Quo Vadis

“There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling of order lying behind the appearance.” Which may have been true for Albert Einstein, grappling as he was with nothing more complex than his theory of relativity. For the rest of us, grappling with this week’s Polish election, whether there is any feeling of order lying behind the appearance is a moot point, and “where are you going” is not clear.

With six days to go, an opinion poll by the IBRiS Institute for Rzeczpospolita daily put the conservative coalition lead by Law and Justice (PiS) on 36 per cent of the vote, fourteen percentage points ahead of the Civic Platform (PO) party of Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. According to the same poll, the four other groupings which would win seats in the Polish parliament are the United Left coalition, with 11 per cent, with the Polish People’s Party, the Modern Party (founded recently by economist Ryszard Petru) and the Kukiz Movement (formed by rock musician-turned politician Paweł Kukiz) each gaining six per cent of the vote.

Polls aside, the two main protagonists, and their parties’ candidates for the post of Prime Minister – Ewa Kopacz and PiS’s Beata Szydło – took part in a debate on television on Monday evening, giving voters a chance to see what each had to offer, or rather what they said they had to offer, which is, alas, a rather different proposition.

The bidding war began with Poland’s demographic problems. Rather optimistically, you might well think, Kopacz said that she could promise Poland’s young people that they will earn as much as their peers in the West and that those who left when PiS was in power are returning because they now see a future in Poland. Which will come as news to the statistical service which saw record emigration totals at the end of 2014. Szydło more modestly referred to PiS’s plan to attract back young families, including giving families PLN 500 for each child.

On foreign affairs, Szydło emphasised NATO membership, building a strong regional presence and looking for like-minded allies. Kopacz pointed out that alliances alone are not sufficient but a strong military is also needed, emphasising the commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. For Kopacz there is no Poland without EU solidarity (a weasel word if ever there were one) citing Tusk’s energy union as evidence of the strong position of Poland in the EU. Szydło countered that Poland’s position in the EU is not that strong and that Poland should fight for its rights as do France and Germany, noting that while Polish shipyards are closed. German ones remain open. Kopacz told Szydło that the cost of the refugee programme would not be a drain on the Polish budget but would be financed by the EU. According to Szydło, Poles wish to live well, and in harmony in the region, with Russia for example: a strong Poland on the international stage. Which does not sound much different from Kopacz’s “we should protect our country like we protect our own home.”

After the usual knock about on domestic politics, both candidates were asked what experience had taught them. To the question, what had PiS learned from its mistakes, Szydło replied that its last term in government was the best time for the economy, saying she had met many Poles who had told her that. To the same question about PO’s last eight years in government, Kopcaz replied that Civic Platform has a good track record in government. A bit like the Bourbons then, who had forgotten nothing and learned nothing, according to Tallyrand.

So there you have it. Not a particularly exciting encounter but, as one commentator rather cruelly put it, it was good to have two women on Polish television not discussing cooking. And with Jarosław Kaczyński in the background it is not entirely clear, in the case of Beata Szydło, how much of her own authority she will be exercising. I don’t have a vote but, for those who do, as with all politicians caveat emptor seems to be the best policy.

Be that as it may, I am left with the impression that both candidates seem more determined to fight Poland’s corner, as they each understand it, than David Cameron is the United Kingdom’s, which is a rather disappointing thought. If only they would all remember their Livy: “Many difficulties which nature throws in our way may be smoothed away by the exercise of intelligence.”

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