Friday, May 18, 2007

Poland's purges

False lustre
May 17th 2007 | WARSAW
From The Economist print edition

The Polish government is all tangled up in the past

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OUTSIDERS like to decry Poland's ruling twins, sometimes as buffoons, sometimes as bloodthirsty inquisitors. Both characterisations of Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, respectively president and prime minister, are unfair, but each contains a grain of truth. The twins' foreign policy has been inept, sometimes comically so. And, until it was struck down by the constitutional court last week, their vetting law seemed not only sweeping, but downright sinister.

Its aim was to screen 700,000 people for past collaboration with the communist-era secret police, including not only journalists and academics but also some (previously vetted) anti-communist politicians, such as Bronislaw Geremek, a former foreign minister. Mr Geremek refused to complete another vetting declaration, thereby risking his seat in the European Parliament. This prompted huge criticism: Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Green colleague, said it was like “ordering a Jew in a concentration camp to submit a statement that he hasn't collaborated with the Nazis.”

The Kaczynskis' initial reaction was to counter-attack. At one point they and their allies even seemed to challenge the constitutional court's legitimacy. In a bizarre intervention on the day of its ruling, a deputy from the ruling Law and Justice party, Arkadiusz Mularczyk, demanded a delay, producing hurriedly obtained secret-police files on some of the judges. Now the government has accepted the court's ruling, which guts the central provisions of the law. Journalists and academics are excluded, and the penalty for non-compliance—a ten-year ban from a person's profession—was also struck down.

This has avoided a constitutional crisis, but left the question of what to do with Poland's millions of locked-up secret-police files, which occupy 80km (50 miles) of shelf-space. Secrecy allows the wicked to pose as blameless, and offers much scope for blackmail. The emerging consensus is to replace the vetting law with an open-archive policy. One idea is to allow access by everyone to everything. Yet the files contain much private information, accurate or not, on things like medical conditions or sexual indiscretions.

So a more likely answer will be to open the files to public scrutiny with non-political material expunged. But by whom? Some suspect that the whole subject will now get bogged down in the question of reforming the management of the archives, delaying embarrassing revelations for many years.

Behind the row lie some sharply different views of history. The Kaczynskis believe that, after communism collapsed in 1989, the transition to democracy was botched—maybe even sabotaged—by elements from the old regime. They yearn to bust the crony-capitalist arrangements that have grown up between business, officialdom, the media and leftist politicians. Mr Geremek's 20-year stint in the opposition counts for little: how, critics ask, did he get the juicy job of running the Polish Cultural Centre in Paris in 1960, at the height of the cold war, without having ties to Polish (or Soviet) intelligence?

Others say that the Kaczynskis themselves are prisoners of the suspicious, confrontational mindset engendered by totalitarianism. Justice is one thing; revenge another. Since 1989 Poland has tamed inflation and built a thriving market economy. Now it needs to modernise its public services and play a constructive role in Europe. Ending the heated controversy over the vetting law offers the best chance of concentrating on that.


Otto said...

I am glad you finally wrote about this. Initially, I gave Kaczynski brothers the benefit of the doubt. I am now dismayed and alarmed by this attempt to impose such draconian measures as ten-year employment bans for merely failing to submit a declaration. The twins never bothered to explain how, for example, blackmail could affect performance of a lecturer teaching calculus to engineering students. In fact, twins don't like to explain, they prefer to attack their opponents ad hominem, implying that their critics are former informers, thieves and the like.

Something has gone terribly wrong. I think this reveals a darker side of Polish mentality. Poles often are spiteful and like to humiliate each other. In the past this was not always bad - Polish Communists were less oppressive than elsewhere in the Soviet bloc, partly at least because the pepole they ruled humiliated them frequently. In a democracy, this mentality can lead to behaviors such as "we won 51% of the vote so let's inflict pain on the other 49%".

It's very disappointing and contrary to the past, when Poland was one of the freest countries in Europe, e.g. not having censorship and allowing Protestant printers to operate freely in a mostly Catholic country at the time when other Europeans were killing each other over their religion.

Some facts need to be added to what you already wrote:
- Poland already had a vetting law. It applied only to a limited number of high government/parliamentary officials. A rhetorical question: what was so bad about it?
- You failed to mention that files on the judges that MP Mularczyk produced contained nothing of value. The judges rebuffed attempts to recruit them as informers; Mularczyk (most likely acting on orders from the twins) knew this but withheld it. The use of innuendo ("there are files on them so there must be something wrong with them") is very typical of the current rulers.
- the accusations about crony capitalism are partly correct. It is true that the process of privatization often lacked transparency. If politicians' wives operated "charitable" foundations which (just by coincidence, wink, wink) received money from the buyers of privatised companies, then it is fair to suspect that prices were lowered in return for bribes. Such practices created a fertile ground without which the Law and Justice party wouldn't have sprouted let alone won.
- the main opposition party, the Civic Platform is barely better as it voted for most of the vetting measures. In fact, had the Civic Platform won the 2005 election, things could be just as bad - they would have implemented measures only slightly less draconian, but having better looks and being on better terms with the media, they might have met much less resistance.

