Polish Lemmings Are Pissed Off

Pro-democratic demonstrations in Lodz, Poland (December 19, 2015). Photo: Olga Łabendowicz

During yet another night parliamentary session, Law and Justice won the battle and maybe it will actually be able to reduce the role of the Constitutional Tribunal and thus unsettle the fundaments of the political system in Poland. At the same time, this and a few other steps taken in the past few weeks have significantly moved the party further and further away from its presumed mission of remeding the country.

There’s no doubt that many people actually believe that this widely advertised throughout the electoral campaign “postive change” will materialise itself under the rule of Law and Justice. Those are the people who previously weren’t fond of the rule of Civic Platform and President Komorowski, organised themselves against both, dominated in social networks. On the opposite side were ranks of immobilised supporters of the ruling party, complaining about Komorowski but which right after the elections suddenly became convinced that “there’s no point in threatening people with Law and Justice – it doesn’t work anymore”. It was a key aspect that enabled the now ruling party to win the elections. This is why I’m somewhat surprised that now by its actions it has managed to mobilise its opponents against itself so quickly – people who until recently seemed to be scattered around, not forming any kind of group. Don’t Law and Justice politicians realise the danger that may follow? Don’t they see that in a moment their own actions may turn against themselves even before they reform anything? Let’s take a look at two elements that may prevent any deep reforms from happening even though Chairman Kaczyński seems to be in control over everything.

The Awakening of the Lemmings

For years, the big city middleclass supporting Civic Platform has been labelled by Law and Justice as ‘lemmings’ – mindless creatures blindly believing everything that the media feed them with, slowly taking everything in without giving it a thought and atc the same time considering themselves knowledgeable. This intellectual laziness of the lemmings feeding on what the ‘mainstream’ journalists give them was deemed to be the fundament of the success of Civic Platform. If that was truly the case, the main task of the new government should have been taking over the media and thus cutting ‘lemmigns’ off from its feeding tray. Unfortunately, Law and Justice was in sucha hurry taking over the power in state institutions that it forgot to do it beforehand. As a result, the assault on the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is referred to in the media as coup d’etat, hiding the EU flag becomes number one news and the feud between a minister and a journalist instead of sacking the latter ends with reinstating her in her journalistic duties.

Pro-democratic demonstrations in Lodz, Poland (December 19, 2015). Photo: Olga Łabendowicz
Pro-democratic demonstrations in Lodz, Poland (December 19, 2015). Photo: Olga Łabendowicz

And all this happens before the very eyes of the lemmings, what makes their blood boil and thus they become energized as never before. They have started organising social committees, they have undoubtedly dominated the debate in social media, they have reinstated the beautiful tradition of civil resistance (similar to wearing resistors in lapels in the past), they mock the new government without mercy, search for new leaders… Of course, at first their actions are somewhat clumsy – as for the past eight years they didn’t realise the danger they’re in and they didn’t have to defend themselves against the cruel attacks on the things they truly care for. The mass scale of the social response, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (Pl. Komitet Obrony Demokracji, KOD), which within two days gathered over 30,000 supporters may be just a preview of a massive political force that shall defend the rule of law, its sense of belonging to Europe and liberal democracy which it deems indispensable, or even ‘holy’.

Mad Status Quo Defenders

This movemenet of social resistance will strengthten the clear enemies of any fundamental reforms of state institutions thus a group of interests commonly comprised of the representatives of the big city elites. In order to fix the complicated mechanisms of how the state functions, a change in the regulations introduced by the parliament is not nearly enough. What is still crucial is support for the changes given by the individuals making up the state institutions, a consent and cooperation of the majority of them.

The judiciary, for example, which is comprised of various elements that call for an immediate change, cannot be ‘fixed’ unless the judges, lawyers and prosecutors are willing to be a part of the change. By declaring war on the Constitutional Tribunal, interfering with the not-yet-finished legal proceedings or simply by calling th judiciary a ‘political institution’, Law and Justice has made for itself an enemy that will sabotage the reforms to come. And it’s quite obvious that even trying to place in the ‘functional’ positions in courts their own kind, the ruling party will thus shut itself the door of any possible positive change in the functioning of the judiciary. Law and Justice will not be able to fix the system neither in its image (it will simply make people more convinced that courts are political playgrounds), nor in the real sense as it will not get a hold of lawyers who believe in the proposed reforms enough to support them. All this will be detrimental for the state which is in a dire need of any reform of the judiciary.

It will go in a similar manner in other areas which are to undergo a significant changes to be introduced by Law and Justice: education or healthcare. Without a dialogue between the government and teachers or doctors those sectors will not be rofrmed efficiently. And Law and Justice clearly shows that it doesn’t want any dialogue and possibly doesn’t even understand what a ‘dialogue’ means. It shows in the announced education reform that is to close down the gymnasiums (3-year Polish middle schools) and return to the education system from before their introduction. The reform has been already announced but neither any sound data that could support it was presented nor any prior consultations with the teachers were conducted. It was thus simply an already made, ready and packaged political decision and in no way a collective social consensus.

Shoulder to Shoulder, the Defenders’ of Democracy Flag March

Ludwik Dorn has repeatedly claimed that in Poland “if you act quietly and carefully, anything goes”. Unfortunately, Chairman Kaczyński, mesmerised with the electoral victory, seems to have forgotten about this golden rule. He calculates in the way authoritarian leaders usually do, as once wrote a Polish poet Zbigniew Herbet in the poem titled Mr Cogito on Upright Attitudes:

the citizens

don’t want to put up a defense

in the city an epidemic broke out
of an instinct of self-preservation

the temple of freedom
has been turned into a flea market

the senate deliberates on how
not to be a senate

the citizens
don’t want to put up a defense
they enroll in accelerated courses
in falling to their knees

passively they wait for the enemy
write servile speeches
bury their gold

they sew new flags
innocent and white
teach children to lie

they’ve opened the gates
hrough which a column of sand is now passing

apart from that as usual
commerce and copulation

This may, however, prove a false or premature calculation as after 25 years of free Poland there is an entire generation that may or already does work in trade but who don’t wish to look “through the window as the sun of the Republic is about to set” as they treat the Third Polish Republic as their most significant life achievment.

It therefore seems that the political strategy entailing to some extent moderation or restraint, consolidating power in ‘white gloves’, so to speak, and not by using ‘wrecking bar’, constantly alluring the centrist voters would be a much safer way to curtail the planned reforms. It would certainly cool down the atmosphere, minimising the risk of provoking a rapid, negative social reaction. However, contrary to this, Law and Justice has played the ball into the hands of its political opponents – they can now use the ball to play on people’s emotions to win the game in which the ultimate trophy is democracy. Under the slogan of the defenders’ of democracy the opposition leaders can for the time being gather around an enormous group of people with various political preferences who would most probably not have met in any other circumstances.

Of course, what happens now depends on the effectiveness of those leaders but the government’s assumptions that they will fail may prove false. And if the opposition manages to convince people that it’s all about something much more important than the usual feud between Law and Justice and Civic Platform, then the ceonsequences for the government may be truly painful. The best case scenario: the government will have to focus on fighting the opposition back rather than investing time into conducting reforms and introducing the promised “positive change”. The worst case scenario: the government will have to resign before the end of its term. Meanwhile, we shall all be aware of the fact that the ‘pissed off lemmings’ have no precedent. Even people not following politics in their everyday lives suddenly became extremely active – to say the least. For the time being, their anger accumulates of Facebook or Twitter. Tomorrow it may take to the streets.

The article was originally published in Polish at liberte.pl

Translated by: Olga Łabendowicz