The ins and outs of Polish politics are a bit too sleazy and trivial for most so there follows a comparison of Polish politics and normal, Irish politics. My fellow monkey, Shane Barry, will doubtless bristle at the description of Irish politics as “normal” but there you are…
Yes, it happens in Ireland too. It happened to Geraldine Kennedy (now editor of the Irish Times) and Bruce Arnold but the difference is that in Ireland it was a big scandal, remembered to this day, two decades and more on, as a blot on the copybook of Irish democracy. Heads rolled. Apologies were made, damages paid. The taoiseach (prime minister) resigned when it emerged, much later, that he knew about the bugging, that it was not the solo action of an errant underling minister for justice. The minister for justice in question was Sean Doherty, who gave recording equipment to another cabinet minister to record the conversation of a third minister. And Poland? The minister for justice routinely records his conversations. Piotr Pytlakowski of Polityka was bugged – is probably being bugged as I write – and what? The government is collapsing but it’s not because of public outrage at the intrusion into the privacy of journalists. No one is falling on any swords. Certainly no one is apologising and I doubt Pytlakowski will ever be compensated.
The Catholic Church in Ireland is famous for putting the kibosh on the Mother and Child scheme, an early attempt at creating a welfare state. The good men of the cloth thought that the state should stay the hell out of curing poverty as the family was sacred. But that was in the 1950s. Fifty years later, a Polish minister for education proposed that Religion (nb: not the study of religions) be made a compulsory school subject (in a state which has a secular constitution). That minister was Giertych, now yesterday’s man. His successor, Legutko, announced that religion would not, after all, be compulsory. That stern resolve lasted a day. The bishops stamped their crosiers and now religion is back on the syllabus. Soon universities will have to accept the grades made by young cynics who feigned devoutness to get higher marks in religion.
Commissions and Tribunals
In Ireland if you want something to go away you set up a tribunal of enquiry which meets for years or even decades enabling all to forget about the nasty problem. In Poland you set up a parliamentary commission. Here political careers get made but little emerges in the way of concrete charges that can be brought against wrong-doers. So, the two countries are not so different there. The commissions do act faster though.
There is none in Poland. As mentioned before, it’s perfectly acceptable for one coalition partner to blame the mess on another partner. For example, when primesident Kaczyński was discussing his pre-election bribe – err, important policy initiative – of 3 or 4 billion for the health services next year he claimed that there had been a disagreement between the ministries of health and finance about the share of GDP to be spent on health. “The Ministry for Health seems to have done its sums better,” he quipped. Later that same day the Minister for Finance, Zyta Gilowska, said “I am not prepared to accept the raising of health insurance contributions.” At least in Ireland there is a pretence that ministers are collectively responsible for their colleagues’ decisions. At least the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.
There is none in Poland. Irish politics have been set in stone since the Civil War: two large, very similar right-wing parties and some smaller “przystawki” as they say here. (In this respect, if in none other, we are way ahead of the English with their “Conservatives” and “Labour.”) In Poland all is change, all the time. Parties come and go, often ignominiously, deputies cross the floor, jump ship, back-stab, create “new” parties, renege on coalition deals… Voters change their preferences constantly, describing themselves as left-wing in one survey and right-wing in the next. The Kaczyńskis are in charge of a party called PiS, which has existed only since 2001, but before that they were in Porozumienie Centrum. They took part in the round table talks in 1989 and now fiercely denounce those talks as a sell-out. They were associated with Lech Wałęsa and now they hate him. The Polish way is arguably more honest. They’ve given up all pretence of having politics or principles. The labels change but it’s the same faces all the time and pretty much the same (lack of) policies. In Ireland not even the names change. The sham is still maintained that the parties are different.
I got this from a Bulgarian diplomat quoted in Polityka. He was referring not just to Poland but Central and East European countries in general: in the west the veto is treated as the weapon of last resort. In the East it’s just a rhetorical device, a casually thrown out opening gambit.
Separation of Powers
For some, a noble and inspiring idea: surrendering political power to an independent judiciary and promising never to interfere. In Ireland it is considered so important that sacking a judge caught with child pornography is remarkably difficult. In Poland it is considered a liability. The minister for justice is also the country’s chief prosecutor. Not only, then, does he set out the country’s course in matters of justice, he can also, if he wishes, interfere in individual cases. And he does wish. And he does interfere.
See the Beatroot for a similar rundown of Polish politics.