Polish elites are growing a beast

Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Dr. Rafal Matyja about political rivalry that goes beyond the framework of usefulness and about arbiters who add fuel to the flames.

Wieslawa Lewandowska: – Talking about politics we are eager to use theatrical terms; the political scene is described during more serious debates but in less formal discussions people grumble about bad performances and underhand intrigues. What spectacle are we observing today? What is happening on the Polish political scene?

Dr. Rafal Matyja: – One can say that on the one hand, it is a rather routine spectacle of democracy with a simple power play but on the other hand, we should use rather military associations here, two wars are being waged parallelly. I would mention a war of ideas, i.e., what people will have in their minds, as the first one.

– Rule over souls?

– Too strong. Rather rule over what is in the heads because the Polish souls are, however, ‘wrapped’ a little better than the heads… On a level, exactly parallel to the first ideological battle, there is a debate about the future shape of the state. Namely, there appears an important question what the state will be in 10-20 years, what prerogatives it will have, whether it will be able to defend its interests firmly. These two quarrels, parallel to the struggle for power, which are very serious, are jammed by the noise made by the struggle between the parties that are competing for power. Currently, the Polish politics is directed by excessive destructive emotions.

– The so-called normal people cannot understand where these negative emotions come from.

– In 2003, after the so-called Rywin’s affair that discredited the ruling left-wing party, there were great social expectations of essential changes. Unfortunately, this favourable mood was wasted… It seems that the present quarrels have their source in 2005 when the central block cracked, i.e., break between the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO). It turned out to be so much functional that for the first time it revealed the real social divisions, and not only divisions in programmes, between the parties that are rather similar… Perhaps if PiS had lost then, there would have been a common sense PO-PiS coalition. However, if PO does not win elections it feels offended… Then there was another, even more acute conflict about the presidential election and government in 2007 and then hopes for common Poland, an efficient and strong state, were lost. Some absurd and permanent quarrel began.

– Who is attacking more – victorious PO or defeated PiS?

– It varied in the past years. Currently, PO is taking advantage very ruthlessly and stoking the aversion of the intellectual elites and media towards PiS. One should clearly say that both the intellectuals and media do not fulfil their obligations to analyse the political situation in a reliable way. That’s why we are losing sight of the real problems of the country. Generally, they are promoting only the thesis that all mistakes of the ruling PO are bearable because this party is rescuing Poland from the rules of PiS. This motive has been effective in the opinion-forming environments in a surprisingly strong way.

– Why do the opinion-forming elites dislike PiS so much?

– Because PiS has weakened their authority very strongly. Those who were used to enjoy the status of ‘sacred cows’ became the subject of huge verbal attacks suddenly. Although they were not deprived of any material things – even during the government of PiS – they were strongly attacked. And they remember that and today they are reproaching Kaczynski’s party so much that it became the motive force of PO’s victories…

– This motive force is not only the aversion towards PiS but also very concrete threatening people with PiS. Where do these fears come from?

– Firstly, PiS began to fight against corruption. And corruption concerned the leaders themselves. For example, a very strong blow of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) was against the medical environments that were always opinion-forming. Secondly, the vetting that was conducted wrongly was rejected with aversion. The academic environment consolidated as far as their duties to submit vetting declarations were concerned. There was a protest embracing the whole academic environment, which was an excellent occasion to protect the real agents of the Security Services. The vetting did not work out but it evoked a strong aversion of the academic environment towards PiS. I would see the source of this fear in that and the fear has passed from the elites through the media to people …

– Can one say that PiS should blame itself for that?

– No, one cannot say so but naturally, PiS is not spotless. The scale of unnecessary wars the party evoked during their rules went beyond the limits of common sense politics. This party provoked more conflicts that it could win. And governing does not mean evoking all possible social conflicts, fanning the flames constantly. In this sense PiS has exaggerated, indeed.

– And thus we have a social protest – ‘We have enough of these quarrels, this war’.

– That’s right. A considerable part of the electorate of PO follows a very common understanding of politics in their intuitions. Those people do not want quarrels and at almost all cost they want peace in politics and other fields.

– … and they do not want any politics at all!

– Such mottoes are proclaimed by the key politicians of PO and some journalists in Poland. Common sense does not say so. However, one thing is normal and natural dislike towards all kinds of arguments and another thing is dislike towards politics as such. Today the former means only aversion towards PiS. Of course, an enormous part of sympathy for Kwasniewski and Tusk has its source in their image of people avoiding too many conflicts. But it does not mean that they are lambs but at least that they look good in lamb’s skins…

– Recently the efforts to explain the causes of the Smolensk crash undertaken by PiS have been included into ‘the political rowdiness of PiS.’ Is it intriguing, too?

– We can accuse PiS of evoking nonsensical conflicts in various areas and of organising witches’ Sabbath from time to time during their rules but in this case, I think, that it is unfair to accuse PiS of playing with the Smolensk tragedy. PiS, and especially Jaroslaw Kaczynski, have natural obligations to take all possible efforts to explain this crash. I would even say that it is a big mistake to leave PiS alone in this role…

– Whose mistake?

– The mistake of all Polish elites. Their profoundly understood interests should include a reliable and full explanation of the causes of the Smolensk tragedy; they should do their best and convince the society that Poland has also done her best. Otherwise, it will be a source of long-term lack of confidence towards the state. It is worth remembering that this populism, which today is showing different faces during the discussions about the plane crash at Smolensk, may become a nihilistic populism some day, which will say: we have enough of this Poland; we are not going to pay taxes since the state is rotten… The task of the elites is stress the necessity of a reliable investigation into the causes of the crash even at the cost of comfort and popularity of the government, which they like.

– But most clearly the elites are not doing it and they will keep proclaiming their only right judgments…

– In this case this nihilism will spread more quickly and strongly than we can expect it today. Such a conclusion can be drawn from the observation of certain behaviours of youth groups organising counter-manifestations in Krakowskie Przedmiescie. And this nihilism will not be directed against Jaroslaw Kaczynski as it is directed today but against the state. It will rebound against the social order and against these elites that are undermining him today or are sympathising with him. But certainly this nihilism will use various means because it is essentially demoralised. Therefore, the present hopes of some part of the elites that the nihilistic populism will settle accounts only with the Church and with Kaczynski is completely short-sighted. It will surely affect universities, the police, institutions and liberal habits perhaps in not so far future. It will be absolutely ruthless in the maters in which the liberals would like bigger softness and tolerance… We have no illusions that today it is the elites that are heating up a monster by their behaviours; they are growing a beast.

– A beast that will set free in the end and destroy the state eventually?

– Yes, and first of all, it will show the helplessness of the elites who nobody will listen to. In my opinion, today the Polish liberal elites have accepted a completely absurd strategy leading straight towards self-destruction.

– What is the absurdity of this strategy?

– To ignore the fact that in some ways it could be easier for the liberals in the Christian community whose values they respect to a large extent than in such a rebellious and rather nihilistic community that is formed in opposition to the traditional values. In Poland we have not many liberal traditions that lasted for ages but we have Christian traditions that lasted for several hundred years and even from the point of view of liberal strategy it would be wiser to build future in some agreement with the Christian majority than against it.

– But the position of the liberal elites is characterised rather with some ad hoc self-confidence and their rights. Finally, they are controlling the state somehow…

– I would not be sure of that… I mean first of all the liberal intellectual and opinion-forming environments because the ruling party, although regarded as liberal, has questioned all dogmas of liberal economy, which can be seen in its argument with liberal economists… PO that is en masse supported by the elites is insipid. Its only ideology is power and the principle that everything can be changed in order to remain in power. It is a classical party of power. That’s why Prime Minister Tusk is trying to get on well with all people.

– But not with PiS, not with Kaczynski.

– Tusk and Kaczynski are very different figures in the Polish politics and have completely different political aims and different systems of values… The rules of Donald Tusk refer to certain thoughtlessness, easy faith in the world that eagerly accepts Polish demands as its own. Whereas the political proposals of Jaroslaw Kaczynski are somewhat gloomy testimony of a man from a hard-experienced country, man who thinks that one cannot trust anyone, that especially in international relations one pays a high price for this confidence… And looking at Poland’s history he is rather right.

– Perhaps it is high time to ask about the price and the balance of the conflict between PO and PiS…

– It is actually hard to estimate it. The worst thing is that victorious PO has given up its very important, long-term aims completely and with impunity, and the Polish elites have deepened the blissful conviction that Poland is internationally secure for good. And the truth is quite different – Poland can defend her position in international relations now more than ever and it should creatively use this chance. But Poland is not doing that! It is very disastrous for the future of our country to make us believe that all attempts to strengthen the state are de facto authoritarianism and will end with witch-hunt, limiting freedom. It is total nonsense!

– Who can we count on to direct the state affairs to the right way when the two main parties are unable to do it or have no possibility to do it?

– Currently, one cannot see such a power in the Polish political scene. The ruling party has stopped being liberal, showing directions and mobilising social activities. This kind of leadership does not exist in Poland at all! But actually both main parties know well what should be done… Moreover, in fact the differences between them in many affairs are not so big to reach some agreement to solve the most important problems of the country.

– Such an agreement cannot occur if there are no impartial arbiters, there are no mediators…

– In my opinion – and I will keep repeating it – it is the Polish elites that have made the biggest mistakes recently. The obligation to play the role of an impartial arbiter falls on them even if they have some political inclinations. But it is them that add more fuel to the flames! Numerous journalists, experts in political sciences, professors, lawyers, people who often speak in public, do not only ostentatiously support one party but also indiscriminately deride the other party… Joseph Schumpeter, the author of one of the most sensible definitions of democracy, says that it is a rivalry of at least two subjects but if this rivalry for power is to be useful and not destructive the control of the elites is indispensable. In a country with strong and wise elites this rivalry will never go beyond the framework of usefulness. But it is not the case in Poland… Our elites have relieved themselves of their duties to think and have counted on one political party, which is harmful to democracy and the state in the long-term.

– The rivalry among politicians goes beyond the framework of usefulness and the elites do not fulfil their controlling function, so what’s next? Can we count on ordinary people to think sensibly?

– History does not go from election to election. Sometimes we need more time so that people, both the elites and ordinary citizens, reach certain conclusions. The problem is that prosperity for Poland is not going to last forever. The world will not wait for us to think over our mistakes and make necessary corrections. That’s why it is worth urging and appealing to people’s consciences and minds.

"Niedziela" 9/2011

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