The Flying Kaczyński Brothers

by Henry on June 19, 2007

I’m just back from a conference/research trip to Europe, where this recent piece by Adam Michnik in the New York Review of Books was recommended to me by an expert in Polish affairs as an indispensable account of the Kaczyński regime and its lustration law. Regardless of the underlying debate about whether or not former collaborators should be made to reveal their actions, Michnik’s piece makes for grimmish reading:

But the lustration law was only one act among many in a systematic effort by the ruling Law and Justice party and its supporters to undermine the country’s democratic institutions. Since their election victory in 2005, the Kaczyńskis and their governing coalition have attempted to blur the separation of powers in order to strengthen the executive branch they control. … In the ministries and state institutions, numerous civil servants have been summarily replaced by unqualified but loyal newcomers. The independence of the mass media—especially of public radio and television— was curtailed by changes in personnel instigated by the government and by pressures to control the content of what was published and broadcast. The Kaczyński administration’s efforts to centralize power have limited both the activities of the independent groups that make up civil society and the autonomy of local and regional government. …

Today, Poland is ruled by a coalition of three parties: post-Solidarity revanchists of the Law and Justice party; post-Communist provincial trouble-makers of the Self-Defense Party; and the heirs of pre–World War II chauvinist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic groups that form the League of Polish Families. That coalition is supported by Radio Maryja, a Catholic nationalist radio station and media group that is fundamentalist both in its ethnic Polish nationalism and its commitment to Polish Catholic clericalism…. The Constitutional Court stood up to its responsibilities and, after repeated government efforts to postpone the court’s session and to impeach its judges, it reviewed the new law and found it unconstitutional.

As my informant notes, the Kaczyński brothers have not themselves indulged in anti-Semitic rhetoric. Furthermore, their distrust and suspicion of the intentions of Germany (more on this when I write about the EU Treaty negotiations) is to some extent justified – the German government has shown itself entirely too willing to sell its eastern neighbours out in order to keep Russian gas flowing. Even so, there’s something decidedly creepy and worrying about their apparent willingness to trample over civil liberties in order to go after their enemies.

{ 19 comments }

1

Dr. Minorka 06.19.07 at 11:31 pm

I’m sure that these practices (first paragraph of Michnik) are not the innovations of the Kaczynski twins. All Hungarian governments after 1989 are guilty too, for example.

2

jojo 06.19.07 at 11:50 pm

Henry,
after your rather pitiful repetition of anti-german cliche I’m looking forward to more substance in your upcoming piece on the EU treaty negotiations.

And of course I am eager to learn more about “German intentions” on this (mostly) enlightened blog.

3

notsneaky 06.20.07 at 12:42 am

I stopped following Polish politics after Law and Justice went into a coalition with the League of Polish Families – I just couldn’t stomach it anymore.

For what it’s worth though, Law and Justice started out as a center-right anti-corruption, reform of the criminal code party (hence the name). It was basically the only political party not up to its ears in financial scandals. L. Kaczynski was the most trusted politician in Poland when he was mayor of Warsaw. Which is why they won the election.

But other than being clean they’ve proven to be pretty damn incompetent, opportunistic with a heavy authoriterian streak.

4

novakant 06.20.07 at 1:49 am

Can we expel them for allowing CIA black sites within EU territory?

I wouldn’t really want that, the (expat) Poles that I’ve met are all great people and I wish them all the best – but these two characters are seriously getting on my nerves and hopefully they only reflect the attitude of a vocal minority. Maybe they should have a chat with the Irish on how to turn the EU to your advantage.

5

notsneaky 06.20.07 at 1:54 am

novakant,
My understanding of this is that the CIA prisons (if they existed, which they probably did) were approved by the previous, Post-Communist, president Kwasniewski. The Kaczynskis actually were the ones who had them closed down. There’s a good bit of cloak and dagger, mystery, who the hell knows what really happened here type of stuff involved though. Of course all the standard denials have been made.

Either way though you can’t blame the Kaczynski for this one.

6

novakant 06.20.07 at 2:10 am

oh ok, I wasn’t being too serious anyway

7

Glorious Godfrey 06.20.07 at 9:14 am

their distrust and suspicion of the intentions of Germany is to some extent justified

Their utter lack of understanding of the consensus culture of the EU, and their almost comical “tough” talk (e.g. the “square root or death” bit) certainly aren’t, though.

8

gr 06.20.07 at 10:57 am

I find this weird. These people behave like lunatics, yet they are the ‘new europe’ and, needless to say, the Germans are to blame.

9

Glorious Godfrey 06.20.07 at 12:05 pm

There’s nothing strange about it, really. These folks are every eurosceptic hack’s wet dream. Enlargement means the notion of a political personality for the EU is dead, all ur base r belong 2 us and so on.

Cue in the federalist straw-man/bugaboo, intent on sneaking all of that intolerable, illegitimate constitution past the poor hapless sovereign peoples of Yurp, etc etc.

Which is utterly mind-numbing bollocks, because significant parts of the (ill-named) constitution will indeed be dropped; because a majority of people in France in the Netherlands, in spite of remaining adamant in their refusal of the aforementioned ill-named text do want a way out of the impasse ; and because anybody who followed the debates in those countries before the referenda knows that trying to give the results of those referenda a Toryesque spin is far, way, a whole fucking lot more wrong-headed than anything that may come out of Brussels.

