A Confession of Love
by Artur Żmijewski

On 25 October 2015, Polish parliamentary elections were won decisively by the Law and Justice (PiS) party. A few months earlier, in May of last year, the party’s candidate Andrzej Duda won the presidential elections. In fact, the PiS has had a double, if not triple, legitimacy bestowed upon it, for it also enjoys a parliamentary majority allowing it to govern on its own.

The PiS began by dominating the armed services. The new Minister of Defence, Antoni Macierewicz, started replacing top army commanders, while raising salaries in the military to ensure loyalty to the new administration. One of Macierewicz’s first actions as minister was to stage a midnight raid on the NATO counterintelligence center in Warsaw, perhaps because it was viewed as an uncontrollable source of outbound information. The chief of police has been sacked, as have been a number of provincial-level police chiefs. The Polish Central Bureau of Investigation has been structurally integrated with the police and now reports to the police chief, a Law and Justice nominee. Wage increases have been pledged for members of the police force as well. At the same time, the PiS-dominated parliament has passed a “surveillance” bill that allows the police and the special forces to keep suspects under surveillance without a court order. All of this looks like preparations for using force if there is an outbreak of public defiance against the sudden, undemocratic changes decreed by the Law and Justice party. Even mainstream politicians have been hinting at taking to the streets, at staging a Polish Maidan.

When the Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro attacks the Civil Rights Ombudsman, using fascist phraseology and accusing him of defending the interests of the LGBT community rather than those of the ordinary people, we have just one example of the PiS using a kind of newspeak, where the meaning of words is reversed. Shared rationality, which makes discussion and compromise-making possible, has evaporated from the PiS rhetoric. Their twisted language and frequent mockery of the opposition are part of this new “Lingua Tertii Imperii.” Not that we don’t know it already, but this is a new situation, as it is now operating as the legitimate, official language of the governing party. Radical, “straightforward,” brutal, sometimes verging directly on hate speech; it is perhaps this language that contributed to the PiS’s election victory. “Communists and thieves” is how Jarosław Kaczyński and his supporters labelled those demonstrating against the government’s undemocratic practices. In parliament, Kaczyński has been seen reading Super Express, a tabloid that is often critical of his actions. Probably it is even one of the sources of his political inspiration—for how to speak in order to be understood? Should one, perhaps, abandon rationality or listen to its enfeebled version used, for example, by the tabloids? Another source of non-rational rhetoric is the Catholic media, such as the daily Nasz Dziennik. In a recent parliamentary debate about secular education, PiS deputies did not hesitate to speak of “rabid feminism” and the “stench of Satan floating in the air.”

Many voters in Poland have labile views, ready to be swayed at the last moment. In the previous election, one televised statement by the (previously virtually unknown) leader of the Razem [Together] party was enough to deal a blow to the Civic Platform’s (PO) and the Democratic Left Alliance’s (SLD) election results. The left was thoroughly beaten, paying a tall price for the cowardice of its leader and the decision to put forward a very pretty but politically completely inexperienced young lady as a candidate in the presidential elections. This is, in fact, the left’s new ailment—when those enjoying widest recognition avoid the risks of political consolidation and abstain from forming their own party. At some point, the unified left’s campaign agenda was reduced to the postulate of seeing its leader, Barbara Nowacka, make it into parliament. That was the defensive message sent to the public. At the same time, Kaczyński was calling for a radical victory that would give the Law and Justice party a safe parliamentary majority, pointing to the example of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and his strong-armed policies. I don’t share the admiration for Mr. Kaczyński—especially for how he chooses his people, looking for characteristics that are hard to accept, such as fanaticism, religious sanctimoniousness, or outright moral corruption, as in the case of MP Stanisław Piotrowicz, a former communist prosecutor and now the leading face of the PiS’s assault on the Constitutional Tribunal or the party’s attempts to deprive prosecutors of their political independence. Perhaps a change in Polish politics was needed, but the voters simply didn’t know what kind of change they wanted. The Law and Justice party sought to corrupt voters by promising parents a monthly allowance of 500 Zloty per child. But did it buy the elections with this offer alone? The PiS has no employment-boosting agenda, no plans to raise spending on nurseries and kindergartens, or to raise teachers’ salaries so that they teach more effectively and educated people can achieve more in their lives. Quite the contrary, it allows six-year-olds to stay at home, meaning that thousands of teachers will lose their jobs and kids will find it harder to compete with their foreign peers who start schooling earlier. What the PiS is offering instead of social development is, I believe, a leap into fanaticism, into hard identification—with the nation, with primitive patriotism, with the kind of infantile religiousness that the liberal social project of various post-1989 parties sought to free Poles from. The demand for social emancipation proposed by liberal and left-wing parties has been replaced by the Law and Justice party with a radical confirmation: we love you when you show your worst traits; we love your mediocrity, your racism, xenophobia, and bigotry. For publicly confessing this affection, the PiS was voted into power.

It can be assumed that there exist two fundamental attitudes shown by those in power (as well as by the media, and cultural and educational institutions) towards the public. One is demanding, geared towards development and the testing of ideological barriers. It includes aims such as broader rights for women, a new model of the family, a working constitutional court, a secular state, early education consistent with kids’ developmental needs, protection of freedom of speech, and so on. In the alternative project, development is forsaken on behalf of supporting a set of beliefs that may be informed by xenophobia, racism, absolutist religiosity, and the like. This support has a formative power. So when those in power start using an exclusionary rhetoric, averse to immigrants or refugees, the latter start being harassed or attacked in the streets. What the Law and Justice party has proposed is a step backwards—an easy one in that it frees one from the effort of looking at oneself.

Posted in Notes on 02.17.2016

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