The strategy of fear and openness
Wiesława Lewandowska talks to dr. Tomasz Żukowski about breaking axiological consensus, the offensive of ‘a group of opponents of Lord God’, biased media and a possibility of new suggestions for Poland
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: The result of the election proves that many Poles still prefers little stability. Despite the unexpected success of the Movement of Palikot, on 9 October voting confirmed the previous arrangement of forces on Polish political stage, that is, strong positions of two main political parties. Will you agree with this diagnosis?
DR TOMASZ ZUKOWSKI: - Yes. It has been the tenth nationwide voting in a row in which two first places were taken by the same political groups: the Civic Platform Party and the Law and Justice Party. First – in 2005- the double election (both parliamentary and presidential) was won by Lech Kaczyński and the Law and Justice Party. Since the year 2007 – after building around itself ‘an anti-Law and Justice Party camp) – the number one has been the Civic Platform Party. Both groups took roles of two main actors of Polish politics, whereas the conflict between them became an axis of new consolidated division reaching up to cultural and social roots of the politics.
I agree with the opinion that this election basically confirmed the arrangement of influence which we had faced before the beginning of the last campaign. The Civic Platform Party had 208 MPs just before the election and now it has 207 of them, so by one less. The Polish Peasants’ Party lost three mandates (today it has got 28), whereas the Law and Justice Party – by gaining 157 places in the Seym, it has enlarged its previous state by 11 mandates. So, in the parliament the status quo has been kept. Clearer changes concern the second plan of the political arena: on the leftist side Palikot’s Movement appeared with 40 mandates, whereas the Democratic Left Alliance received only 27 of them (before the election it had 43 of them). All – 15 Seym places were lost also by the politicians of the Party Poland is the most important: we will not see them in this parliament.
- But can we speak calmly about keeping status quo, if new and very energetic force appeared on the left side of the political arena in the form of Palikot’s Movement?
- The success of Palikot’s Movement (10% of votes and 40 seats in the Seym) means significant rupture in the ‘anti-Law and Justice Party camp’. On its left wing instead of one, relatively strong political party with the votes of a few percents ( and the ‘ roots of the Polish Peasant’s Party’) two political groups appeared: very weakened, internally conflicted Democratic Left Alliance and full energy but poorly organized and not fully crystallized Palikot’s Movement collecting votes at the expense of the Left Alliance but also the Civic Platform...
- What may it mean?
- An inner pluralization of ‘anti-Law and Justice Party’. Palikot, also in the role of a chairman of the Civic Platform Party and a ‘baron’of this political party in Lublin was addicted to Tusk. He could be used as the instrument of ‘an industry of contempt’ directed against President Kaczyński, but he could also be pushed into the political margin with a flick of the finger by Prime Minister. Today Palikot has his own club and several dozens ‘political swords’. He is stronger and it may happen that this today ally of the Platform can grip its throat when the Platform weakens. The history Miller – Lepper (Democratic Leftist Alliance – Self-Defense Party) from ten years ago may happen again....Because we cannot doubt that Palikot would willingly take place of the leader in the Platform shifted towards the centre-leftist.
- Why was Palikot growing in power so quickly during the campaign?
- Let’s look at the dramatic moment of the recent elections. In the first phase of the campaign the Law and Justice Party was slowly climbing up and the Platform was slowly descending. Its prevalence decreased. The voters of the Law and Justice Party were also more mobilized and the voters of the Platform – somewhat passive. Many of them have disappointed Tusk’s government. Survey poll more frequently suggested that the Civic Platform Party may even lose the elections. Just then, as you may guess, strategists of ‘anti-Law and Justice Party decided to mobilize their base. Hence, there was the first promotion of Palikot: he was to become little, safe, buffer at the junction with the left-wing party and ‘the party of the discontented’ and with a few-percents of support. But then things got complicated. Let’s recall that Palikot’s Movement was supported not only by Jerzy Urban and the newspaper ‘No’ but also Andrzej Olechowski (considered a center-right politician for a long time). That warm words about Palikot were uttered by the creator of the Democratic Leftist Alliance Aleksander Kwaśniewski and the creator of martial law – General Jaruzelski, and what may be shocking to many people – Lech Wałęsa, a man who wears the image of Our Lady on a lapel of his suit jacket. Palikot was also invited to the media, especially the commercial ones.
- Was he created by authorities?
- Yes, to some extent, because for potential voters of Palikot there was something else important, than the opinions of authorities. I mean the climate of tolerance for criticism of the cross-party axiological consensus existing in Poland which was created by media including the public television. The combined effect of these events is to mobilize anticlerical part of the ‘anti-Law and Justice’ around Palikot’s Movement which is dissatisfied with the government.
- What did the ‘breaking axiological consensus’ exactly mean?
- It meant an open struggle against religion and the Church. For a good few years there has been a double consensus concerning the basic values in the world, their place in the cultural world and the public life...The first part of this cross-party compromise was made over a decade ago, when then-President Aleksander Kwaśniewski got into a papa-mobile. The left-wing party withdrew its objections to the concordat and the place of the Church in the public space was recognized as an obvious thing by almost everybody. Also the most heated disputes about the protection of life were finished. The disputes concerned the possible redefinition of the terms of the consensus: both the left-wing party and ‘hard’ right-wing party spoke about it (let’s recall the years 2006-2007 and the debate on constitutional amendments in the articles concerning life ).
