“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The words of George Orwell were eerily true in the dystopian world of 1984, and chillingly ever more true in our own times. For those of you who prefer the oriental, there is the advice of Confucius, “study the past, if you would divine the future.” But whatever your inspiration, the past has been in evidence as the names of PiS’s new ministers slowly emerge following the party’s success in last month’s Polish elections, with many expressing the fear that Poland faces a re-run of 2005-2007 from a PiS government back with a vengeance. But is it true?
Well only up to a point. Jarosław Kaczyński, announced that Beata Szydło is the candidate for prime minister, with Antoni Macierewicz the candidate for defence minister, Witold Waszczykowski for foreign minister, and Zbigniew Ziobro for justice minister, a trio of PiS diehards who served in the last PiS government. Needless to say, Russian media has been especially critical of the first two appointments.
Russian government-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta commented that “in terms of international policy, there will be two politicians known for their anti-Russian sentiments at the head of two key ministries”. Macierewicz, it will be remembered, has repeatedly advanced the theory that the Smolensk air crash in Russia in 2010, in which the then president Lech Kaczyński (twin brother of Jarosław) died along with 95 others, was the result of sabotage. Of course, it was the result of pilot error. Pilot error not unconnected with the pressure of having the head of the Polish air force in the cockpit, urging the pilots to try harder as they struggled to land in thick fog at an ill-equipped, unfamiliar airport, but pilot error nonetheless. Still, if you are going to have a dash of paranoia in the government, the defence ministry is the best place to have it.
Domestic criticism has been no less muted with Cezary Tomczyk, spokesman for the outgoing PO government, describing PiS’s proposed cabinet as “the greatest political fraud of the last twenty five years” on the grounds that they “promised a government of a political breakthrough, of a new opening and new faces, and what we have is a cabinet of Macierewicz, Ziobro and Kaminski.” (Kaminski will coordinate the work of the special services).
Be that as it may, has the sky fallen in? No. Jarosław Kaczyński the politician has taken charge of, for want of a better word or two, the security apparatus but, since he has little interest in economics, has left those ministries in surprisingly capable and less political hands, given what folk understand of PiS’s populist stance. Paweł Szałamacha has been named as finance minister, with Mateusz Morawiecki, currently CEO of one of Poland’s largest banks, to head a proposed new ministry of development which will oversee the ministries of trade and industry and others.
Thus, it does appear that, pre-election promises notwithstanding, PiS is not set on sabotaging the economy. The European Commission expects economic growth in Poland, in its words, “to remain robust and stable, driven by domestic demand. Private consumption should benefit from the strong labour market. Deflation is expected to come to an end this year, but price pressures are set to remain subdued.” GDP is predicted to grow at 3.5 per cent this year and by the same in 2016 and 2017. The government deficit is expected to remain just below 3 per cent of GDP.
Of course, the real test will be as PiS tries to satisfy its core supporters and to deal with the increased level of expectation. The party remains against increasing debt and taxes and looks to an increase in the efficiency of tax collection, particularly VAT, to generate the room to increase expenditure. Good luck. Taking a pot shot at large supermarkets and banks is hardly to take against foreign capital, and PiS will be careful not to scare the markets. The new child allowance and raising the tax free allowance will equate to some two per cent of GDP, but this will, in the early years at least, feed the increased consumption on which the aforementioned growth in GDP is predicated.
The immediate threats to Poland – demographic, technological innovation, and mass migration – are not of PiS’s making, and will have an impact, but the gloom and doom at the hands of PiS seems overdone. Perhaps we should remember our Shelley: “Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.”