Right question, wrong answer
Feb 15th 2007From Economist.com
The job of Poland's government is reform, not revenge
GIGGLING at Poland's government for its incompetence, provincialism and narrow-mindedness is to miss the point. The crusty, prickly conservatives of Law and Justice—chiefly the Kaczynski twins, who hold the offices of president (Lech) and prime minister (Jaroslaw)—did not come to power thinking that they would make Poland a diplomatic powerhouse, or a beacon of liberal economic reform and modernity.
Their aim is different: to purify Poland of what they see as the shameful sleaze of the past 17 years. In their eyes, a sinister combination of crooked businessmen, corrupt officials and lawless spooks has consolidated economic and administrative power, usurping what should have been an anti-communist revolution. This putative coalition of post-communist interest groups and clans is commonly called, in Polish, the uklad (pronounced ook-wad), a word which can be translated both as "deal" and "establishment".
That raises three questions. First, does the uklad really exist? Second, is it harmful? Thirdly, are the Kaczynski brothers' tactics in dealing with it correct? Answering the first definitively is hard. It is not as if the uklad has an office, meetings or formal membership list. What is clear is that no attempt was made in 1989 to stop such a thing developing. The "thick line" that was drawn under the past allowed a seemingly peaceful formal transfer of power.
Ex-spooks and ex-apparatchiks went gleefully into business, and have thrived for reasons that go beyond their business acumen. A successful, even a disgraceful, career in the Polish People's Republic has proved no bar to success in the private or public sectors. The military intelligence service, the WSI, seems to have been a law unto itself once its communist masters retreated.
So the uklad is, at least, a useful metaphor. Does it matter? The trade-off is between peace and purity. Excluding the old regime's people might have been dangerous. Giving them a stake in the new system made it stable. Yet their unfair advantages, of money and connections, rankle with honest citizens who never collaborated.
It is entirely defensible, then, to argue that Poland should be a country in which old connections matter less, and honesty and hard work matter more. The big question—and the weakest point in the Kaczynskis' approach—is how to get there.
One way is to use the criminal justice system to attack those with dubious pasts. Pilfering of state assets, insider trading, bribery in public procurement: there is plenty of material. But this route is risky. Whom do you pick on, and where do you start? The great danger is of a vindictive, arbitrary witch-hunt, where communist-era tactics of denunciation and punishment are used against those whose main crime is being unlucky, not wicked.
That seems to be the way that the Kaczynskis are going, both with their enemies and even—surprisingly—with their friends. In recent weeks a distinguished presidential adviser was fired humiliatingly because of a single document signed under great stress during the communist era, an act which he had immediately admitted to his dissident friends, and repudiated. Another has been ejected from public life because he worked for the WSI as a consultant in the post-communist era. A senior diplomat has been deprived of his promised ambassadorship because his brother worked for Poland's previous president, an ex-communist.
Fighting the totalitarian legacy with totalitarian tools is unlikely to work. The way to shake up Poland's crony capitalism is not by selectively hunting down the cronies, but by making it such an open, liberal and competitive society that the old connections no longer count for much. That means more privatisation (and thus less room for manipulation), more deregulation, and welcoming all forms of outside competition. But it is hard to imagine the Kaczynskis humming that tune any time soon.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Right question, wrong answer