Change of Mind

“For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.” So thought Benjamin Franklin. And thus, whether by better information or fuller consideration, it appears that many Poles are ready to change their opinion on the PiS government which came to power following the elections on 25th October. Has it really only been two months?

According to a recent poll by CBOS, 34 per cent of those surveyed said they oppose the government compared with the 30 per cent who support the government. Some 37 per cent of respondents fear a deterioration of the situation in the country, while 34 per cent think that the country will improve under the PiS government, figures not dissimilar to those achieved by former prime minister Ewa Kopacz towards the end. Plus ça change, plus ça la même chose, and all that.

And while we are on the subject of polls of Poles, 63 per cent of them consider President Andrzej Duda not to be completely independent of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, which surely should come as no surprise. Of course, the president renounces party allegiance on assuming office, but it seems to be asking rather too much of human nature to expect this to be so when the impartial administration of power has, alas, not yet quite caught on here as an ideal.

The poll by Millward Brown for TVN found that 27 per cent of Poles think that Duda is independent of Kaczyński while ten per cent did not have an opinion. At the same time, 40 per cent of those polled said they support the views of those taking part in the demonstrations organized by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) which have taken place over the last two weekends. If only they had been as keen to take to the polling stations on the day of the election, as they have been to the streets since, the result might have been different if, of course, a different result was what you wanted.

It may seem strange, therefore, that the first party to win an overall majority in the post 1989 age should have become so unpopular so soon but that is, I suppose, of a piece with doing things which, even if done with the purest of motives, don’t give off the sweetest of fragrances. From a questionable presidential pardon, to a rather unorthodox change of personnel at an intelligence gathering facility which may or may not be something to do with NATO, to tampering with the Constitutional Tribunal, PiS seems rather to have got off on the wrong foot.

Which is, of itself, neither here nor there, but it has been grist to mill of the international chatterati, mediacracy, and Bourbonesque Eurocracy, for whom any deviation from the “we know best” script is simply intolerable. ‘It’s a coup d’état, it’s the end of democracy’, they cry in a rising tide of hysteria, forgetting their own questionable record when it comes to democratic accountability and respecting the will of the electorate. L’ état, c’est nous, to paraphrase Loius XIV.

Be that as it may, it does seem odd that PiS should seek to tamper with the Constitutional Tribunal on the basis that PO started it, and that the Consitutional Tribunal was poised to strike down PiS’s reforming (by its own lights) legislative programme, including introducing the PLN 500 monthly child benefit. Two wrongs do not make a right, and the time to cry foul would better have been when this striking down had actually happened. A Constitutional Tribunal is supposed to strike down legislation incompatible with the constitution, but PiS might at least have been able to grasp a fig leaf of justification rather than appearing somewhat naked.

Nevertheless, the Sejm yesterday passed a bill requiring a two-thirds majority, rather than the current simple majority, of judges to pass a judgment, with 13 out of 15 judges having to be in attendance, rather than nine judges, as at present. While critics say this will make it more difficult for the tribunal to deliver rulings, Prime Minister Beata Szydło told TVN24 station that “the situation around the Constitutional Tribunal is a political stalemate” which needs to be resolved. “We want to bring this issue of the tribunal to a close. To adopt a law that will calm the situation […] We should calm the hysteria,” she said, adding, “Nobody is carrying out any sort of attack on the tribunal. There is a new bill on the Constitutional Tribunal, let’s give it a chance, let it come into force.” Not noting, of course, the irony of PiS failing to give the current arrangements a chance, a lack of irony also visible when, following the vote in the Sejm, PiS MPs stood up in the chamber and began chanting “democracy”.

So there you have it. I still do not believe the end is nigh, preferring to side with Lord Acton: “Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but moral laws are written on the table of eternity.” Democracy is the moral law for Poland.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. Thank you for reading and taking the trouble to comment during the year.

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