“When you are winning a war almost everything that happens can be claimed to be right and wise.” So thought Winston Churchill. And whether Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) Government is actually fighting a war, and whether it is thus enabled to claim that everything that happens is right and wise, the party leader Jarosław Kaczyński is clear: Those who attack us will not win.
Giving an interview to a number of European newspapers, including Die Welt, Le Figaro, La Repubblica, and El Pais, about his views on Poland Kaczyński said “Those who attack us will not win. Poland will remain Poland.” In his opinion, the EU shows “courtesy towards Ankara, brutal language towards Warsaw.” He may have a point, although it could be that higher standards are expected of a country which seeks to be a major power within the EU and an increasingly important international voice. To paraphrase Kennedy: ask not how the EU addresses Turkey but how you address the EU.
On the economy, Kaczyński was clear that while PiS does not advocate state intervention, part of the economy should remain in state hands. “We want more Polish capital in the economy and the banks and we have already taken steps [to achieve that],” he said, while: “We are delighted with foreign investment.” While critics will no doubt dismiss this as a case of cake, having and eating, there is no doubt that a dominance of foreign capital in an economy limits a state’s room for manoeuvre, when vital economic decision are taken elsewhere.
Which is in tune with Kaczyński’s view that Europe should return to the concept of the nation state as “the only institution able to guarantee democracy and freedom…”. Thus his opinion that the EU must be quickly reformed or it will fall, a view which is shared by others. And, whatever one’s view of PiS and its leader, in a world where the need for continuous change an all aspects of life is the only message, does it not seem odd that one institution insists, despite the evidence to the contrary, that more of the same is the only acceptable way forward.
Be that as it may, is PiS winning its war against those it sees as attacking a correct understanding of Poland? The answer to that probably depends upon the depth of one’s cynicism. For example, last Monday’s mass protest against the proposed tightening up of the abortion law to the point of effectively outlawing it, saw the draft law defeated in the Sejm three days later. A victory for the opposition – probably not. As PiS pointed out, the bill was not a government initiative and by letting it advance beyond the first reading, PiS was able repay some political debts at little cost. Jarosław Kaczyński said before the vote on Thursday that while PiS will continue to be for the protection of life and “will take appropriate measures in this direction, but these will be well-thought-out measures…” Addressing the Stop Abortion group, he said that its call for a total ban on terminations would be counterproductive.
Back on the streets, Monday saw teachers protesting against education reforms and for better salaries and more spending on education. Protesting teachers were joined by politicians from the opposition Civic Platform and Nowoczesna parties. In response, Education Minister Anna Zalewska said that the government would not backtrack, adding that its reforms were “thought-out, responsible and also the costs have been calculated.” As with the medical protestors, the teachers may have a good case, but the government is looking elsewhere.
First, Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski has said he is looking for clues shedding light on what led to the 2010 presidential plane crash in Smolensk, which killed 96 people. Waszczykowski said on Monday that “many documents” have been found at the ministry which relate to the way officials of the then-government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk reacted to the crash and conducted the ensuing investigation. Waszczykowski said that all of the new evidence “will be revealed”.
Second, the government is, so it claims, now busy defending the interests of Polish companies, at least those that build helicopters. Following the decision by the government to cancel a contract for military helicopters with a French company, and President Hollande therefore to cancel a planned visit to Poland, Prime Minister Beata Szydło said on Monday, “The duty of the Polish state is to defend the national interest of Poland.” “We set conditions that, from the point of view of both defence and economy, were the best for the Polish state.” Which is an interpretation at some variance with the facts, one might well think.
One really does have to admire this collective sense of purpose, which many clearly do as PiS remains ahead in the polls, albeit with a reduced margin. As the nursery rhyme has it, you can huff and you can puff but you can’t blow my house down. At least, not yet.