It is a sad day when former Communists defend liberty while politicians with roots in Solidarity attempt to take it away.

Ptaszek said...

I am seriously affraid that this government is not planning to undertake any economic reforms.
As soon as the topic of "lustration" finishes, they will start a new "battle agains dark forces" in order to show to the public that they are protecting moral values of the country.
Prime Minister J. Kaczyński said yesterday that Poland should consider reintroduction of death sentence.
After WSI, Rospuda, Abortion and lustration this will be an another public war just to make an impression that Law & Justice is doing anything.

bonzoq said...

Hi Edward,

I can't wait to see what you think about the recent EU-Russia summit.

Kuba said...

Helo Otto,
Is it the twins that don't like to explain or you (and the likes) that would not listen?

On the particular issue that you have raised as unclear to you, I am at your service with an explanation.
It is presumed that paedagogy is a proffession of public trust because being a teacher endows you with the bona fide authority that you would not be enjoying in case of an accidental interhuman contact. Therefore, if you would agree that collaboration with the foreign-power-imposed oppressive regime's secret police (which you have somewhat manipulatively called 'a blackmail')is not commendable and moreover - demands some kind of marking as socially undesirable - then it should be quite obvious why it is not indifferent whether a person who proffessionally steps forward in authority has had such despicable episode in life or not.

Of course, calculus itself is not ethically sensitive and a snitch could well teach it to engineering students, however such pure instance is non-existent - in practice, academic teacher's activity is never as narrowly defined. For one, ac.teacher has life after classes - that is to say , he performs other duties, such as those of a member of his department's council - in that capacity he has a voice in all matters concerning campus life, which far exceeds the scope of calculus and not infrequently involves decissions which might be affected by an undisclosed biographical fact.

The same rationale has candidates for teaching positions produce declarations of being correct as concerns other socially undesirable behavior such as stealing or violating women and/or children.

Would you venture to extend a parallel argument that, say, a paedophile might be still excellent teacher of calculus? Indeed, he might. He might even be a valued psychologist, but that does not mean, I hope, that you would opt for allowing such individual to continue to practice!?;)

Now, I agree in general that the latest vetting law could have been prepared better - to say mildly - and I do not necesserily think that automatic 10yr ban should always ensue.

I do, however, see the burning necessity that such inglorious facts be publicly known so that choices are fairer.

On a broader point. It is curious that the opponents of vetting usually fail to propose a viable solution to replace the 'draconian' law

It seems, instead, they'd rather have recourse to a wildly overstated and emotional vocabulary and ungrounded attacks such as your 'they prefer to attack their opponents ad hominem, implying that their critics are former informers, thieves' (I pray you tell me exactly what instance you have in mind?)

You then ask rhetorically what was wrong with the extant vetting law, suggesting it was enough and fair...

Again, I am willing to tell you a reason - just one, for the economy of space - why it was not so.

First and foremost - it was ineffective resulting in painfully slow procedures and bizzare verdicts - mostly because it provided that a separate legal procedure be conducted by what, in fact, was a separate legal system; vetting courts, a separate prosecution - all behind closed doors. It was a parody. After all, it is ridiculous to be clearing your name of accusations behind closed doors,don't you think?

Thus, a small body of judges could have been treating even the hardest of evidence however they fancied without the public eye on them.

Besides, if the new law had arguably to wide a scope - the former's was too narrow, leaving many posts outside its reach - to name only the diplomatic service.

I shall mercifully leave your 'historiosophy' at rest.

I just would like to add that you are at odds with the truth when you say that 'The judges rebuffed attempts to recruit them as informers' - in fact - they had been recruited but proved inefficient - a slight difference.

Finally: what on earth was it that you meant by: 'It is a sad day when former Communists defend liberty while politicians with roots in Solidarity attempt to take it away. ???

...its sheer absurd!

Kuba said...

Behind the row lie some sharply different views of history. says Edward Lucas...

No, not quite so!...perhaps the author would like to present the conflict David Irving vs. the decent part of humanity as that of 'sharply different views of history'?

