The recent launch of Robert Biedron’s new political party, Wiosna (Spring), served as the basis for a lively discussion. On the one hand, the new project has been praised by its enthusiasts. On the other, a harsh criticism was issued by supporters of the Civic Platform (PO) party. Both stances appear to be exaggerated and motivated clearly by political interests.
It is therefore worth to evaluate Robert Biedron’s initiative in a more objective manner, in an attempt to understand its potential consequences for a broader political context in Poland. Is it feasible that the new party would contribute to implementing a more liberal platform in the country?
Polish Political Scene and Sidelining PiS
The key task for the year 2019 and the forthcoming decade in Poland is undoubtedly to move the Law and Justice (PiS) party away from power. First, we must therefore pose the following question: What impact may have in this regard the emergence of Robert Biedron’s new party on achieving this strategic goal? The answer is, however, a complex one.
In order to defeat PiS the votes must be consolidated, so that (first) losing votes supporting those opposition parties that do not make it to the new parliament is avoided, and (second), so that strong opposition lists of candidates benefit from the D’Hondt method of counting votes, which favors big parties.
Robert Biedron’s project may be strategically significant if it leads to gaining the support of the entire leftist electorate before the forthcoming parliamentary elections. In this scenario, Robert Biedron would succeed in minimizing the loss of votes that may be otherwise issued in favor of the Razem or the Green parties, etc., but which would not be enough to land these parties any parliamentary seats.
Moreover, gaining a double-digits results would be crucial for the Spring party to achieve the abovementioned strategic goal. Only such a result would eliminate “the disadvantage” assumed for small parties within the D’Hondt method.
Another key question is that of a way for mobilizing potential opposition voters in such a manner that the 2015 stagnation does not repeat itself.
Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of Civic Platform, is somewhat right in believing that the actions of PiS from the last three and a half years have already mobilized the voters so successfully that they will go on to vote for the opposition anyway, regardless of its shape, and support the strongest candidate on its spectrum.
Yet, being “somewhat right” does not mean that this is what is, indeed, going to happen. I personally know many people who are active in the anti-PiS movements and who have strong leftist beliefs, but who still are not willing to vote for PO and will instead support the Greens or other small political player.
Will loosing such votes contribute to the success of PiS? Or maybe two strong candidate lists (two, but not five!), a strong and far-reaching center, accompanied by an efficient left, will manage to mobilize more voters and will serve as an effective weapon against the now ruling party?
Answearing these and other questions will be possible only after the 2019 European Parliament election, which might shift the power and thus, hopefully, enable defeating Law and Justice.
If the Spring party succeeds, Robert Biedron would be wise to open up its candidate lists for other left-affiliated activists from less influential circles or to get ready for creating a pragmatic temporary coalition with PO for the duration of the election campaign, should Spring end with a single-digits result in the EP election.
YES to Secular State
The launch of the Spring party has one crucial advantage: its leaders must now reveal the party platform. When analyzing the planks recently presented by Robert Biedron, a praise should be the starting point. It must be clearly stated that a bold party platform covering issues of ideology, gender equality, minority rights, secular state is very much needed and deserves a spokesperson in Poland.
A growing number of centrist and leftist voters await changes in the areas that Civic Platform has so far been incapable of addressing in a satisfactory manner. The ideology of the Spring party should force the political center to react and is a significant step towards introducing the demands of a secular state into the political mainstream. Especially, since Spring may become a part of the future anti-PiS coalition.
It is crucial, however, that a strong and clear chief principals during the launch of the party are followed by avoiding anti-church actions of the likes of the former Janusz Palikot’s party. I am convinced that the key to introducing the principles of a secular state in Poland is treating one’s religious beliefs as a part of one’s private life and beahiving towards it with due respect.
NO to Populism
However, from he liberal perspective, the planks related to ideology are the only part worth praise. The presented socio-economic program is a combination of wishful thinking, social populism, and (oddly enough) ultra-liberalism mixed with lack of any serious financial analysis that would explain how the proposed changes shall be financed (and who should pay for them).
From the point of view of an average citizen, I am disappointed with the fact that Robert Biedron, whom I have perceived as a responsible politician, resorted to putting forward such an unrealistic platform. I wish all politicians were in touch with reality when coining their political programs, so that their planks are implementable.
