After the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2005, Poland finally appeared to have recovered from her postcommunist malaise, having brought a coalition of center-right and patriotic parties to power. These included the Law and Justice Party (PiS), led by the twin Kaczynski brothers, Lech and Jaroslaw; the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families (LPR), led by Roman Giertych; and the populist Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland Party (Samoobrona), led by Andrzej Lepper. Lech Kaczynski won the presidency.
The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)—which had held the presidency from 1995 to 2005 and had mostly dominated the parliament since communism’s end in 1989—was reduced to a relatively small number of MPs. At the same time, the Civic Platform (PO), a centrist, neoliberal party led by Donald Tusk, surged in the 2005 election.
Given these changes, there had been some hope that the new president and parliament would finally begin to dismantle the vast media, state, cultural, and economic infrastructures that the “postcommunists” had created for themselves under the permissive hand of President Lech Walesa (1990-95). Today, many Polish patriots consider Walesa a betrayer of the national renewal promised by the original Solidarity independent trade-union movement of 1980-81. Antiglobalization writer Naomi Klein has identified the situation of Poland in the 1990’s as part of “disaster capitalism”—without pinpointing the precise provenance of that catastrophe.
The elections of 2005 had barely ended when Poland’s mainstream media—led by Adam Michnik’s Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest and most profitable daily—began a ferocious campaign of invective against the new government. At the same time, forces from within the E.U. bureaucracy were waging a cultural war against Poland. Polish patriotism, precisely because of its temperate, humane character and its sterling record, had to be neutralized. It served as too viable an alternative to the newly emerging, hypercentralized E.U. superstate. Indeed, the Polish emphasis on the critical importance of national sovereignty hearkened back to the European Union’s predecessor, the European Community—“a union of sovereign states.” Many Poles do not need to be reminded that, in modern times, the lack of a sovereign Polish state has spelled disaster.
Despite the hostile climate created by the media, the PiS held a coalition government with the LPR and Self-Defense. Roman Giertych was named minister of education—a huge concession to someone commonly considered to be of the far right. This new solidarity would not last, however. Both Giertych and Andrzej Lepper would soon succumb to some stereotypical Polish vices, the same ones that played a considerable role in bringing down the old Polish First Republic: warcholstwo (sowing discord) and prywata (elevating self-interest over the commonweal). And to make matters worse, the resulting withdrawal of Giertych and Lepper from the PiS coalition was, on the face of it, so truly artless that one has to wonder whether the postcommunist neonomenklatura had a hand in it.
After the coalition collapsed, an election was called for October 21 of last year. At this, the media and cultural infrastructures turned with even greater fury against “the twins.” In the ensuing election, the Civic Platform Party was painted as the savior of Poland from the “dangerous nationalism” of the Kaczynski brothers—who were scheming to introduce a “fascist dictatorship.” The PO won the election with about 41 percent of the vote. The PiS received about 32 percent; the postcommunists, about 13 percent; and the Polish Peasants’ Party (or the Polish People’s Party, PSL) received about 9 percent of the vote. Self-Defense garnered only 1.5 percent, and the LPR (which had entered into a coalition with a small, ultralibertarian party) received about 1.3 percent. Neither Samoobrona nor LPR met the five-percent threshold to retain seats in the Sejm (the lower house). Lech Kaczynski’s presidential term will end in 2010.
Despite what appeared to be a groundswell of public interest in the campaign, as many as 45 percent of eligible voters did not cast a ballot in the election. This low level of participation has been the norm in recent Polish elections. Large numbers of people may simply be too disenchanted with the system to bother voting. And this time, the Kaczynski brothers were unable to capture the attention of the country’s large rural population, which could have overwhelmed the votes of the mostly urban electorate of the PO.
Many members of the PO take a left-liberal approach to Polish historical and national questions, and there appears to be a massive, ongoing purge of many traditionalists whom the PiS coalition might have brought into the state apparatus, especially in the diplomatic corps, where they are sorely needed. Since 1989, there have been frequent complaints from Polish communities outside of Poland about the inability of the Polish diplomatic service to mount a serious and concerted response to the negative stereotypes of Poles and misrepresentations of Polish history so often found (for instance) in the United States and Canada.
The current government was at least successful in its efforts to pressure FOX TV to apologize for airing anti-Polish slander on its November 14, 2007, broadcast of the sitcom Back to You. (One character cracked, “It’s in your Polish blood, like kielbasa and collaborating with the Nazis.”) Moreover, relations with both Germany and Russia have markedly improved, and, in general, there is a growing sense of peace and stability in Poland.
Despite the patriotic right’s distrust of liberal and left-wing political parties and coalitions, it may be able to find at least some allies in each of the Polish parties who share a sense of patriotism and see themselves as working through different channels toward the same goals. The political affiliations of some are based primarily on negative feelings about the Catholic hierarchy or certain aspects of Catholic dogma; such affiliations, then, do not necessarily reflect a general hostility toward Poland’s historic national identity. The left is more independent in Poland than in most other European countries. The same cannot be said of the Polish media, which regularly attacks not only those whom it perceives to be associated with the political right but the very concept of Polish nationalism.
By and large, the media in Western Europe and North America follow a similar pattern. By contrast, when it comes to government policies that promote nationalism in Russia, the same media often give Vladimir Putin a free pass. Certainly, if the Kaczynski brothers had attempted even a small number of the measures that Putin is putting into place in Russia, they would have been denounced as Nazis throughout the European Union.
Now more than ever before, given the pressures from without and from within, Poland is in desperate need of some truly sagacious thinkers, leaders, and statesmen to defend her against the forces of centralization and deracination that would rob her of her heritage.