Nobody in the 80-ies and 90-ies dared to attack Solidarność, the force of the Polish working class and of the Polish intellectuals, that crushed communism. It would not have been “fashionable”. Same was almost true for the teaching of the “Polish pope”, although he was on occasion attacked.

Those Polish ideals already once renewed Europe and are still in front of us. Granted, it’s hard for many people to understand that they mark a new stage in the civilization of mankind. Those ideals are above politics. We are here at the level of meta-politics. They are not from the left or the right, they are above, based upon the will to affirm the dignity of the human person in all areas, be it economic, social or moral and spiritual.

Mr. Kaczynski is taking his inspiration from these Polish experiences. Is he “rightist”, when he speaks about the need to fight against the “civilization of death”, when he refuses to admit that permissiveness is a mark of modernity, when he pretends that patriotism has nothing to do with nationalism? Is he “leftist” when he speaks about the primacy of the family, of social justice, of helping the average citizen?

Is the policy of the new leadership a failure, endangering democracy?

The task ahead of Mr. Kaczynski and his friends was and still is enormous. The nation voted against corruption, the sale of everything Polish, against the building of an all-encompassing system of the politicians, media people, businessmen, judges…and Mafiosi. How to introduce “a good change” (the slogan of PIS) without dismantling this system? How to achieve this while respecting as much as possible the rule of law?

One thing is certain: the people understand the efforts of the present government and all polls show that the popularity of PIS is growing all the time (granted, the attacks from outside are helping). The people still want a government that fights against corruption, that improves social justice, revives patriotism and makes people proud again to be Poles.

As a symbol, the first step taken by the new government was the “500+”, a payment of 500 zlotys (circa 120 euro) pro month per child. This pro-family decision has already had a huge impact, beginning to improve a disastrous demographic situation. Such social measures were, under the previous leadership, considered as unrealistic: “we cannot afford such steps!” Now, by just reducing corruption, limiting the exports of money by the wealthy, asking the foreign companies to pay- at least partially- some taxes to the Polish state, it happens that there is money for everything! The budget is strong, unemployment falling and the GNP will rise by 4% this year (ahead of all European countries!). Even Moody and Fitch had to upgrade to notation of Poland! Soon other steps in the area of social justice will be taken, with for example a new program of social housing…

To realize that while still fighting against the failed system is certainly not an easy task. Is it possible to do it without some “arm twisting”? But does this mean that democracy is endangered?

The previous leadership tried from scratch to block any initiative of the new government. The previously under control judiciary was called to the task. First, rejected former leaders hoped that the TK (Constitutional Court) will do the job, stopping any law adopted by the new parliament. They even, in 2015 between the election of the new President and the parliamentary elections, designated a new member of TK replacing a judge, who was still in charge! This attempt failed. Now the SN (Supreme Court), with many judges still “inherited” from the communist times, is called on duty to fight against the government. PIS of course wants to clean up the judiciary. Admittedly, the risk is great to replace the control of one political party by another. And how to do that, while respecting democratic rules? This is an extremely difficult task. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the Polish citizens understand this has to be done!

Curiously the past “system” try now to persuade the international public opinion that the independence of the media is endangered as well. Is that so? How can that be the case in a country where 80% of the media are foreign-owned? The government may influence only the public media, it is 15% of the total… And in all honesty the voices of the opposition are now about 1/3 of the time on air in the public media. It is not enough, but it’s about the double of what PIS had under the previous leadership! Yet, as one can see, another unjustified battle!

Is the development of Poland depending from UE’s support?

Everyone remembers the blunt and cynical statement of President Hollande, telling Prime Minister Szydło : “you have the values, but we have the funds!” More recently, President Macron took another approach, equally false and even more surprising, pretending that Poland has the tendency to consider the EU as a super-market. The implication was probably that Poland has an ultra-materialistic approach to European. Not bad from a leader promoting inhuman neo-liberal policies and addressing the country of Solidarność and John Paul II!

The reality is extremely far from what Mr. Macron seems to assume. Not only because the current Polish leadership is in fact trying to restore the ideals and values of Solidarność and of the Polish pope. But also because the presence of Poland in the EU has been probably even more beneficial for the Western European companies than for Poland. As the chairman of a big French company in Poland told me recently: “Poland is for us the goose that lays the golden eggs”.