We must also be aware of the fact that when trying to outbid the PiS arch-populists, the Spring party is likely to lose the bidding war. The Law and Justice party leader, Jarosław Kaczynski, when pushed to the wall, will always promise even more than he already has. Such a war of sorts will lead only to further deterioration of the value of political promises and thus would alienate the voters, or even result in a complete economic disaster.
Any attempts to outbid PiS by offering to artificially raise the minimum wage – which should be governed by the market, not the politicians – is simply sad and will have a detrimental effect on the Polish economy.
My criticism does not mean that each and every socio-economic plank of the Spring party is disastrous. It’s just that their costs must carefully calculated.
I am all for showing financial appreciation to the teachers, as a systemic revolution is much needed in the Polish education system. I also expect that all of us would enjoy heaving a steady pension after we retire. The problem is that our wants do not translate directly into prosperity.
Moreover, the suggested ultra-liberal changes in the healthcare system put forward by Spring are somewhat of a paradox. The party proposed that if after the period of 30 days of waiting to receive treatment from a public specialist ends, the state would have to pay for the doctor’s appointment in a private practice.
This means that the state would need to introduce full service competition and revolutionize the Polish public healthcare system in a scale similar to that of a reform from the early 1990s.
In a long-term perspective, this solution will likely invigorate the healthcare system in Poland, and as such, the liberals should probably be in favor of it. However, in the short run, it might lead to difficult to calculate costs for the state budget and even bankruptcy of a number of public health facilities. It would thus make for a socially far-reaching and costly revolution. Are its creators aware of the difficult journey they propose to take us on?
A lack of any planks related to future foreign policy also seems like a shortcoming of the platform. Any party that wants to be treated seriously must take a stand in this regard and it is needless to say how crucial it is after experiencing poor foreign policy in the times of Law and Justice.
Of course, Robert Biedron is known for his pro-European stance, his support for rule of law, so we might predict what would be the main areas of focus in his plans for the foreign policy. Nevertheless, I would like to hear him state them clearly in a public manifesto of sorts.
Robert Biedron’s Spring has one more advantage. It is chiefly a party of a new generation and a group of thirty- and fourty-year-olds. Although I’m not a hard-core supporter of promoting only young politicians (I welcomed, for instance, the news that the European Coalition is created with participation of such seasoned politicians as Radosław Sikorski or Marek Belka), it is evident that Polish political scene suffers from a generation gap.
This is why it is crucial that Civic Platform Coalition noticed this issue – or was actually forced to address it – as a result of a generational offensive of the Spring party and thus started to build its candidate lists in such a manner as to combine experience with youth. Otherwise, PO will be stuck with the image of a noble yet still obsolete politicians resembling dinosaurs for good.
Don’t Pretend It’s Not Your Pig
As a liberal, I will probably not vote for the Spring party. The presented platform does not allow me to do that. But maybe that’s exactly what Robert Biedron, the party leader, was going for…
After all, his goal should be to create a modern left, not the center. I think that both Poland and the leftist voters deserve a strong representation of their political beliefs.
And currently, consolidating votes around the Spring project seems to be the best available option.
Let’s also bear in mind the dynamics of the Polish political scene in the long run. If PO continues to be the only alternative to PiS, it becomes clear that the party will come back to power sooner or later. Developing a strong left brings hope that in the future this political battle will move closer to the left-center on the spectrum and that a third player finally enters the race.
Now, however, we should not shy away from what has transpired in Poland in the last three and a half years. It’s crucial that the leader of the Spring party remembers about the key democratic values also in the midst of a harsh political campaign. Robert Biedron cannot pretend that it’s “not his pig, not his farm”. There’s no place for the middle ground.
In 2019, when battling one another with their political platforms, the left and the center must shape the future of Poland together and defeat the Law and Justice party. It is extremely important that the key players who are a part of this program battle, which is inherent to democracies, don’t perceive one another as enemies. After all, we fight for the same thing and, as such, we must be able to put our differences aside and cooperate throughout the campaign season.
The article was originally published in Polish at: https://liberte.pl/liberal-o-biedroniu/
Translated by Olga Łabendowicz