On a more general note, it is to be noted that the ultra-canny, mostly anglospheric anti-EU set may have outsmarted themselves in the long run. The bigger the common market, the harder it is to contemplate to leave. Things move. If you can’t afford to get out, you’ll have to move further in…

10

gr 06.20.07 at 12:49 pm

Well, a german newspaper (the ‘tageszeitung’) ran a cartoon of the Kaczynski-brothers, I believe it portrayed them as potato-heads or something. This led to a real diplomatic crisis between Poland and Germany, since the Polish government was going to great lengths in trying to make the German government apologize for the cartoon. The ‘tageszeitung’, however, is as independent from the government as a newspaper could possibly be. The demand made no more sense (and perhaps less) than the demands on the part of radical islamists that the Danish government should apologize for the Muhammad cartoons.

I wonder what this tells us about the Polish government’s conception of ‘freedom of the press’? Either it simply transcends the Kaczynskis’ imagination that there are countries (and yes, they include Germany) where the press prints things that it has not been ordered to print by the government. Or else, the Kaczynskis simply don’t believe that the press should be allowed to print things unless it has been ordered to do so by the government. That these folks also govern me, through influencing EU policy, is something I’m really not very comfortable with.

11

Glorious Godfrey 06.20.07 at 1:04 pm

The Poles do have legitimate grievances: the introduction of transitional restrictions on Polish workers’ access to the labour markets of some of the EU 15, particularly Germany; the xenophobic undertones of the discussion of the Bolkenstein directive, etc. But the blame somehow always ends up getting dumped on Germany, although other member states are to be credited for innovations like the plombier polonais .

Poland has its interests, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the treatment that this wondrous duo and the disgraceful coalition they head get in much of the English-speaking press is nothing short of an embarrassment. You cannot do “ambivalent” with people who play in Berlusconi’s ballpark.

12

Alex 06.20.07 at 2:14 pm

Factoid: Poland is currently getting more cash per capita from the EU than Germany got from the Marshall Plan. (Unchecked.)

13

stostosto 06.20.07 at 2:18 pm

The Kaczynskis are a scandal and a disgrace. Like Berlusconi, only worse.

14

stostosto 06.20.07 at 2:28 pm

As my informant notes, the Kaczyński brothers have not themselves indulged in anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Well, given that there are about eight Jews left in Poland it’s more of a wonder that some Poles actually do obsess about Jews at all.

The Kaczynskis are bona fide bigots and homophobes, though.

15

Ginger Yellow 06.20.07 at 2:37 pm

I’m not going to claim to know much about Polish politics (that issue of the NYRB is in my bag for reading after work), but it can’t be a healthy body politic when you have major parties called “Law & Justice”, “Self-Defense” and “League of Polish Families”, let alone to have them in a governing coalition.

16

stostosto 06.21.07 at 11:35 am

Latest diplomatic stratagem from the Kaczynski corner: Poland’s wartime dead should be counted when deciding EU’s new voting rules.

17

dearieme 06.21.07 at 12:26 pm

“the Germans are to blame”: natch, particularly that bugger Gutenberg.

18

Doug 06.21.07 at 1:34 pm

Google up “Potato head” at fistfulofeuros.net for a bit on the controversy at the time; one of our commenters also posted a link to the original taz piece.

For US people not up on German media, the taz is a bit like The Nation, but with news on a daily basis.

For folks like ginger yellow, the Polish right is rather less stable than the Italian left. Historically, it goes back to personalities (and to a lesser extent platforms) when Lech Walesa was president. As to why such a crop of tubers ended up in power, well, it was time to turf out the left and that was the opposition that was available. You go with the candidates that you have, I suppose.

19

notsneaky 06.21.07 at 9:16 pm

As an aside, Michnik himself is a piece of work. And in the NYRoB piece he really manages to shine with hypocrisy.

I’m no fan of the Kaczynskis and to properly express how I feel about the two other coalition parties I’d have to resort to colorful but pretty much untraslatable Polish phrases. However, that the Kaczynskis

have attempted to blur the separation of powers in order to strengthen the executive branch they control. … In the ministries and state institutions, numerous civil servants have been summarily replaced by unqualified but loyal newcomers. The independence of the mass media—especially of public radio and television— was curtailed by changes in personnel instigated by the government and by pressures to control the content of what was published and broadcast. The Kaczyński administration’s efforts to centralize power have limited both the activities of the independent groups that make up civil society and the autonomy of local and regional government. …

is pretty much business as usual in Polish politics when a new government takes over. Most of what the Kaczynskis have done in the regard to the above is remove people, many compromised by political and financial scandals, who acquired their positions through exactly a similar process that occured when the PostCommunists were in power (who in turn where removing folks put there by the previous AWS gov). The “independence of mass media” phrase is particularly cute. And good portion of the blame for the fact that these kind of shenengians are possible after every elections lies with Michnik himself, who in the early 90′s was so sure that the people HE liked were going to be in power “for the next fifteen years” that he ceasesly propogandized for exactly the kind of institutions and policies that now make it possible for the Kaczynskis (and others before them) to do these things. To pretend that the Ks are unique in this regard (putting “their” people in, taking the “old guard” out) or that their actions are threat to democracy, whereas the exact same behavior when engaged in by other parties was not, is pure nonsense.

Comments on this entry are closed.