Poland's government Twin problems
Jul 13th 2006 WARSAW From The Economist print editionPoland is suffering from a bad image. Blame the Kaczynski brothers
One of them is now prime minister
IT IS easy to argue that the Law and Justice party has done disappointingly little in the nine months since it won Poland's parliamentary and presidential elections. But in one respect it has done a lot: once a regional heavyweight, respected in America and around Europe, the country now attracts ridicule and condemnation.
The main culprit is the president, Lech Kaczynski. Chaotic organisation, poor staff and inexperience have led to a series of gaffes, rows and snubs. The latest was his withdrawal from a trilateral summit with France and Germany after a satirical article in a minor German daily. By insisting that the German government apologise, Mr Kaczynski cast doubt on his understanding of press freedom.
Another culprit is the right-wing League of Polish Families, one of two small parties in the ruling coalition. It attracts a thuggish fringe, deliberately conflates homosexuality with paedophilia, and has failed to shake off accusations of anti-Semitism. The Israeli ambassador refuses to meet its leader, Roman Giertych, who is deputy prime minister and also in charge of education. Mr Giertych's father, Maciej, a member of the European Parliament, recently made a speech praising Franco, Spain's fascist dictator, as a hero and statesman of a stature Europe is now sorely lacking.
Mr Kaczynski's identical twin brother Jaroslaw, who runs the Law and Justice party, is doing his bit too. This week he took over as prime minister from Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, who was the country's most-trusted politician, and also proved himself a competent negotiator on Poland's behalf at European summits.
The switch was a big surprise. Mr Kaczynski argues that the government will be more stable if he is running it from the front rather than from the back seat, as before. By becoming prime minister, though, he is breaking an earlier pledge, when he argued that it would look odd to have the two top political positions in Poland occupied by identical twins.
Now the Kaczynski brothers (particularly Jaroslaw, who is the brainier and bossier one) are in full charge. Their priority is to press ahead with the moral regeneration of Poland, which implies fierce criticism of both its communist history and the sleaze and injustice of the past 15 years. In practical terms, that means tough anti-corruption measures and a purge of the public sector.
Much of this is welcome. Poland has been shackled by the influence-peddling of the old elite. The justice and interior ministries have been notably successful of late in putting more police on the streets and bringing more criminals to justice. The defence minister has closed down the lawless military intelligence service.
But this is only part of what is needed. There remains a huge need for reform in the public administration, such as tax collection. Shake-ups in pensions, welfare payments and farm subsidies are also long overdue, but they may be blocked by the two populist parties in the coalition. Mr Kaczynski has brought in a well-respected free-market economist, Stanislaw Kluza, as finance minister, after a previous incumbent, Zyta Gilowska, was forced out on (possibly trumped-up) spying charges. But the Kaczynski brothers still have a strong welfarist streak.
For now Poland's economy is booming and public finances are buoyant. Growth this year will be over 5%; inflation is the lowest in the European Union; unemployment is coming down. Foreign firms, including Toyota and Google, are eagerly eyeing up Poland. Much of the credit goes to Mr Marcinkiewicz, who wisely avoided picking fights with such Law and Justice bogeymen as the central bank, the European Commission and foreign investors. He will be a hard act to follow.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Poland's government Twin problems