An Introduction to Polish Politics: a Casual Stroll through the Lunatic Asylum
Through this short introduction you will become acquainted with the contemporary, post-Communist Polish political scene. I will not be presenting this in a chronological order of events; rather I will exhibit a more in-depth approach to each party movement individually, presenting their history, achievements, ideals and their relation to other parties and the Polish nation as a whole.
Currently, the Polish political scene is dominated by two major parties, a phenomenon, not too surprising in the western world. The two are called Civic Platform (PO), which has been the ruling party in Poland since 2007, and Law and Justice (PiS), the opposition. These parties did not exist prior to 2000-2001, they have been only in existence for the last 15 years, and both have a similar genesis. They were formed in 2001 out of the ashes of an earlier right-wing coalition of parties raised to combat the post-communist left in the 1997 elections and both of these parties were thought of as being ideologically similar at the time. They went into 2001 general elections separately, but joined forces a year later in local elections as one voting committee – POPiS.
However, in the 2005 elections a major break-up and disagreement took place after the late Lech Kaczynski, the PiS candidate, won the presidency in 2005 and made it possible for Law and Justice to win the parliamentary elections a month later as well. Everybody at that time thought that PiS and PO are going to form a coalition because of their similarities and right-wing sensibilities. But it didn’t happen. Instead, they went at each other’s throats. Having both the President and the most seats in parliament, albeit no majority, PiS decided to rule alone. This was the main event in dividing the modern political scene in Poland into two feuding camps.
So what are those parties actually?
The Civic Platform has nothing to do with citizens. It was formed by a blessing given by the Polish secret services and fought elections on the ticket of economic freedom, economic liberalism in the European sense; limited government, limited bureaucracy, liquidation of senate, introducing a FPTP one mandate electoral order to the parliament. (This was never realised!). All of this is positive from a free-market point of view. They used to agitate for a 15% flat income tax, 15% flat VAT tax, de-regulation, etc.
Every single liberal and libertarian in Poland got duped by these guys. PO sounded libertarian and conservative enough to be believable. That’s how they managed to win the 2007 elections over PiS, which they painted as a dangerous and fascist party. PO promised in the 2007 campaign to bring back the Polish émigrés who left the country because of the rise to power of PiS. PO pledged to introduce a more free-market approach in Polish politics. PO’s leader Donald Tusk, later Polish Prime Minster and currently the President of the European Union, vocally stressed, and rightfully so, that people tend to escape from socialism to capitalism and stated that he will implement market reforms to liberalise the economy.
Let’s see how that worked out. There are two million known Polish émigrés. But the actual number is even greater. Poles are so disillusioned by the economic situation in their country. They consciously chose to escape Polish socialism, Polish cronyism and the evil Polish government bureaucracy – still rooted in communism and communist thinking. So the supposedly right-wing ‘free market’ conservative Civic Platform, managed to effectively conserve the communist remnant element from the past within the framework of the Polish state machine. It did not free the market, but made possible for the party barons and cronies to benefit.
The party also handed over the Polish state and nation to the European Union. They’re even doing it as I write this, betraying the Visegrad Group on the migrant crisis votes. Nothing changed for the better, under their rule.
Let us now turn to Law and Justice. Following the tradition of misnomers in Polish politics, PiS has nothing to do with law or justice – unless it’s ‘social justice’! This supposedly right-wing party is in fact the socialist-left in disguise, but with a patriotic flavour to it. Their idol is Marshal Pilsudski, a proto-fascist dictator of Poland between 1926 and 1935, who is now presented by Polish schools as a hero, a patriot and the creator of the modern Polish state – nothing could be further from the truth! The Law and Justice party are statists par-excellence. They are not nationalists as the left and the western media seem to suggest. Their patriotism derives from their will to maintain the societal status quo, with a strong state controlling the economy as well. This is European conservatism at its worst. This is what PiS is.
The PiS rule from 2005 to 2007 was in fact a mixed bag. Because of pragmatic needs and also the need to retain power, PiS invited two small parties into their cabinet, and also made a former PO figure the Minister of Finance. Professor Zyta Gilowska is a staunch economic liberal and anti-socialist and in the PiS cabinet she had the potential to do much good – and indeed, the PiS cabinet did not go on to ruin the economy, actually making some crucial reforms regarding taxes. They lowered them, eliminated the highest tax bracket, and ended up with 18% and 32% brackets left over. Payroll taxes were lowered significantly, which helped to decrease unemployment. Finally Gilowska managed to force through major tax relief for families, enabling them to write off huge sums for every kid in the family from the income tax due. Indeed, the lowering of taxes under PiS was very significant. PiS also managed to avoid indebting Poland to such a degree as the Civic Platform managed to in their eight year rule. Public spending was not catastrophic under PiS.
