Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Unity through Division

Facing growing disunity and falling support in the opinion polls, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has written an open letter to members of his party appealing for unity. The letter contains many half-truths and (self) deceptions. Yet it also reveals much about the current political state of PiS, its probable future political strategy and some of the issues that are likely to dominate public debate.

There is no better way to forge internal unity than through building fear of an external aggressor. Kaczyński does this on a number of levels. A large part of the letter is taken up with examples of how the political establishment has unfairly treated PiS. A hostile media, distorted opinion polls and aggression towards Lech Kaczyński (when he was President of Warsaw and then Poland) are cited. It is tempting to explain this as being simply the paranoid ramblings of someone who has lost touch with political reality. And this may indeed be the case. However, there is at least an element of truth behind his statements. PiS grew as a party by harnessing the social frustrations born out of the transition. It gave expression to these through creating a conspiratorial explanation of (ex-communist and liberal) elite collusion. This particular form of conservatism sometimes conflicted with those who had assumed positions of economic and political privilege in post-communist Poland. It should therefore come as no surprise that this elite has often fought back, using different tools at its disposal.

It has previously been discussed in this blog how Jarosław Kaczyński's presidential election campaign was based upon avoiding open political conflict and evading controversial topics such as the Smoleńsk tragedy. Such a strategy helped Kaczyński win the support of many in the political centre and expand beyond PiS's core electoral base. However, it was still not sufficient for Kaczyński to beat his rival Bronisław Komorowski, even within the emotionally sympathetic atmosphere that surrounded the election. Since the election 'hawks' within the party have openly criticised this strategy and called for PiS to go on the political offensive. Kaczyński's letter confirms his own commitment to this approach and his wish to stamp out opposition from all those within the party who disagree with it.

Freed from the constraints of appeasing those occupying the political centre ground, Kaczyński has identified the targets for his new offensive. Central is the enquiry into the Smoleńsk tragedy. Kaczyński has insinuated that the tragedy was probably not an accident (questioning the official version of events) and PiS have launched their own investigation into the incident, headed by the staunch conspirator Antoni Macierewicz. Connected to all this is the on-going conflict over the cross placed outside the President's Palace and the attempt to create an historical mythology around Lech Kaczyński. While claiming that PiS have not been directly involved in the protests against removing the cross, Jarosław Kaczyński states that he respects the protestors and sees them as being strongly associated with religious values and patriotism.

Kaczyński is using these events to articulate a broader view of Poland and its international relations. He argues that the present Polish government accepts Poland's external domination and undermines the country's own cultural traditions and heritage. He claims that the Polish government has a policy of servitude towards Russia and a cliental relationship with Germany. Issues such as the enquiry into the Smoleńsk tragedy therefore concern Poland's own standing as an independent country. He identifies PiS as being the only political force that is capable of defending Poland's national autonomy: "The course of history has left us as the upholders of national values. Only we can counter this fateful course of events"

Kaczyński ends his letter by touching on some very real problems facing Poland. He notes how countries with lower levels of GDP per capita (such as China, India, Brazil and Turkey) are enjoying rapid economic growth. He seems to be concerned that this could push Poland closer to the periphery as other countries overtake Poland. However, Kaczyński does not offer any positive solution to this dilemma nor regard the rise of other countries as a new opportunity for Poland. One may have thought that such concerns would have led to him to offer solutions to Poland's disastrously low level of employment or perhaps suggest ways of investing in new technologies and industries that could help Poland compete in the world economy. Perhaps the present demographic decline should be countered by opening up a new policy of immigration into the country or creating worthwhile jobs that would encourage young Poles to stay in Poland. No. Kaczyński rather believes that the passivity of the elite in face of these challenges is allowing for a further erosion of Poland's national cultural values: "This is not a question of faith, but of the understanding that this destruction is allowing for the door to nihilism to be opened, which shows its face through attacking the cross and its defenders. In Poland we do not have any other widely known moral system apart from that growing out of Catholicism. This is why the only real alternative is nihilism. Only we are in the position to oppose this."

The present trajectory of PiS will help it to consolidate its core electoral base but it will hinder it from growing into a party that could win the support of a majority of society. It is to be seen whether a more progressive opposition to PO can grow in its place.

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