Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Poland, The State of the Nation – Uklad, Horse-Trading, and the PiS

There can be no doubt that communist agents did not quietly resign and retreat en masse to tending their gardens; nor can there be any doubt that in the process of privatisation dubious fortunes were made by people with the right connections, but Russia Poland is not nor was. A peculiarity of the Kaczyńskis’ crusade against this układ is that they themselves were involved in the round table negotiations. Also, Lech Kaczyński was a minister for justice in one of the governments fatally compromised by the corruption of this układ in the last 16 years. Another problem with the anti-communist crusade is that PiS tends to see things in black and white: you were either for the communists and therefore a criminal or against them. Reality is rarely that uncomplicated. Some people were party members only nominally. Others may have joined from a genuine desire to put a human face on communism.

A token of the Kaczyńskis’ desire to crush the communists can be seen in what is happening to General Jaruzelski. Charges have been brought against him for introducing martial law to Poland in 1981. Jaruzelski argues that the USSR had a gun to his head: if something had not been done to halt Solidarity’s charge, Poland would have been invaded, as had happened to Czechoslovakia (1968) and Hungary (1956). The case, if it goes ahead, should be interesting. The court is being asked to decide what was the correct course of action to take. Perhaps the courts should look at every political decision in the history of the state?


Lustracja‘ can mean ‘inspection’ or ‘vetting’. It refers to the process of determining whether someone worked or informed for the secret police or not. Up till now decisions were made by a special court after an application for such a decision was made by the individual. PiS wants to take this power from the courts and hand it to a state body, the Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, IPN, (Institute of National Remembrance). The trouble – apart from the politicisation of what had been a matter for courts to decide – is that the secret police files require more than just an archivist’s reading and summary. The fact that your name appears in the files does not mean you were a voluntary agent. Few officers admitted in their reports that they used blackmail or beatings to extract cooperation from their informers.

Some argue that the contents of the files should simply be declassified, as happened in East Germany. In early 2005 the so-called ‘Wildstein list’ appeared. Bronisław Wildstein, a journalist with access to secret police files, copied an IPN index of names of agents and informers. The list found its way into the public domain generating much anguished debate about privacy, the accuracy of records and the necessity of interpreting the information carefully.

Free Speech

Poland under PiS has taken a turn to the repressive. In Febuary there was to be an series of human rights themed films in Chatka Żaka cinema, attached to the University of Marie Curie-Skłodowska (UMCS), in Lublin. The films were to be accompanied by the sale of tee-shirts bearing slogans which were thought-provoking or offensive depending on your point of view. Slogans included ‘I am Jewish’, ‘I had an abortion’ and ‘I did not cry when the Pope died’. When the rector of UMCS banned the sale of the tee-shirts the organisers called off the film festival in protest. This depressing episode can hardly be blamed on the Kaczyński twins but they have done much to create a climate of intolerance. Lech Kaczyński, while mayor of Warsaw, banned a gay equality parade, though he had no right to do so. In November another gay equality parade, this time in Poznań, was banned, allegedly because the authorities could not guarantee public order. The protestors went ahead anyway and were beaten off the streets by riot police for their trouble, while neo-nazis chanted hate slogans from behind the police lines. (It should be noted that the politician with the ultimate power to ban this parade was a member of the SLD.)

So is democracy under threat? Is Poland going fascist? In the case of the Poznań march, the courts found that the grounds on which the parade was banned were spurious, in effect legalising the march after the fact, so all is not lost. PiS wanted to set up a grand commission to inspect pretty much everything that has happened in the last 16 or 17 years but giving this kind of sweeping remit to a parliamentary sub-committee was found to be unconstitutional and the plan was shelved. Also, it should be remembered that the president is not very powerful in Poland. Rather than passing repressive laws – difficult if you are a minority government – the Kaczyńskis are proceeding by packing as many commissions, bodies and boards with yes-men as they can. This is standard democratic practice (“Browny, you’re doing a heck of a job“).

What is less standard is the unparliamentary language and total lack of respect that Lech and Jarosław have for other points of view. President Lech (and prime minster Marcinkiewicz) snubbed the Constitutional Tribunal by not attending their Annual General Assembly on April 5th. Minister Ziobro more or less accused lawyers of being in league with the ‘układ‘. Vice minister Zieliński called for the investigation of the political past of all school teachers. Protests against the pernicious influence of the twins may also be that bit shriller because PiS has it in for the media, whom they believe to be biased against them, even calling for journalists to rise up and take control of the publishers they work for.

PiS projects an image of a country split into two camps: ‘liberal’ and ‘solidarny‘. (‘Solidarny‘ is the Polish adjective of the word ‘solidarity’.) The liberal camp is to be associated with rapacious capitalism, individualism, Warsaw, homosexuals, atheists, and the media; while ‘solidarny’ stands for state interventionism in the distribution of wealth. PiS economic rhetoric stresses that ‘we’re all in this together’ (except the gays of course) as opposed to the crude rugged individualism which they imply has led to great and highly visible disparities in wealth. Whether their policies will do anything to create a more equal society is another matter: Zyta Gilowska presented a tax plan that would raise the tax free allowance slightly but with no drastic changes. In some ways the success of PiS resembles that of the Republican party in the US. They have succeeded in portraying their constituency as victims – victims of a biased, godless, liberal media, of communist agents, of EU policies, of economic shock therapy – in a word: of the układ.

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