How Polish politics gets Berlusconised

We know quite well what Berlusconisation of politics is. In short, there is a man (or a woman, like Margaret Thatcher) playing the card of macho-politics. People often mistake this for personalisation of politics. But here, we deal with a broader spectrum of political strategy, sneakily hidden behind a person, his party and their relation to voters. Berlusconisation means creating a show, full of blank signifiers, writing a political melody with notes full of emotions, symbols and ceremony, but empty of the essence. This is how Polish politics looks like before a crucial election scheduled for 15 October.

In a country between Bug and Odra rivers a battle takes place, a struggle between evil and the heavenly forces, between the enlightened and the simple (or simply stupid), between devils and angels, between democrats and fascists or… you name it. I am already tired.

I would not dare saying that both sides are equally responsible of suffocating the Polish political discourse and ultimately making it impossible to swallow. I am also not here to claim that the rule of law has not been violated in Poland, nor that there are no problem at all with how Law and Justice treats the state institutions. However, at the moment, during the campaign, the ruling camp of the national-conservative right does have some precise proposals (in both social and economy field), while the liberal opposition is paving way for a completely new way of conducting politics in our polis. And this new way is not about restoring a genuine democracy, with productive public debate and listening to different groups and their interests.

Instead, we get a glance of a new post-politics by the liberals’ leader Donald Tusk, a former Prime Minister of Poland known for his ‘hot water in the tap’ political strategy. In other words, his policies were aimed at maintaining the status quo, with no regard for the lion’s part of his political promises… and with no regard to the feelings of vast parts of the society, forced to work for extremely low wages.

What are the rules of post-political campaign of the man who, supposedly, is to bring back democracy to Poland?

First of all, everything that has been said or will be said by the leader (that is, Tusk) is truth. Different truths may contradict each other, as each of them is a ‘truth of a stage’ we are at – we, the total opposition, as the liberals and their voters call themselves. Tusk might promise not to promote candidates that are against abortion and then put forward a couple of them. He may say he would not raise the retirement age, or to promiste not to shorten the work week, even though he is no social-oriented leader. What he says, is the truth, written with a capital T!

One might think: okay, it goes only with his party, his MPs and their staff, but no. Journalists, experts and Twitter accounts of the most extreme supporters of Donald Tusk apply the same principle to what they write and say about political situation in Poland.

One day Michal Kolodziejczak, a wanna-be agro-revolutionary that once wanted to lead the peasants to the barricades is a ‘hoodlum’, ‘boor’ and ‘pro-Russian agitator’. On the second day, he is one of the most vocal opponents of the Law and Justice and a valuable ally. He might be conservative and hostile to women rights, and he might have really advocated pro-Russian sentiments. No, right now he is our guy, because Donald Tusk decided to include him on the electoral list, with a clear intention to fight for countryside voters.

And what about Roman Giertych? A man who introduced fascist movements into Polish political mainstream, used to be a second guy after Kaczynski in his first cabinet of 2005-07, who banned left-wing modernist books from the school curriculum, and who wanted to introduce super-conservative narratives into schools? Who has been, in addition, a staunch supporter for abortion ban? He is OK. Completely OK! Just because Tusk thought he could win back some votes of conservative people who do not like to see rule of law violated.

I can only wonder why Tusk’s electoral lists contain, too, a portion of people who had been known for their pro-worker or pro-social engagement.

To my surprise, I saw there people who advocate for human rights, who denounce push-backs on the Polish-Belarusian border and who are even trying to rebuilt strong trade unions in Poland. Why are they here? Where are their principles? Do they really believe their political demands would be taken into consideration by Tusk and his neoliberal advisors? It is not for me to judge, but the voters will assess these candidates at the ballot box.

How does Tusk use these people? As he has recently – ‘We have to always be one or two steps before our opponents’. Well, this does not mean ‘We need to offer a better political program’. At best, it means a better media show.

Taking Kolodziejczak and Giertych on the lists was strictly calculated for a media show. The same goes for some social proposals regarding benefits for those who have children, and for some social-sounding ideas such as shortening the work week. If Tush needs some trade unionists in the political agon, he will invite them, if he needs pro-refugee people, he invites them. In the end, when it came to offering a sort of programme (which ultimately happened on Saturday 9 September), it was mainly about supporting the business anyway.

Another point which makes Tusk not my perfect candidate for restoring democracy is his language and a ‘personality cult’ surrounding him. I am not sure if Polish democracy hits back when Tusk says that ‘Kaczynski had pants full of shit when he heard that he was going to face Giertych in the same electoral constituency’. I also do not think that in a healthy democracy, the whole electoral campaign should be a confrontation between ‘good’ fighter Tusk and the evil Law and Justice. But it is, and Tusk, in his white shirt with rolled up sleeves and with his sporty language sounds and looks like a fighter preparing for MMA gala.

The same goes for the liberal voters and supporters, who, hand-in-hand with certain politicians from the Tusk’s camp, are trying to censor more sober journalist voices, those of the so-called ‘symmetrists’. This group of journalists, including very different people, criticizes both the government policies and neoliberal, post-political answers of the liberals of Civic Platform. While healthy democracy includes also free speech and free debate, Tusk’s court does not want to hear any criticism. Personal lives of journalists or politicians who do not cooperate with the liberals, are scrutinized, they get smeared in a shitstorm of hate. All this is justified by the need of getting the power back into the democrats’ hands. After all, not just a democratic rivalry, but a struggle between good and evil is going on.

This is what they like to say. But when I look at them for a longer period, I cannot see neither a political project, nor ideology, nor even a strategy.

I see a show of Tusk in Berlusconi’s style. One cannot simply have a coherent political project if candidates’ lists resemble a Noah’s ark. And it is not just a game for campaign time. This is how Donald Tusk leads his party and how he makes politics. No visions, no courageous change proposals.

A lot of left-wing people, feminists, social-democrats or Green activists have thought that when Law and Justice is leading Poland towards authoritarianism, we need to ally with economic liberals who at least declare to keep democratic institutions intact or restore them. Fight for a better future could develop by their side, they believe. But is it really possible, if the fight goes arm-in-arm with people whose only ideology is no-ideology and no-vision? Or who are eager to come back to their previous ruling practices, alienating millions of working people? How could any honest person, dreaming of a better world or better Poland, trust them? The struggle against authoritarianism and for a real democracy must be based on different alliances and different kind of engagement.

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