“In the end we are all sacked and it’s always awful. It is as inevitable as death following life. If you are elevated there comes a day when you are demoted. Even prime ministers.” The words of Alan Clark which, although describing the United Kingdom are true of any democracy. In Poland, there is a new prime minister although the previous prime minister, Beata Szydło, appears to have resigned rather than having been sacked.
The new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki and his ministers took their oaths on Monday before President Andrzej Duda in a ceremony at the presidential palace in Warsaw. All government ministers kept their jobs with Morawiecki has remaining as finance and development minister as well as becoming prime minister. Clearly there are administrative advantages in having the direction of economic policy in one pair of hands with, one assumes, the ability actually to make policy happen. That, at least, must be the theory.
Beata Szydło, who tendered her resignation on Thursday, half way through the government’s term of office, which resignation was accepted by the president on Friday, remains in the government as a deputy prime minister in charge of social policy. Those expecting, or hoping, for a wider reshuffle will now have to wait until January when, according to the state news agency PAP, it is expected to take place. On Tuesday, Morawiecki is due to deliver a policy speech in parliament, outlining his government’s priorities, followed by a vote of confidence in the new Cabinet.
Why the change? Law and Justice (PiS) politicians have said that this reflects the government’s determination to focus on the economy over the next two years, something which the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank also suggests might be a motivation. The suggestion is that Szydło having successfully completed her mission to implement the first stage of social and political changes, the emphasis will now be placed on meeting the development challenges.
Other suggested motivations are: to attract more support from the political centre in time for the 2019 parliamentary elections with Marowiecki “becoming a conservative version of liberal Donald Tusk”; as a “counterweight to government hardliners, such as Zbigniew Ziobro and Antoni Macierewicz” or “a reaction to Szydło’s huge popularity among PiS voters” which “risked [her] becoming too powerful for Kaczyński”; and “to refurbish Poland’s image abroad, and ideally to amplify its voice on the key debates on Brexit, Eurozone reform, and the next EU budget.”
Be that as it may, and whether one agrees with the ECFR suggestions or not, it remains to be seen how, if at all, the new prime minister will deal with Poland’s apparent drift to a more authoritarian regime, an approach traditionally at home, whether as a resident or an (uninvited) guest, further east. Thus while PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński said at the 92nd monthly “March of Remembrance” that was held in Warsaw on Sunday or the 92nd time to commemorate the victims of a fatal Polish presidential plane crash on April 10, 2010, that a “sovereign, free, democratic, respected and fair Poland is our aim,” the broadcasting regulator fined US owned broadcaster TVN PLN 1.5 million for coverage that it said “propagated illegal activities and encouraged behaviour threatening security.”
The coverage was of events around parliament during anti-government protests last December. The media studies lecturer who reportedly wrote the opinion that led to the regulator imposing the fine, accused TVN of “calling almost directly for the collapse of the legal order of the state” by broadcasting images of anti-government protests “in silence, without commentary.” Although the regulator, coincidentally led by a former PiS local councilor appointed last year by the PiS majority in Parliament, has not yet publicly released the full justification for its decision, TVN, as Poland’s largest private broadcaster, is regarded as an opponent by the government and is one of the main targets of a planned new law to restrict majority foreign ownership of media companies.
For its part, TVN rejects the charge and will appeal. A professor of media studies art private SWPS University suggests that the government is sending a clear signal to the media: “From today we are in charge and the only message [allowed] is pro-government.” While TVN is able to absorb fines, smaller outlets might be intimidated into changing their reporting.
But perhaps it’s all a simple misunderstanding, a case of over zealousness on the part of functionaries trying to impress the powers that be, something not unknown to dominant leaders. After all, “this aim will be achieved already within the lifetime of this generation. We will win,” Jarosław Kaczyński said on Sunday. After all a free, democratic, respected and fair Poland surely has space for a free press. If only folk would stay on message.