It seems Mr.E.L clutches firmly to the ill-conceived notion of fairness granting those that say that ' after communism collapsed in 1989, the transition to democracy was' not 'botched—maybe even sabotaged—by elements from the old regime.' and deny the existence of 'the crony-capitalist arrangements that have grown up between business, officialdom, the media and leftist politicians' the status of holders of a different view of history.

Again - no, mr journalist, it is not the Kaczynskis who believe that it was otherwise - it IS the historical truth and is rarely seriously contested. In fact, you can see even in Otto's comment that even the opponents concede it was so.

...but you still continue to muddle it up..

It is far-fetched and ungrounded to impute that Kaczynski's 'beliefs' include the one that Mr Geremek's 20-year stint in the opposition counts for little plus it is woven out of the thin air; no body has questioned his 'stint' apart from Mr.Geremek himself, by defiantly refusing to obey the law (however bad, it is hardly the way to change it!) and shamelessly rallying foreign support against his country's legal framework!

You further misrepresent the issue badly by keeping silent about that fact - denounced in Poland even by people otherwise hostile to Kaczynski's (B. Komorowski, P.Śpiewak of Civic Platform)

Then, you cite 'critics' doubts about 'how did he get the juicy job of running the Polish Cultural Centre in Paris in 1960, at the height of the cold war, without having ties to Polish (or Soviet) intelligence?'...well, do you mean to suggest it was possible without it? Do you?...

Lastly, it must be added to your slanted picture, since you emphasize irregular behaviour towards the Tribunal on the twins' part - without striking argument about it - that it would be fair to mention the utterly bizzare conduct of the Tribunal - more precisely, that its ruling is, in broader perspective, a parody of its function and bears more than one mark of being patched up together in the spur of the moment - for one example; it deemed unconstitutional the points which the same Tribunal had previously allowed for.

Most importantly - the Tribunal acted counter to what it has been called for; instead of defending the nation's constitutional rights - it has seriously infringed them, by closing access to archives even for historians, brazenly violating freedom of scientific research and in broader perspective - nations right to know the truth - mini-Gods who usurp the guard of the tree of knowledge!! ...all to defend the rights of those who hide skeletons in their closets, so as not to - God forbid - disturb their sweet impunity!

I find that outrageous and I say that by acting this way the Tribunal deprives itself of the right to claim such high place in the state showing exactly as much instrumentality as the ruling party!

The same goes for Mr. Geremek who himself flushed his authority by the anarchic demenaour he has shown.

wojciech said...

What a rant!

WhatnewEurope? said...

Berlin is not eating Polish meat

29/05/2007 21:12 MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov) - Polish meat vendors have let down their homeland once again. Warsaw will no longer be able to claim that Russia is turning down its meat for political reasons. The local sanitary services of the Berlin district of Moabit have qualified Polish meat as health-threatening.

Initially, they did not even have to conduct sophisticated tests. The meat looked so bad that the police immediately arrested five tons of Polish turkey.

At first, the sanitary services became suspicious about mandatory certificates. They not only failed to conform to the German rules, but were not even properly executed. So, Poland has exported meat without even bothering about paperwork.

After studying meat samples, the veterinary and sanitary services and experts from the institute of food, medicines and animal diseases passed their verdict - the meat is unfit for consumption.

News from Berlin has given Moscow another excuse to say what it thinks about Polish meat. After the summit in Samara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in no uncertain terms that the European Union was unanimously interested in an early lifting of a ban on meat imports from Poland. Today, she may find it difficult to uphold this position, especially after President Vladimir Putin has responded with a rather tough remark. He said that the arrest of Polish meat in Germany confirmed its problematic quality.

During the talks with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, he made it clear that at the forthcoming summit in the German city of Heiligendamm he would not hurt Merkel's pride: "I won't tell her: 'You wouldn't eat this meat yourself but want to feed it to me.' I won't say that."

Moscow is not refusing to lift the ban on Polish exports to Russia. During his recent talk with Minister of Agriculture Alexei Gordeyev, Putin emphasized that this question should be settled as soon as possible by experts. He said this after Gordeyev complained to him about delays in the Warsaw-Brussels talks.

Moscow's desire to get out of the deadlock is easy to explain. Exerting pressure on major European countries, Warsaw has vetoed the adoption of a new EU-Russia agreement. The incident in Berlin may encourage the EU to seek an early end to the meat row.

Warsaw is already saying that the Berlin incident should be seen as a single case and unfair practices of an individual supplier. But this single case attests to a trend. Poland has sent patently dangerous meat without any paperwork. Such cases happened before but were not made public knowledge. Now it is clear that the problem is more serious. It has nothing to do with politics but threatens the health of consumers both in Moscow and Berlin.