Politics is a show

Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Prof. Zdzislaw Krasnodebski about the way politicians manage to control Poles’ emotions.

WIESLAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – Professor Krasnodebski, what wrong is there in the Polish politics that politicians themselves grumble about it?

PROF. ZDZISLAW KRASNODEBSKI: – It is not easy to define what is wrong. The fact is that nobody might have realised it could have been so badly. What’s more, one cannot see a way out of this weird condition. The Polish way of conducting politics has changed into staging, some performance of little value, controlled and controlling the simplest human emotions: hatred or uncritical adoration. Watching the Polish television, especially one of the most popular channels, it is hard to believe what a simple scheme was used: phone calls from viewers loaded with ‘proper’ emotions. If hatred, it is towards Law and Justice Party; if adoration it is for the Citizen’s Platform. There has been too much of this political hatred in the Polish society. Poles, as they admit themselves, have enough of politics because they do not understand it completely. The have enough of the political affairs so much that they actually cannot see anything wrong in them.

– However, it seems that the last affair, ‘the gambling affair’, shocked Polish people. It showed the reprehensible style of the activities of the leading politicians and the sessions of the commission, established to explain the affair, prove that the state was almost helpless, that the representatives of the highest organ of the Republic of Poland, the Parliament, were helpless and the interrogated businessman sneered at them baldly. I hope that people will see that and will draw conclusions.

– I doubt it since the social support for the party of these discredited politicians does not decrease….

– It is really sad that the Polish society shows big consent to the unethical activities of politicians. Perhaps Poles regard the relations between politics and business as normal… And even when they are disgusted with something it is enough to spread the news that the good prime minister, like a tsar, punished the bad minister. The politicians have managed to control Poles’ emotions in some strange way.

– It can mean that at last professional politicians are in power!

– On the contrary! They win because the Polish society revives, or rather evokes, the tendency to ridicule public figures, which was characteristic during the communist times. When in the 1990s there were rather fierce debates on the constitutional principles in Poland and then the debates about vetting the participants of those debates treated one another in a serious way. But since some moment they have stopped using arguments and ideological quarrels and have begun referring to the method of steering Polish souls, i.e. derision, mockery at names, appearance. But it was soon obvious that jeering at political opponents is effective and the Polish society has eagerly accepted this language of communication with politicians.

– Didn’t this sneering-denying style appear when the Kaczynski brothers started their activities and became the desirable aim of criticism and derision from the early 1990s?

– The problem does not concern the Kaczynskis but the whole political formation. In Poland there is aversion to reveal difficult truths and the one that begins speaking about the truth seems at once to be a dictatorial person who hates people, who insults people and looks for something on them. To destroy such a person in Poland one does not use substantial arguments but it is enough to mock such a person. So some complete confusion has dominated Poles’ heads.

– Do you think that Poles are not able to make wise, well-thought-of political choices?

– It looks so. Imitating Palikot and tabloidization, i.e. vulgarising the Polish politics, have gone very far and the Polish media have contributed to that most effectively. The media do not make any efforts to explain problems but they claim that nobody is interested in hearing profound explanations. It is undoubtedly connected with the general condition of the Polish society that has become consumers of the mass culture and that does not concern only the lowest social strata. It is true that people are still interested in politics but only in its personal, most superficial dimension. Although being critical they are surprisingly vulnerable to the media imposing ready evaluations on them. The reason is that we lack social structures, citizen’s means of communication. That’s why the Polish society behaves like crowds at football stadiums.

– Do you blame the Polish media for that?

– I think that a considerable blame falls on them. In Germany, which I am observing very closely, the public opinion is shaped by the so-called quality press, i.e. big papers that keep high standards all the time. For years they have not changed their designs; they are faithful to their traditions, do not add many pictures to make their reception easier. They simply respect their readers. Whereas in Poland the serious papers often publish cheap sensational news and the tabloids give serious political commentaries… Actually, there are no papers showing good standards. The ambitious titles disappear from the market and in the West such titles are still the subject of publishers’ pride. It is obvious to me that in Poland the media and politicians try to please the worst tastes.

– And we seem to think that we have caught up with the West – Europe!

– Nonsense! In any civilised country no one makes a political career thanks to vulgarism or dubious quality happenings. The astonishing thing is that even the media that regard themselves as serious most eagerly promote these politicians who have already gained cheap popularity. Since the most important thing is large audience (i.e. income from advertisements), newspaper circulation sales…

– When did the mistake occur in our latest history and consequently, our today’s vicious circle had to appear?