The second part of the compromise concerns the importance of the Solidarity and August tradition in the history of Poland. Since 2005 they have been considered – differently than under the political power of the Democratic Leftist Alliance – as a common fundament of current Poland. I will recall the then-pre-election statements of young leaders of the Alliance: ‘If we had been adults in 1980, we would have also gone on strike and acted in the Solidarity’. The dispute was about who is the main character, heir and administrator of the Solidarity tradition: Lech Wałęsa or Andrzej Gwiazda, Mrs Krzywonos or Anna Walentynowicz. However, we can say that it was somehow a dispute in the family. Palikot’s Movement breaches these two axiological compromises: first of all, the first one concerning the role of religion – but to some extent – the second one, too. We can just read what is written about the August in the newspapers ‘No’ and ‘Facts and Myths’ represented by Palikot’s Movement in the parliament.
- Now we all wonder that he has gained popularity in the Catholic country. Can you explain that?
- In my opinion it was possible, among the others, because the doors in media, including the public ones, were widely opened for the anticlericalism. As a juror in a music competition appeared a man propagating (even today) satanism and devastating the Holy Scripture: Adam Darski ‘Nergal’. What is very important is the fact the fact that this specific ‘opening’ was not opposed by the chairman of TVP and the head of NBC, otherwise known Catholic activists. I think this signal was very important. People who are unwilling to the Church, have learnt from the organizers of public debate that anticlericalism is fashionable and advantageous, and that destroying the Holy Scripture is not a scandal or ‘embarrassing’ but a ‘trendy’ action, and a testimony of ‘modernity’ and ‘openness’, a part of ‘artistic freedom’(as confirmed by the court verdict). This new definition of ‘openness’ and ‘tolerance’ was defended by a significant part of intellectual environments. The presidential minister and ‘baron’ of the Civic Platform Party in the Baltic part of Poland, Slawomir Nowak declared to be ‘Nergal’s chum. Even some priests decided that leaning over the satanist is more correct than the Bible ‘so-so, no-no’.
- Is it possible that the 2011 elections can come into the history as a new beginning of the fight against the Church in Poland?
- It is possible but not inevitable. When Palikot considers that the fight against Lord God does not pay, he may try to change his political strategy. He has already done it many times, after all. Also, the mainstream media will not promote ‘hard anticlericalism’ when they feel that they lose viewers and advertisers in this respect. After all, this is not the first offensive of the ‘party opposing Lord God’. Note that the earlier offensives failed: the Law on the protection of life obligates, we have a concordat, the modern model of the presence of religion in public life, developed in the days of John Paul II, is formed. Also, this time just a little bit of determination and courage of most Poles are needed so that the axiological consensus would be defended, renewed and revitalized.
- Your words suggest that the impact of media on this campaign was enormous and even decisive! How do you perceive the part played by television stations and newspapers in this election?
- The research of the sociologists from the Warsaw University, published a few days ago by the Batory Foundation shows that the commercial media, in particular TVN were in their news programmes very clearly biased, in favour of the ruling party. To a lesser extent, it concerned Polsat. Information programmes of public channels are most similar to impartiality. I will add, however, that publicistic programmes have not been investigated. And it was much worse here. I will mention the behaviours of journalists Lis and Gugal which were far from impartiality.
- Has it been examined, to what extent media can influence the decisions made by voters?
- Yes, I think that the results of the examinations will be published shortly. Today I can cite the results of the survey conducted by the Centre of Public Opinion Research in the mid of September and also in the mid of the campaign. TVP was then recognized by most public opinion as impartial, whereas Polsat – as rather neutral (with a deviation of sympathy to the government), while TVN and TVN24 to be more pro-government than impartial. Younger and better educated respondents from big cities spoke about the bias of TVN. It can be seen that the conviction is slowly reaching to the social awareness that media, particularly the commercial ones, are not a reliable arbiter of public debate but its party. That they engage in politics as its participants, even through strengthening negative emotions.
- Do you think that media reinforce the sense of fear?
- Yes. Winding the spiral of fear by the coalition of the Civic Platform Party and its media allies was to prevent hesitating people from going away from the Civic Platform. It is sad that the group, saying so much about love, and stressing that it builds Poland, also created people’s feeling of dislike towards political opponents. It is also sad that it has based its electoral strategy on that.
- Why does the Law and Justice Party lose in its sixth election? Let me ask another question: why hasn’t the Law and Justice Party lost its social base since 2007, that is, since the moment of the government takeover by the Platform, despite the massive offensive of ‘anti-Law and Justice’ group? Why aren’t media offensives able to destroy the Law and Justice Party as they did to the Democratic Leftist Alliance of Napieralski during a few weeks or Miller’s Democratic Leftist Alliance and Solidarity Electoral Action of Krzaklewski during several months?
- ....which soon ceased to exist. Why does the Law and Justice Party still exist despite losing?
- In my opinion, because it is a political party full of great inner strength which is reinforced by the persistent identities of Poles who support it. An important challenge for the Law and Justice Party, however, is to avoid internal disputes and maintain vivid narrative of its campaign time: firm but not radical, and organic work towards improving its own expert base.
- Does the Law and Justice have a chance of winning the next election?
- Yes. The effectiveness of the Law and Justice Party in the role of the opposition will decide about it, but, above all, the effectiveness of Donald Tusk in solving the problems Poland faces today. If Tusk cannot find any recipes on how to reform Poland and not to put it into debts again, Poles will soon choose between two proposals for Poland: the Republican, Solidarity program of the Law and Justice Party and the proposal of new centre-left party, submitted by political heirs of Donald Tusk and by Janusz Palikot.