Saturday, January 06, 2007

What more could you expect from a moral rebirth?

A little over a year ago Poland elected a new Parliament and President. Both sets of elections were won by the right-wing Law and Justice party running under the banner of getting rid of corruption and improving morality, and led by the sour-faced Kaczynski twins. Their mandate was quite limited given that they only received a couple of per cent more than another right-wing party, Civic Platform, which ran with a generally liberal, business-oriented programme and given that the two parties were widely assumed to go into coalition after the elections. The main left-wing party that had previously governed collapsed in those elections, barely getting enough votes to get back into parliament, the rest of the seats being taken by a farmers party, the far right League of Polish Families and the populist Self-Defence party.
After the elections, however, the Law and Justice party continued its attack on Civic Platform, apparently seeking to get that party to accept a very much secondary role instead of the almost equal role that the almost equal number of seats they held would seem to justify. In the end, instead of forming a coalition with Civic Platform, the Kaczynski brothers, now in the roles of President and Prime Minister, formed an on-again off-again loose coalition with the right wing League of Polish Families and the populist Self-Defence. This was, to say the least, a shock for most, seeing that both those parties has previously been considered to be politically untouchable, for good reason. Such was the start of the new, morally superior, less corrupt Poland. The year since then has been filled with just the kind of news that one would expect.
So, the Law and Justice party has gone on to make thousands of centrally controlled appointments of new public servants, starting with government controlled media and going on to education, diplomacy, treasury and all other areas where the government is in the position to affect things. The new appointments have all been made strictly according to party allegiance with experienced, politically neutral public servants being replaced by incompetent yahoos who, were it not for their ties to the Kaczynskis, would not even be considered to be suitable for work experience in the various departments they have ended up leading. The results of such appointments have been immediate, with numerous infamously egregious decisions being made and the work of the state coming apart as we watch.
Clearly, the only consideration the twins have is to ensure they get complete control over all aspects of public life. This approach is motivated by their paranoid view that Poland is still secretly ruled by an alliance of communists and ‘liberals’ i.e. anyone who does not agree with them. The Kaczynskis see themselves as in a continued battle for Poland’s existence against shadowy forces rather than as the custodians of a new Poland that faces a period of unprecedented opportunity within the EU. It is this paranoid view of the world that has led them down the path they have chosen and which, for them, justifies all possible methods “for the good of the country.” A good example of this was provided by a video showing two senior members of the party offering a senior Self-Defence parliamentarian all manner of inducements, including political positions and the provision of financial surety for thousands of Euro in order to get her to change her party allegiance.
At the same time, their coalition partners, the Self-Defence party and the League of Polish Families, have gone on to do what comes naturally to them.
Thus, in the case of the League, the father of Deputy Prime Minister Giertych, who is a European parliamentarian, spoke out against evolution and in favour of teaching creationism. At the same time, the leaders of the party’s youth wing, widely known as the Giertych Jugend, keep getting photographed with their right hands stretched out in the Hitler salute. Of course, such behaviour is not really looked well upon in a country that lost six million of its people during the Second World War, a country dotted with old concentration camps that serve as a reminder of that horrendous time, so Giertych has been recently forced to break off official ties with that youth group. Still, that has not meant that membership in the youth group can not be combined with that of the party and, indeed, there have not been any major changes other than those on paper. Certainly, many of the League’s current parliamentarians first came to the fore by being active in that youth group and this is not seen as a problem. Nor is any of this a problem for Giertych continuing in his portfolio of Education Minister in which he has been busy lowering teaching standards while trying to bring back eighteenth century disciplinarianism.
In the case of Self-Defence, the environs of a courtroom are quite familiar to many ‘activists’ but, far from being due to accusations of promoting any ideology, they are, instead, due to accusations of petty or not so petty larceny – with at least one past Self-Defence parliamentarian now spending all his time in that other state institution, prison. More recently, however, accusations of molesting, providing jobs in exchange for sex and, even, rape have been added to the mix with a number of women that had once been active in the party making official accusations to the police. The two men in the centre of the scandal, and yet to be charged, are a party parliamentarian and the party founder and leader, Deputy Prime Minister Lepper – an odious character with a long history of aggrandising himself while thumbing his nose at the law or any basic sense of decency. To add to that, several people have made accusations that, when one of the women became pregnant, a veterinarian was called in and she was forced to have an injection to try and cause a late miscarriage.
The Kaczynski brothers promised to change the morality of public life in Poland and they certainly have succeeded. Even the Polish Catholic Church has seemingly decided to join in with this programme. The Archbishop of Warsaw, after having denied everything for weeks and having accused those making claims against him of all manner of things, has – once the documents were shown to all of Poland – spoken of his contrition at having been a spy for the communist secret police and begged forgiveness. And, to fit in with the new moral norms, expects to retain his position as the country’s effective religious leader. In fact, his behaviour has a number of precedents, when Lepper, for example, was first accused of molesting women he went to Poland’s holiest shrine to pray for a change in the moral standards of Polish public life. I can not help but think that he was hoping they would be further lowered to better accommodate him.
After all this, the Kaczynski brothers are still President and Prime Minister (and blame everything on ‘shadowy forces’), Giertych and Lepper are still Deputy Prime Ministers and the Archbishop of Warsaw stills leads faithful Catholics in prayer. Still, let it not be said that nothing is done to improve Poland’s morality. The police arrested a drunk, homeless man for shouting abuse about Kaczynski. Unfortunately, when he was brought to trial the judge threw the case out on the grounds that Kaczynski’s public image did not suffer due to the man’s drunken ravings. I guess the judiciary will have to be next in the twins’ drive to change Poland for the better.

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