Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Fallen Masks

Well that didn't take long did it? After weeks of fawning over the left electorate, and talking about conciliation and an end of Poland's internal political war, politics has returned to normal. The matrix of two parties from the conservative political right arguing about everything except how to actually improve people's lives has once again come to dominate public life.

The most dramatic – although equally predictable – political conversion has been that of Law and Justice (PiS) party's leader Jarosław Kaczyński. Realising the unique political and emotional circumstances in which the Presidential elections were taking place – following the Smoleńsk tragedy – Kaczyński adopted a tone of political conciliation and compromise. Particularly noticeable was his refusal to raise issues connected to the Smoleńsk tragedy and the warm words delivered to the left. Following his narrow defeat in these elections Kaczyński has now gone on the political offensive.

The first line of this offensive concerns the Smoleńsk tragedy. The historical and political symbolism of the crash, and the fact that a necessarily long and detailed inquiry is being led by the Russian government, has opened the way for conspiracy theories and political gossip to thrive on the political margins. Most famously this sentiment was shown on public television in the 'documentary' Solidarni 2010– partly created by a prominent right-wing publicist – in which one of the participants shouted that PM Donald Tusk had 'blood on his hands'.

In a recent press conference Kaczyński has said that he has a 'moral imperative' and a duty to his brother to raise the issue of the Smoleńsk crash. He has stated that PiS will be seeking to discover all the 'facts, games and intrigues' behind the tragedy and has claimed that his brother Lech Kaczyński had been subject to a huge political attack from different sides prior to his death. Although Jarosław Kaczyński has refrained from making any direct accusations he stated that the crash was very 'strange'. A PiS MP - Joachim Brudziński - has taken the political rhetoric a step further, arguing that PM Donald Tusk should dissapear from political life because on the day of the tragedy, when he met Putin at the site of the crash, he 'left the body of the President lying in a Russian Coffin'(!)

The second area of political division concerns the cross that was erected by the scouts outside the Presidential palace during the period of mourning. Up until the election of a new President this was an uncontroversial matter. However, the issue of whether a religious symbol should remain standing outside such an important public building is of high political importance. Referring to Komorowski's statement that he thought the cross should be removed and placed in a Church in Warsaw, Kaczyński said: 'If President Komorowski removes the cross it will be completely obvious who he is and on which side of the historical divides that have affected Poland he stands….. it would be the same side as Napieralski and Zapatero". Of significance here is the manner by which Kaczyński has stopped praising Napieralski as representing a new genuine left and returned to denigrating him.

It is often necessary to second guess Kaczyński's tactical decisions and work out what are the political considerations behind his various maneuvers and cosmetic conversions. It is sometimes claimed that he is one of Poland's great tacticians, a Machiavellian genius who is always playing the long-game. However, there is also some basic political realities at play here, which concern maintaining the relatively broad conservative-nationalist coalition that he has assembled in PiS. One of his great political achievements is helping to virtually wipe out all political rivals on the conservative-nationalist right in Poland. This has meant that the party's membership and electorate range from centre-right conservatives to far-right nationalists and extreme anti-communists. Exactly where Kaczyński stands along this political spectrum is difficult to say but what we do know is that at times the most extreme wings of PiS are unleashed and that at others they are restrained.

On the other side of the political fence lies an all-powerful Citizens' Platform (PO). It is easy for the left to sympathise with PO on matters such as those raised above . The inquiry into the Smoleńsk tragedy should be allowed to continue according to international standards and crosses should not permanently be placed outside of the Presidential Palace. On these issues PO broadly represent the opinions of the majority of society that does not want to get bogged down in a new round of internal cultural wars. Yet, PO are also playing their own political games. The unleashing of its political clown – Janusz Palikot- to stir up political debate has been a long-favoured tactic of the PO leadership. Shortly after the Presidential elections Palikot countered that L.Kaczyński had 'blood on his hands' as it was his office that had organised the trip to Smoleńsk. Insinuations in the media that Jarosław may have phoned Lech shortly before the crash occurred are helping to fuel alternative theories about the crash that as yet have little substantiation.

After making a series of political promises during the election campaign – in order to lure the left electorate – PO is returning to its role as a governing party of the conservative right. They have made no moves towards introducing funding for in-vitro, signing the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights or introducing gender parity in parliament. The veil of economic solidarity has also fallen, with the government announcing the freezing of many public sector wages.

Normality has unfortunately returned.

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