Saving Poland from Lepper-osy

Regular €S readers (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!) will have picked up certain themes to which this weblog returns regularly: Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for one, and the Polish forces in Iraq, for another. (Well, I’m supposed to do the latter; it’s been rather inactive for a while.) Another such theme seems to be shaping up quite spontaneously: that of sounding the alarm over Central European states that are threatening to make “bad” electoral choices. Sure, as proud new members of the community of democracies they’re more-or-less entitled to make whatever electoral choices they want. But really, elect back into power in the Czech Republic the KSCM – the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which is “unreformed” and therefore unashamed of the over forty years of misery its predecessor inflicted on the country? Or, in Slovakia, elect as president in the immediate wake of NATO membership, on the very eve of EU membership, the corrupt political thug (we’re talking here about Vladimir Meciar, for those who came in late) whose behavior in the mid-1990s was responsible for Slovakia missing both such boats then? Or, in Poland, elect into power a farmers’ party notorious for blocking highways and throwing livestock products recklessly around in order to make its political points, whose leader has been banished from the Sejm (Poland’s legislative lower house) a number of times for his reckless accusations and other attacks on other leading political figures?


At least Poland is immune from the Czech threat of the Communists being elected back into power. That’s because that’s the Polish Communists there, elected into power already, in the form of the SLD party; current premier Leszek Miller himself was once a member of the old Polish Politburo. But that’s all OK, because in Poland 1) The SLD are really more like ex-Communists, since they do (by-and-large) repudiate the days of the Polish People’s Republic and have advocated policies which are squarely within the European leftist, socialist tradition, and 2) If you don’t believe that, or are still not willing to trust a bunch of ex-Commies, well, then rest assured that the SLD is definitely on its way out of power anyway. That party, which has essentially been running a minority government for a long time, was recently fatally split when about half of its representatives in the legislature broke off, under the leadership of Sejm speaker Marek Borowski, to form a new SDPL party – Socialdemokracja Polska, or “Social Democracy Poland.” As a result, Premier Miller has announced that he will resign his position the day after Poland officially enters the EU, May 2. (Still, you have no choice but to continue to trust another ex-Commie, President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is definitely not on his way out of his office, at least to any premature schedule.)

Miller had recently been polling less than 10% when it came to the confidence of the Polish electorate. Among other things, that had made a lot of his fellow SLD party members nervous, thinking something rather wrong with such a situation, and that no doubt spurred the defections to the new SDPL. So maybe it makes sense that he should go, but then it might make even more sense to push the SLD out of the government entirely, at least until it proves once again – don’t hold your breath – that it has enough of the people’s support to be entrusted with the right to form such a government.

That means new elections, and those aren’t going to happen because President Kwasniewski has moved instead to simply replace Miller with another SLD prime minister, former finance minister Marek Belka (who these days, by the way, is an economic administrator for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq). You see, there are some disquieting indications on the Polish political landscape about who might win any such new elections, namely the Samoobrona, or “Self-Defense” party. That’s as in “self-defense” mainly for farmers; here I’m speaking here of that “notorious farmers’ party” that I mentioned up in the first paragraph, whose leader, Andrzej Lepper, has such a record of misbehaving in the Sejm. Indeed, Gazeta Wyborcza recently ran a report (Ethics Commission: Lepper Lied Again) about the fourth reprimand the Sejm’s Ethics Commission recently handed out to Lepper, for falsely accusing Speaker Marek Borowski of having purchased some stock of Bank Slaski. (Bank Slaski was privatized a few years back, being sold to the Netherlands’ ING Bank. It has remained controversial in Poland due to questions about share price manipulation.) And the other three reprimands? Two were for an infamous incident of last May 26, in which Lepper physically blocked access to the Sejm building for President Kwasniewski and smashed some windows, while the third was for falsely accusing a fellow-deputy (from the PSL, or the traditional farmer’s party) of illegal imports.

Nonetheless, it seems that the star of Lepper and his Self-Defense party is ascendant, or so at least according to a recent nationwide opinion poll, as Zycie Warszawy reports. In this poll, Samoobrona emerges as the country’s most popular party, with 28% support, as opposed to 25% for the runner-up, the centrist Platforma Obywatelska (“Civic Platform”) party, led by Jan Rokita. Lepper personally is the favored party leader among those polled, registering 26%, with Rokita next at 25%. Rczeczpospolita adds to that a discussion of Lepper’s poll rankings compared to those of President Kwasniewski (Lepper Pursues Kwasniewski). The percentage of Poles expressing confidence in their president is at an all-time low, at 68%, while those supporting Lepper have crossed the 50% barrier, to 53%. Rz also repeats the poll results showing the Samoobrona party ahead, and adds that in theoretical elections the League of Polish Families would win another 10% – that’s another ultra-right-wing political party with policies similar to those of Samoobrona, so that electoral support for the ultra-right would come in at nearly 40%.


What are those policies of Lepper’s party? Rzeczpospolita carries an excellent examination of Samoobrona’s party platform (Poland According to Samoobrona) – a detailed examination, with a column in red on the right side extracting many of the key passages from the text. If you think the Polish language is difficult to read, just try to read a detailed Polish economic document like this one, so I’ll just note the high points. According to Rz analyst Anita Blaszczak, this would be an economic policy mainly aimed at farmers and the unemployed. For farmers an agricultural minimum wage would be instituted, as would agricultural insurance heavily subsidized by the state. For the unemployed (actually, “those who can’t find work through no fault of their own”) there would be a minimum support payment of 733 zloty per month (which at current rates is $189 or €155). The party asserts that the “real causes” of Poland’s current economic problems (which especially feature high unemployment) are the national economic policies with regard to interest rates and the zloty, especially as conducted by the Polish Central Bank; a Samoobrona triumph would clearly precipitate as sweeping a change for those in charge of that institution as the law allows. The party would also institute import restrictions, not to mention reversing much of the privatization that has occurred in Poland (it’s platform calls that privatization “chaotic and criminal”), especially the privatization of banks.

Samoobrona was also among the few of Poland’s political parties to call for a “No” in the EU referendum of last June, and this shows in the party platform. The party would demand renegotiation of many of Poland’s terms of entry, especially those having to do with agriculture. But the treaty has been signed; those terms of entry are not up for any more discussion. What’s more, within the EU the sort of import restrictions that Lepper and his party are contemplating are not allowed. If you think the fuss within the EU a few years ago when Jörg Haider’s populist party entered into coalition in the Austrian government was nasty, you should remember that that merely had to do with politics; a Samoobrona victory will precipitate a much more nasty crisis, if the party is serious in instituting all of these EU-defying measures, since this time the argument will be over money.

Commenting at the bottom of the Rzeczpospolita article analyzing the Samoobrona platform, Halina Binczak notes that, although the platform contains some good intentions toward meeting the needs of the poor and unemployed, it mainly betrays the fact that its authors lack any concept about the fundamental workings of an economy in general, and in this era of globalization in particular. Still, at least Samoobrona has actually come out and staked out its position with such a platform; the Civic Platform hasn’t yet bothered to do so, while the SLD has, yet by its actions in government has shown that many of those in the party with positions with responsibility don’t necessarily agree with it.


Then there would also be a crisis of a different nature, as Samoobrona (claiming “we don’t have any argument with the Iraqi people”) has repeatedly called for the Polish troops serving on occupation duty in Iraq (indeed, commanding a sector there) to be called home. Especially with the reluctance of the new Spanish government to keep its troops in Iraq, this could be serious news for the Bush administration. As much as the Polish left (aided, it seems, by the president) are trying to stave off new elections for as long as possible, they are naturally sure to come along sooner or later; and the strength of Samoobrona as an opposition party raises the possibility of al-Qaeda terrorsts choosing once again to exercise their “vote,” by staging some sort of horrific attack within Poland to spur the electorate to reject entirely the current government, which sent troops over to fight the War in Iraq and to serve on occupation.

Still, there is some hope, as that Rzeczpospolita article on Lepper’s improving poll results points out, since the main poll was taken back before Borowski and his cohort had broken from the SLD to form their own SDPL, before Leszek Miller announced his resignation, and before President Kwasniewski intervened to propose a new administration headed by Marek Belka. Can the SDPL form an antidote to Samoobrona? Possibly; it’s too early to know. What is needed for that to happen was touched upon in an interview in Gazeta Wyborcza with the sociologist Andrzej Rychard (Failures Nurture Populism). In response to the question “What must be done so that Lepper does not win the parliamentary elections?” Rychard spoke of the need for mainstream Polish politicians to adopt more of an attitude of “safe modernization,” i.e. to be progressive but with a view to the fears of the electorate over economic uncertainty, so that that electorate can steer itself away from what he calls “unrealistic promises” (i.e. from the likes of Lepper) and take a rational approach to the country’s current problems.

What with the Madrid bombings, the recent electoral repudiation of the French government, and the continuing struggle to find a text for the European Constitution that all member-states can agree on, the EU hardly needs another crisis. But that looks like what it is likely to get, and in the largest of the ten new member states by far, if current Polish political trends do not reverse themselves.

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