– It is hard to define it now. Nevertheless, it happened so that the media and politics broke sequential barriers of decency and were praised for that… In the end we could see a confusion of terms, orders, hierarchy of values. It is rather pitiful that in Poland people choose statesmen (e.g. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz) or most influential Poles (Tomasz Lis) in some strange voting. This is more fun than seeking the truth… Recently one of the weeklies has asked me to evaluate the most influential women considering their popularity, recognizability and charisma. The superficiality of these criteria that define in no way the real influence of these women on the reality is shocking. Sometimes I have the impression that I am in the world of Witkacy and Gombrowicz! Unfortunately, Poles keep looking at appearances, gestures; boring solidity does not matter; what matters is stupid effectiveness. Politicians try to persuade society that they behave like politicians in America but even in America where there is more political show than in Europe such pathetic exaggeration does not happen. In America politicians are evaluated first of all by the effects of their activities and not by their appearance.

– Yet Poles have allowed to be convinced that one party is more refined, more international and perhaps this is the reason why they trust the party so much…

– It is true because the thing is not to evaluate the effects of the party’s activities that from the substantial perspective are very miserable… The focus on externals is difficult to uproot and is a very national Polish characteristic. We still pay attention to the one that shouts more and louder, the one that plays some role better…That’s why our politicians are eager to play some role to impress their countrymen – a role of some outclassed count or Oxford graduate or laid back American. Poles are impressed with it. We seldom have the possibility to observe politicians’ discussions about strategy of the country’s development, about solving problems, i.e. which other nations treat as the essence of politics. This dimension of politics has disappeared in Poland since Poles do not want it. Poles expect politicians to make artistic shows and literally, they want to see them in the programme ‘Dancing with the Stars’, or Szymon Majewski Show or the political Nativity performance. They adore them for doing that. In Poland politics has become part of the entertainment business.

– You expose yourself to holy indignation saying that it is the society that should be blamed for spoiling politics.

– I may but I think that the problems of the Polish politics are secondary. If there had been no consent of the academic community, journalists, readers, students and wide public such things would not have happened. If people thought that some politician’s behaviour was provoking, indecent or vulgar his/her party would not receive enough votes to enter the Parliament. But in Poland such a behaviour is not reprehensible but positive.

– Poles think that this is what politics is about and that all over the world politics is conducted in a similar way.

– Nothing like that! Everywhere there can be some element of theatre; there are scandals; the press is interested in politicians’ private lives but these matters do not occupy the whole political life and first of all, nobody makes a political career this way. In Poland every politician has his/her own blog. Everyone tries to be original and like a pop star wants to be noticed at all costs. Recognizability is important because then you can count on people’s votes in elections. Recently some young person has told me that in the coming presidential elections he will vote for Andrzej Olechowski because he is so tall. It is true that appearance matters in the world of media and politics but it cannot be the only political criterion in elections. Unfortunately, in Poland the basis is the play of the externals, some mirage, myth that is sold well.

– The opposition speaks about the ‘velvet dictatorship’ of Prime Minister Tusk. Is it also some mirage?

– I would like what is the aim of the ruling party today, i.e. complete accumulation of power, to be only mirage and not a real threat. I am not pessimistic about that because I think that if this process is completed and there will be accumulation of power all the mechanisms that have been applied and which average citizen cannot see will turn against those who will achieve this absolute power since revolt is part of the Polish nature. I do not suppose that this Polish ‘velvet dictatorship’ lasted long, that this situation existed like it is in Belarus.

– Why do you call this situation the Fourth Polish Republic of Donald Tusk?

– It is a perverse definition. Let us remember that the project of the Fourth Polish Republic (IV RP) invented by Law and Justice was fiercely criticised. A considerable part of the Polish society did not really want to fight against corruption, vetting, and did not want a strong state. The mottos concerning change and renewal of political life were depreciated and ridiculed. There was a period of cynicism… In my opinion this is the Fourth Polish Republic of Donald Tusk. The term ‘IV RP’ was used in the negative sense. It was said to be a democracy violating the rights of minorities, that politicians aimed at appropriating the state. If we took the texts of that period, the texts attacking the ruling Law and Justice for the idea of IV RP they would be much proper to the present situation that they were then…

– You belong to the minority – all around are satisfied with the present situation.

– You’re right. Not only most Poles but also our neighbours are very much – perhaps even more than Poles themselves – satisfied with the rules of Tusk. I will say something unpopular but obvious: there are various external interests aiming at having such a Poland. They slap us on the back, become proud and at the same time they are surprised. Our western neighbours who had vetting changed all elites in East Germany because they would never allow such a situation, for example, that the media were in the hands of foreign investors. There was a big quarrel in Germany when ‘Berliner Zeitung’ was taken over by some foreign capital. The others care for their matters very solicitously and seriously and we do not.

– Well, we do because we have succeeded in the European arena?

– I understand that you are joking now. Once I read in some Polish newspaper a big headline ‘Donald Tusk takes office in Europe’…This really reminds me of the times of Gomulka and Gierek that one could make people believe in such stupidity, such fiction! Perhaps the politicians themselves believe it… It looks that in Poland politics is treated like sport; Polish politicians play amateur soccer, they seem to be thinking that they play in the Bundesliga. But actually they play unprofessional matches at their stadiums, the so-called ‘eaglets’.

"Niedziela" 13/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl