Political music for four hands: Who and what shapes the agenda of Poland's ruling Law and Justice
Who and what shapes the agenda of the ruling Law and Justice party
On ulica Adam Mickiewicz in Warsaw’s Zoliborz District stands a nondescript two-story grey building surrounded by a transparent fence. It’s possible to get pretty close to the building and by the entrance there’s a structure that looks like a guard post. Except that no one pops out of the booth when strangers approach to ask them to show their ID. This modest villa is where the leader of Law and Justice (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, lives.
Since October 2015 when this conservative political party won in the parliamentary election with more than 37% of the vote, this is also where the most important Polish policies have been approved. The second place where key policy issues are decided is ul. Novohradska 84, PiS
headquarters. The list of locations where strategic management of the country takes place includes neither the presidential palace nor the office of the Council of Ministers. Today, the government system of Poland is united and cemented in the person of Jaroslaw Kaczynski although, formally, the properly democratic and constitutional mandate belongs, not to him, but to President Andrzej Duda.
Yet during the course of his first year in the presidency, Duda has unfailingly carried out the will of the “prezes” and has gained a reputation as the least independent president in the history of Poland. Duda has signed all the bills passed by the Polish Sejm without challenging their constitutionality, made the re-elected judges of the Constitutional Court say their vows in front of Kaczynski at six in the morning, and participated in the reburial of the “damned soldier,” Zygmunt Szendzeliarz, who fought with the forest brotherhood against the communists.
The problem is that these partisans also attacked civilians, including Lithuanians and Belarusians. Today, the Polish government is promoting this controversial historical topic. The “damned soldiers” fought not only against the external communist enemy but also with those locals who were considered traitors—a subject that clearly appeals to the ideologists of historical policy in government and at least partly explains how Kaczynski himself and his inner circle identify themselves politically. To them, the “damned soldiers” not only fight external threats but also homegrown traitors.
“Kaczynski has managed to turn Duda into a government notary public,” says Jakub Majmurek, a journalist with Krytyka Polityczna. “Whatever propositions the president announces are adjusted according to the party line. Sometimes Duda’s speeches are more conciliatory than those of the PiS leader, but even at the rhetorical level, the president cannot be called the liberal face of PiS. Internal factions within this party are not based on ideological principles but on how much access they have to the government and to the ear of its leader.”
For more than two decades, Poland has moved towards a political system in which institutions stand above the personalities of those in power, and not the reverse. For instance, when the National Media Council as an independent governing body, fired Jacek Kurski, the head of PTV, Poland’s public television company, he went off to Novohradska 84. After this the NMC’s chair was called on the carpet and the decision was suddenly reversed. Kurski was allowed to keep working until October 2016, when a competition was called to fill his post. And he was allowed to participate as well.
On one hand, PiS is seen as a monolith. In public, there are no facts or even rumors about any kind of internal conflicts or battles at the highest level. The party has no “wings,” either, whether conservative or liberal. As one of the editors of Gazeta Polska, Wojciech Mucha ex- plains, “You can look in vain for a liberal faction in PiS. This party has no politicians who concern themselves with liberal topics: abortion, euthanasia or same-sex marriage. Among PiS politicians, there is only a difference in accents on certain topics.”
As a political phenomenon, Law and Justice has no analogous party in Ukraine, either. Founded in 2001 by Lech Kaczynski, it mostly drew politicians from center-right forces from the 1990s: the Christian Popular Union, the Alliance of Right Forces and the Conservative Popular Union. It grew as a movement against “corruption, oligarchs and theft of state assets” and it was these “enemies” that PiS focused on while it was in official opposition to the ruling Civic Platform (PO). It was neither the establishment party nor the party of the nouveaux riches, nor the party of alternative youthful movements. The essence of its rightist ideology came down to building a “strong Poland based on essential Christian values” that could talk with Berlin as an equal, counteract Russia’s aggressive policies, and restore the Polish version of historical justice with regard to all of the most painful and controversial events: from the 1943-45 tragedies in Volyn and Halychyna to the Smolensk air crash in 2010.
Accordingly, conservative politicians within PiS are able to choose among a variety of thematic platforms those that appeal to them the most. The party has extreme conservatives who are promoting their versions of proper Christian values. The largest and most influential group of officials has made it their goal, now that they are in power, to restore the domestic economy, the Polish courts, the police, public media, the army, the civil service, education, and culture. But not all of their restorative reforms have had positive feedback from Brussels. There, some of PiS’s approaches such as the hasty revision of laws on the Constitutional Court, the civil service, public media, and internet monitoring are seen as threatening democracy. The result has been that members of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission have begun to visit Warsaw more frequently. Among others, they have demanded that the newly-elected government respect and enforce the decisions of the Constitutional Tribunal.
Beside Christian conservatives and officials in PiS’s ranks, there are also populists. Their objective is to work with the most conservative and radically oriented elements among Polish voters. This is seen as necessary in order to prevent the emergence of radical populist parties in
CONSERVATIVE POLITICIANS WITHIN PiS ARE ABLE TO CHOOSE AMONG A VARIETY OF THEMATIC PLATFORMS THOSE THAT APPEAL TO THEM THE MOST
the style of Hungary’s nationalist party, Jobbik, in Poland. So far, this has worked.
