“Democracy demands trust. It demands that sense of mutual understanding. And – it’s a two way street. You’ve got to give – as much as you take.” The words of the late leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy. Echoing, intentionally or not, the words of US President John Kennedy who said, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. And as we saw last time (please see No Second Term) one man has been accused of not doing enough for his country, former prime minister Donald Tusk.
In an interview for radio RMF FM Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski did not mince his words. Responding to Tusk’s New Year’s Eve tweet wishing followers a fatherland free from evil and stupidity, Waszczykowski described the European Council President Donald Tusk himself as the icon of “evil and stupidity.” He said he wished Tusk would stay “far away from Poland”. According to Waszczykowski, Tusk hasn’t helped Poland with anything yet. All the more reason for keeping in Brussels, one might have thought.
During the interview, Waszczykowski said that he is concerned about Poland’s image internationally and that he would like Poland to have a “normal” democracy. In a world where, in his view, Russia is fighting for a “sovereign democracy” and the West for a “liberal democracy”, he would like Poland to be a “democracy without adjectives”. “We would like to have a normal democracy, that when someone wins an election, they have the right to rule, to achieve their plan and programme,”he said. He added that he would like Poland to be perceived as a stable country.
All very commendable, but his task of projecting Poland as a beacon of normal – in a non-adjectival sense, of course – democracy is not entirely helped, one might think, by describing a former prime minister as an icon of evil, which heights he has yet to scale. Similarly, the shenanigans with the Constitutional Tribunal, and the continuing spat with the EU over it, the rather idiosyncratic approach of the government to state owned media, appointments to state controlled businesses, restrictions on free assembly, passing budget outside the main chamber of the Sejm when there is a suggestion opposition deputies were denied access to the vote, and so on, do little to help either.
Be that as it may, he is correct on one point. As the first government in the post-Communist era to be elected with one party having a majority then, all things being equal, the government should be given a fair crack of the whip in enacting its programme. That in turn – in a normal democracy at least – demands that the programme is not radically different from that set out in the manifesto and the acknowledgment that once elected a government has a responsibility to govern in the interests of the country as a whole, not merely in the interests of those who happened to vote for the governing party. This is especially true when – and this is not only the case on Poland – governments are formed by parties which seldom command an absolute majority of the electorate. In other words, it is Charles Kennedy’s two-way street, which street in Poland at least, have seen in the last year more demonstrations than hitherto and a want of mutual understanding.
The most important point to remember is that government, in a normal democracy, is a leasehold rather than a freehold interest. Minor repairs and re-decoration are fine, but major structural changes require the landlord’s consent, which consent cannot be assumed simply because one has been granted a lease for five years. Nor because one has had a bad experience with a previous landlord is that any excuse for adopting his methods against the new landlord.
Perhaps the words of Andrew Hamilton are worth remembering: “real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.” Moderation may not be exciting, but it does have the virtue of being normal.