On October 9, 2011, the liberal and effusively Europhoric Civic Platform (PO) trounced the populist and mildly conservative Law and Justice (PiS) 39.18% to 29.98%. The rest of the vote went to the post-Communist Polish Peasant Party (PSL), the transformed Marxist-Leninist Union of the Democratic Left (SLD), and the socialist-libertine Palikot Movement (RP), a PO spin-off group, dubbed so after its founder, Janusz Palikot, virtually a single issue contender who would like to turn Poland into San Francisco. Voter turnout was 48.87%.
For the first time in Poland’s recent democratic history, since the implosion of the Soviet Union, the incumbent governing party has won an election. The rule has been to govern one four year cycle, sometimes even less, and, then suffer a predictable defeat. Thus, the electoral victory of the ruling Civic Platform is unprecedented not only in Poland but also in the post-Soviet sphere, broadly understood as not only the former captive republics of the USSR but also the erstwhile colonies of the Kremlin in Central and Eastern Europe.
Naturally, in Belarus and Russia, the electoral outcomes have been programmed into the system with brazen crudeness by Minsk’s dictator Oleksandr Lukashenka and with steely deception by Moscow’s boss Vladimir Putin. In a free country, they would be promptly voted out.
“Throw the rascals out” has been the practice of other post-Soviet nations since independence. Thus, cyclically, the post-Communist electorates punish their elected officials. The assumption is that the people are helpless against the cynical and kleptocratic post-Communist elites except at the ballot box. This year, the Poles interrupted the predictably monotonous ritual. Where they finally satisfied with the liberal Civic Platform government? Far from it. The Polish electorate simply has caught up with advanced democracies of Western Europe.
Consider this: In “old Europe,” the people are thoroughly alienated from the Eurocratic elites who rule and decide issues frequently without consulting the grassroots. They are corrupt and virtually indistinguishable. They simply rotate in power under a variety of party labels: liberal, socialist, or Christian democratic. No mavericks can break through to challenge them successfully. This guarantees stability in the European Union. But it also breeds voter cynicism. Thus, many people tend to abstain from voting. The voter participation has been steadily declining in many Western European nations.
In Poland, a similar phenomenon has been taking place. Less than 49% of the electorate participated in the current democratic affair. Most abstained probably because they did not care at all to exercise their right as citizens. A few have refused to cast their vote because they resent the polarization of the political scene and its monopolization by the PO and the PiS. This concerns the traditionalist conservatives and libertarians, such as the New Right, which was disenfranchised by the post-Communist courts, but also other outfits whose electorates bolted to join the PiS. However, many others refrained from voting because they see the system as hopelessly rigged against any meaningful change.
After all, there has been no de-Communization and no property restitution. There has been no reckoning for the crimes of Communism. The erstwhile agents of the secret police got away with barely more than a slap on the wrist. More often than not, the victims of the totalitarian regime have not been compensated for their suffering. The nation is mired in bureaucracy and overtaxed. Official corruption, nepotism, and lack of transparency seriously impede business and trade.
Consequently, the popular perception is that hardly anything substantial has changed since 1989. Post-Communism is Communism transformed into a seemingly democratic form with pseudo-free market accouterments of crony capitalism. Perhaps all has changed and nothing has changed.
Most Poles who cast their votes in the present election do not seek change. They yearn for stability. They are indifferent to the liberal government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s broken promises, infrastructural failures, project mismanagements, allegations of corruption, and craven abdication of Poland’s sovereign rights to Russia in the wake of the Smolensk air disaster in April 2010. They wish to maintain in power a regime that is most compatible and congruous with other governments of the European Union, in particular Brussels and Berlin. They want a government that does not reform too much domestically because it would upset the benign rhythm of the ongoing transformation that has provided the Communists with golden parachutes and their enablers with nests of gold and political power. The citizens who have backed the PO believe Poland to be too puny to rock the boat internationally, in particular as far as Russia is concerned.
It sounds like an unimpressive and unimaginative program minimum. It may be good for survival in fair weather, but not between newly assertive Berlin and revanchist Moscow. Poland needs domestic reforms, for it needs strength externally. A prosperous nation can project its power in self-defense. Warsaw must also put itself together well to be a credible ally for the United States. In this context, both the PO electoral platform and the lackluster performance of its government fail to impress.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the majority of Americans of Polish extraction of who hold dual citizenship have voted for the opposition Law and Justice, as flawed as it is, easily identifying with the message of reform and greatness for the Old Country. In the United States, the PiS won 66.5% against 23.8% for the PO. The libertine RP polled 3.6%, while the post-Communist peasants polled 1.9%. The Marxist-Leninist SLD got 1.5%. Only in America.
William F. Buckley, Jr., has famously proposed to make Israel our 51st state to fix its socialist economy and to defend it successfully. If making Poland the 52nd state is not in the cards anytime soon, perhaps we should grant the Poles the long overdue privilege to travel without a visa to the U.S. so they could learn about life without post-Communism and start voting conservatively like their Polish-American cousins in the New World.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC, 10 October 2011