Thursday, February 15, 2007

europe.view column on Poland

Right question, wrong answer
Feb 15th 2007From
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.


Jerzy said...

Whatever slur against PiS supposed autocracy you produce, Polish courts are not politically biased by Kaczynski and Poland is member of EU and observes EU rules of law.

Communist secret agents are strangely
relucant to sue to Brussels over mistreatment in Poland. Why Amnesty International is somehow disinterested in criminally connected politicians you call "victims of Kaczynski witch-hunt"?
Are you, Mr. journalist, going to alert them?

And it is totally unimportant for me if "uklad" is unified mafia or many small cliques. Kaczynscy actually perhaps used a word of "uklad" only figuratively.
Sleaze is major problem for bussiness and private people alike and Kaczynscy made first reasonably succesful attempt to fight it.

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Jerzy

Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the Kaczynscy are the first political leaders who have a real appetite for sleazebusting. Unlike most journalists who write about Poland, I do not dismiss them as idiots or autocrats. However I think they are going in the wrong direction now with this climate of suspicion. The treatment of Orlowski, Grajewski, Krawczyk etc is disgraceful. The new lustration law is contradictory and badly drafted (allows people like Oleksy to get off, but catches small fry).

Also the law is being used politically--do you really think that if Marcinkewicz had won the mayor's election and had not filled in his wife's asset declaration properly that there would be a re-run. They are applying the law strictly against their opponents only. Also, they do not accept constitutional tribunal's legitimacy.

So I don't think they are mad, or bad, but I do think that they are heading in the wrong direction, and this is wasting a big opportunity for Poland



Jerzy said...

Kaczynski seek justice among their own too - last week head of Prime Minister Chancellery (Sekretarz Kancelarii Ministra) had to step down because of secret police ties.

What you say amounts to: Kaczynscy shouldn't fight sleaze in people tied to opposition parties. Who else will?

Jerzy said...

PS. Treatment of Krawczyk is disgraceful? Woman stepped up accusing three high politicians, one after another, to be father of their daughter, and DNA tests showed that neither is. - This is disgraceful treatment of Mrs. Krawczyk? She was not even sued for lying.

bonzoq said...

i think edward meant andrzej krawczyk, the presidential minister, not aneta krawczyk.

Edward Lucas said...

bonzoq is right. Jerzy, how can you defend treatment of Grajewski et al. This is a guy who risked a lot in the 1980s publishing underground material, and then worked for WSI as a consultant in the early 1990s because he was expert on Russian intelligence. Now he is booted out--fow what, exactly? The paranoia and disorganisation of this govt is truly remarkable. Every foreigner I met this week in Warsaw--even those who wish Poland well from the bottom of their hearts--is in despair about the kooky, shortsighted approach.


Rabab&Piotr said...

I imagine this is a news article
about your article.,53600,3928982.html

I have to say that I agree with your views on Poland's government and I just cannot wait next elections. I think that a good results of Poland's economy have been achieved because of EU membership. Therefore, I wish, more and more decision regarding Poland could be done in Brussels.