Thursday, 24 December 2015

Poland, revisited

One sentiment you occasionally hear expressed by some of the outside observers of Polish affairs that knew the country in the 1980's is that it has become a much more normal, ordinary, (and perhaps even boring?) country since the end of Communism. With the recent election of Law & Justice (known to Poles as PiS) and the wrangling over the constitutional court, this may no longer be quite the case.

Visiting Poland for Christmas holidays I find that regular demonstrations now occur in the city of Wroclaw, and many others. This was certainly not the case a year ago.

On the one hand we have the supporters of the former governing part (Civic Platform, or PO as it is known in Poland) and others who characterise PiS's recent changes to the constitutional court as a coup - I have even heard people in all seriousness compare them simultaneously to the Nazis and the Bolsheviks. It is fair to say that almost of all the people I know in Poland are of this opinion, though this is merely evidence of the kind of people who I associate with and demonstrates, yet again, that one cannot simply rely on one's acquaintances to give you a full picture of the political sentiment of a country.

On the other there are the supporters of PiS (who are the majority of the voting public) who believe that these changes are necessary in order to address some of the compromises made in the negotiations that brought about the fall of communism in the country. Finally, there is, even in a fairly liberal city like Wroclaw, a small but substantial fringe of supporters of fascist parties like the ONR and NOP who believe that things should be taken much, much further. The graffiti of the supporters of these far-right parties can be seen throughout the city, often paradoxically paired with the symbol of the wartime Polish resistance.

My personal instinct is that things cannot possibly be so serious as all that - coming from a country without a constitutional court, or even a single codified constitution, it is hard to see what the fuss is all about. This is particularly  the case when PO seems to have contributed significantly to the 'crisis' by trying to rush through the appointment of judges to the constitutional court prior to its electoral defeat.

I am however a bit concerned by the rhetoric of some of the prominent members of PiS (Jarosław Kaczyński described those who demonstrated against PiS's policies as "the worst kind of Poles") and by the very odd incident of a night-time raid on a Warsaw-based NATO-affiliated counter-intelligence organisation. This is, however, still a long way from Putinism or even Viktor Orban-style down-grading of democracy and I cannot see the idea of a potential EU condemnation of PiS actions as anything but very unwise - it smacks of exactly the kind of interference in internal affairs that has done some much to alienate Britons from the EU, and will seem hypocritical coming from an organisation that has so often rode roughshod over the democratically-expressed wishes of national polities.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015