Any party such as PiS that is strictly against corruption and the “thieves” in the ranks of its predecessors has to offer something more than expository rhetoric in order to gain the loyalty of voters. This kind of following can either be bought, as is typically done by dictators in commodity-based autocracies like Uzbekistan, or it can be attracted by moral arguments combined with effective socio-economic policies. For Poland, only the second option is a viable pathway. Thus, the previous and current actions of PiS are being scrutinized under a microscope by a liberal press that is extremely critical of the ruling party. Indeed, the heatedness of the criticism sometimes comes to a boil, with Polish journalists talking about an intellectual and verbal “civil war” between the conservative and liberal camps.
When PiS returned to power, it was able to avoid high-profile corruption scandals. Kaczynski’s home in Zoliborz can, to some extent, be seen as a metaphor for Poland’s current ruling elite and a moral argument: it consists predominantly of people of modest means. They cannot even imagine themselves the range of unwritten privileges and preferences that continue to be used, in circumvention and violation of the law, by those in power in Ukraine today.
Which is not to say that PiS has managed to completely avoid any hint of scandal over the past year. Adam Michnik’s liberal-leaning Gazeta Wyborcza published an investigation of the links between current Defense Minister Antoni Macierewycz and Robert Luśnia, a secret service agent from communist times. The lustration court has shown that the latter was spying on his colleagues in the Youth Movement of Poland and the Independent Student Association during the 1980s. When the court handed down its ruling, Lusznja was the Sejm ambassador of that same political group as Macierewycz, the Catholic National Movement. Macierewycz ejected Lusznja in his parliamentary faction, but not out of the party. The years passed and now it turns out that the current Minister of Defense is part of the administration of Glos, whose leader is none other than Robert Lusznja. Gazeta Wyborcza journalists were able to show that, back in the 1990s, people who knew this politician and businessman had already suspected him of ties with the secret police. Macierewycz, on the other hand, claimed that he was not aware of anything of this nature in the past of his colleague of many years until the lustration court exposed the facts.
Antoni Macierewycz is not only the author of an alternate investigation of the Smolensk catastrophe that is supposed to prove, once and for all, that it was no accident, he is also the ideolog of the cult of “Smolensk martyrs.” Thus, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, he proposed reading out the list of those Polish politicians who were died outside Smolensk. This was supposed to place the deaths of the Polish elite in Russia with the insurrectionists of the Armia Krajowa who fought the Nazis, to restore a non-communist Poland. It was at that point that Polish traitors switched sides to the soviet communists and waited for their moment to enter Warsaw in the columns of the Red Army. According to this interpretation of history, the death of Poland’s patriotic elite in the Russian forests was also convenient, not just for the Kremlin but to Poland’s own defectors. And now it seems that the main national fighter against traitors has spent years doing business with one of them. Many Poles don’t understand why Kaczynski continues to keep the odious Macierewycz in the defense post.
But this is not the end of it. Among the closest advisors of the PiS leader are other “interesting” individuals. For instance, his closest brother-at-arms since the very beginning of Polish transformation include Adam Lipinski, the head of the political office of the Prime Minister; Joachim Brudzinski, deputy speaker of the Sejm; Marek Kuchczynski, speaker of the Sejm; and Mariusz Blaszczak, Interior Minister. They are called the “Common Ground Center” group, the one-time party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski that
WHEN PiS RETURNED TO POWER, IT WAS ABLE TO AVOID HIGH-PROFILE CORRUPTION SCANDALS. KACZYNSKI'S HOME CAN BE SEEN AS A METAPHOR FOR POLAND'S CURRENT RULING ELITE AND A MORAL ARGUMENT: IT CONSISTS OF PEOPLE OF MODEST MEANS
was elected to the Sejm in the 1990s. Apart from them, the professorial duumvirate of Minister of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Glinski and Minister of Science and Higher Education Jaroslaw Gowin are following their own political path. Gowin, incidentally, was once part of the Civic Platform.
Yet another center of power has been formed around the Special Forces coordinator, Mariusz Kaminski. Although there is no formal liberal grouping in the ruling elite, neoliberal ideas are being promoted by the influential Minister of Development and a banker by profession, Mateusz Morawiecki. This 48-year-old politician, together with 46-year-old Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro are seen as potential replacements for the 67-yearold Kaczynski as the next PiS leader.
But for now, the PiS boss holds the reins of power and leverage tightly in his hands. And all this is as it should be in a boss-based party like PiS, says Marek Troszczynski, a Polish political analyst and sociologist from Collegium Civitas.
For most Poles, the “four-handed piano playing” of Kaczynski and Duda is quite acceptable for now. According to an August poll by the Center for Public Opinion Research, the president is currently supported by 64% of Polish voters and Kaczynski by 47%. What’s more, the ratings of the PiS leaders are rising, leaving them with a firm carte-blanche to carry on their policies.
A shift? For decades, Poland has been moving towards a political system in which institutions stand above personalities. Today, this principle is not entirely inviolable