This is quite a surprising feat for such a rabid statist party as PiS; perhaps they didn’t have enough time to implement their welfare-state policies as PiS rule ended in premature elections in 2007. PO won the most seats this time, and went on to rule with a small and more fierce Polish People’s Party, a Peasant party which can form a coalition with everyone, every time from left to right. This coalition, let us call it the coalition of the cronies, the most corrupt and inept politicians in the history of modern Poland, still rule – but autumn elections are coming! The traitors in PO are hopefully on the way out. A na drzewach zamiast liści, będą wisieć Platformiści!
However, what will the Law and Justice party do after winning the elections in autumn? I can only hope that they won’t actualise their program and ideology, but will remain as pragmatic and passive as they were during their time from 2005-2007. Of course, I’m talking about economic matters only. Unfortunately with PiS having control of the presidential office, they may attempt to interfere in the lives of Polish citizens and the economy – naturally under the banner of sanitizing the political environment and cleaning up corruption. This will only bring ever more political disease and even more corruption than was previously in existence.
As for other parties on the Polish political scene; the eternal coalition partner, PSL, the Polish People’s Party, is the oldest existing Polish party, having been formed at the end of the nineteenth century. They are strong in rural areas because of cronyism in local and regional governments. They have no ideology except to garner public funds and pig-out.
As for the parties which made up PiS coalition cabinet in 2005-2007, they were of national socialist provenance, yet managed not set the Polish economy ablaze, and some of their closet free-marketers in the cabinet actually managed to liberalise aspects of the economy and of people’s lives. One example is introducing home-schooling, previously illegal (!). Today members of those parties form the National Movement (Ruch Narodowy), but it fails to gather many votes, though their supporters are very vocal and organise many patriotic and nationalistic events, from charity work for veterans to multi-million man marches in the centre of Warsaw on the 11th November every year to celebrate the Polish day of Independence. Unfortunately, they are openly and vocally illiberal.
The Post-communist left is ever present. They are called the Alliance of the Democratic Left, and they ruled between 2001 and 2005. Surprisingly they did not really cause much damage to the economy. Indeed, they pragmatically liberalised some aspects of it, introducing a flat 19% corporate tax instead of the 40% and 50% progressive brackets that applied previously. Although they are on the decline now as they are hated by the modern left for ‘bourgeois treachery’, they are not trusted by anyone except hard-core post-communists.
The modern left in Poland is represented by the ‘Palikot Movement’, now known as ‘Your move’. It was formed by the former PO leader Janusz Palikot, an entrepreneur and millionaire. A very eclectic and eccentric man indeed; despite being economically liberal, and despite having read Rothbard, Palikot actually declared on several occasions, that the state should build factories and employ people in state industries etc. The main point of his political program is to fight the church and the ‘right wing lunatics’ that he personally defines and targets. Of course his anti-clerical stance did not stop him from publishing a right-wing, pro-catholic magazine ten years ago, but evidently people change. His party has lost all credibility, despite having around 10% of the votes in the 2011 elections by bringing into parliament hardcore leftists as their MPs, for example a trans-gender monstrosity calling itself ‘Anna Grodzka’ and similar queers of post-communist or Trotskyite extractions. Hopefully they will not pass the voting threshold in this year’s election!
It seems finally that a fourth force in Polish politics will be the only consistent free-market formation since Poland gained independence. I am speaking of course about the Polish libertarian pioneer Janusz Korwin-Mikke and his KORWiN party. His previous parties were the Union of Real Politik (1988-2009), then Freedom and Lawfulness until 2011, and after that the Congress of the New Right until 2014. He has always been marginalised until now and finally his radical free-market platform may find itself in Polish parliament. That could turn out to be extremely interesting because it would force PiS to engage in pro-market reforms and has already had a major impact on the minds of the Polish youth, having been popularized through the internet. Notably, Janusz Korwin-Mikke has been running the most read blog in Poland since 2008 and is the most ‘liked’ Polish political figure on Facebook which has only aided his rise to fame and prominence.
The upcoming election will be a clash between the two statist groups, PO and PiS. The cronies and anti-capitalists, the former however being pro-EU and anti-Polish with the later being more sceptical of the European Union and far more patriotic. This is the logical conclusion of democracy, the choice between the evil party and the stupid party. The only choice is to vote for the stupid party and drink oneself to sleep!
This article has been produced on the basis a series of podcasts produced Polish libertarian legend Kelthuz who is a gleaming beacon of the free market ideology in Poland.