For the years 2014-2020 Warsaw will get from the EU 101 billion euro. But Poland will pay to the EU budget in the same time 40 billion euro. Moreover, independent economists have calculated that 7 euro out of 10 received by Poland from Brussels are in fact going to the German, French etc. big companies, which are controlling a huge part of the Polish economy. In other words, EU funds are often going back to the source. In addition, every year roughly 25 billion euro are sent back by western European companies operating in Poland to their headquarters, finding many ways to hide their true benefits made in this country!

It is clear then that, should a serious crisis open between Poland and the EU, the more endangered would be the Western companies operating in Poland and not this country! This is something Mr. Macron should learn to take into account, as the brilliant Polish minister of the economy Morawiecki implied in an elegant manner.

Polishness or cosmopolitism?

To understand the situation, it is necessary to see that the dividing line in the country is not following political or ideological views; it is in fact linked with the vision each side has of the Polish identity, of “polishness” (polskość). The former leadership, with Mr. Tusk, felt badly about their own country; they were and are ashamed of what to be a Pole means. They look therefore to the external world as always better than Poland. Their goal is to become “Europeans”; their views of progress and modernity is to share the growing lack of values and morality of the west, as well as the decay of spiritual life. They reject even Polish history and all its dramas and uprisings.

Already in 1987, Mr. Tusk wrote in the Catholic review “Znak”: „the Polish identity it’s the lack of normality… The Polish identity provokes always in me a reflex of rebellion: history, geography, a historic lack of luck and God knows what else have put on my shoulders a weight I don’t particularly want to carry… Nicer than Poland is an escape from Poland.” Other politicians linked with the former leadership said similar things. In 1991 prof. Geremek said in “Le Monde” that he was not sure “if Poland will be able to leave at the entrance to Europe her burdens so unfit to the image of Europe at the end of the XX century” and he expressed hope that the EU by accepting Poland in the community “will help the Poles reject their so uncomfortable burden”. The former President, Komorowski, eliminated by Andrzej Duda, expressed in December 2012 his satisfaction that “Poland has been able to overcome the drama of her past. We have catch at the right time the national opportunity to integrate ourselves tightly into the good, interesting, well-organized Western World”.

The political consequences of such a vision of “polishness” have been tremendous. The politicians on this side of the spectrum prefer much more to achieve an agreement with Brussels and the West than with the people of their own country. Even if the price to pay for it is a kind of vassal status of their country and, for themselves a role of well-paid obedient servants of the western masters. In a country which was proud to not have had any Quisling or Petain, we now have cosmopolitan politicians, who beg the EU and the West to punish their own country and to intervene against their government! They behave, in an apparently shocking way, like the cosmopolitan communists, who were keen to ask for the help of the Kremlin against the dangers they were facing in the country. A new “big brother” replaced the former. But the cosmopolitan approach remains.

For the current leadership, Poland has all the reasons to be pride of herself and they can present a long list, going back to the first democratic constitution adopted in Europe, the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1991. They want young Poles to be proud to be Poles and indeed they are. They are not ready to accept any vassalage and to abandon their humanist and Christian values. They want to be Europeans, but as respected partners and not as clients. The gap seems to be irreconcilable.

Who is in a position to inspire the renewal of Europe?

President Macron and other leaders in Western Europe are speaking about the need for the renewal of Europe, but of course they are not making any progress in this direction. Their inhuman and absurd neo-liberal views, their materialist and consumerist approach, their lack of vision and ideals, their rejection of social justice as well as of Christian values push Europe inexorably, it seems, to decadence and the European citizens to despair.

Saint John Paul II wrote clearly about these developments. In his book “Memory and Identity” in 2005 he warned that the countries of Western Europe are in a state of “post-identity”. In other words, they have lost their identity. And he went on emphasis the fact that, paradoxically, the countries of eastern Europe got stronger in their fight against communism and therefore protected their identity, their Christian identity. The late pope added: “what is thus the danger? It is (for Poland) to accept without criticism the negative cultural patterns spread in the West. For Eastern Europe, where those tendencies can be perceived as a kind of “cultural promotion”, it is today one of the biggest challenge. I believe that precisely because of that we have here a spiritual battle, that will decide what Europe will become at the beginning of the millennium”.

Indeed, we see that not Western Europe, who has lost vision, enthusiasm and values, but Eastern Europe- and in particular Poland- is today in a position to pave the way toward the renewal of Europe, in the respect of our Christian roots, so dear to the Fathers of Europe. Brussels and the West should therefore be well advised to be more respectful toward Poland, toward the country of Solidarność and John Paul II, the country which crushed communism and today may again be for all of us an example and an inspiration for the building of a new European humanism.

Bernard Margueritte