A meme is circulating on the web with the text “I knew it would be like this, but still I was a bit deluded.” It was published today by several of my left-wing friends – after reading the coalition agreement between the Civic Coalition, the Third Way and the New Left, and after reports that the Left Together party would not enter the government, while supporting its formation nevertheless.
It turns out that those who were not deluded for a moment about the program of Donald Tusk and his “democrats” were right. What was written in the coalition agreement can be considered at best a bunch of banal statements of no practical meaning at all. Looking more realistically – the opposition is preparing us for a return to the past, eight years back in time.
Tusk and his friends have learned nothing about why they lost power in 2015 and why Law and Justice is still the most popular single party in Poland. But apparently they have not learned much, because they did not want to learn. Entities such as the Civic Platform or the Third Way, Tusk’s ally consisting of an agrarian party and a new organisation led by a former TV host, do not exist to learn and work out better proposals for the majority of society. They are here to give more gifts to business. The working majority is supposed to sit back and enjoy the fact that Poland will now be smiling and European.
Despite the fact that socialdemocratic New Left has signed the document, there is not an ounce of left-wing thought in it. Not even a moderate one that doesn’t fight exploitation, just negotiates some minor adjustments to the system.
A true social democrat would die of shame before signing a text stating that for the past eight years the Polish state had been on war with private business. How – by lowering taxes? By making sure the unions’ hands were tied? By allowing new businesses not to pay any social fees apart from healthcare fee for 6 months, and to reduce the social fees radically for 24 months? Reaching for such rhetoric in the context of the Polish state’s relationship with business is simply an insult to victims of all wars. The leaders of the New Left, however, had no problem with this. This is now ‘social’ they are.
One can find in the agreement certain points on public health, transportation, education. However, they are formulated in such a way that even a reasonable centrist, or a right-winger, who does not want his state to collapse spectacularly, can sign up to them. In the future, when nothing comes out of general formulas about new bus services or “effectively increasing budget spending on education,” the matter can be blamed on the need to heal public finances, which was also included in the deal. That is, grounds for more austerity were put.
Serious pay raises for teachers and budget workers? They were generously promised in the electoral campaign. Right now generosity starts to disappear: the relevant laws are supposedly to appear in the first 100 days of the government, but there are also hints that the new government might announce that there are no funds for them, after all. The author of the Civic Coalition economic program had already suggested that the raises would cost tens of billions, so the new government must first nominate the head of Finance Ministry, and then look for funding by liquidating ‘some agencies’. There is no more talk of closing down the Institute of National Remembrance, which spent horrendous sums of money on ‘memory politics’, often close to right-wing propaganda. The New Left promised a mass of times that it would not allow it to continue. Another promise that the voters are now supposed to forget.
How about women rights? After all, female voters were an important pillar of the ‘all-against-Law and Justice’ camp. Now they are left with nothing, too.
The coalition partners apparently consider them total idiots. In the campaign, there was a lot of talk about liberalising the abortion law as soon as possible. Just after the vote, the Third Way politicians declared that they would never allow this. In the end, women are promised ‘the annulment of the Constitutional Court verdict’ banning abortion, which is not to be done by the parliament, and which would actually mean just a return to ‘abortion compromise’. This hypocritical name was given to the 1993 abortion law dictated by the Catholic Church, which allowed women to terminate pregnancies only in three cases: if the foetus was mortally ill, if woman’s life was in danger and if pregnancy resulted from a criminal action.
I remember very well how the New Left and the slightly-more-radical Left Together responded in the campaign to doubts about whether there was any point in entering into a coalition with Tusk’s neoliberals. Unanimously, they promised to push pro-social solutions. A liberal abortion law was just one thing they were supposed to secure. If Tusk wants social-democrats in the government, they said, he would need to accept a surge in spending on education and health care, as well as an ambitious state-funded housing investments that could help to resolve an acute housing crisis.
What they actually secured for the time being, is a personal share in power. The New Left’s co-leader Wlodzimierz Czarzasty will be Speaker of the Sejm in the second half of the parliamentary term. Another politician of the party will get the post of deputy prime minister, responsible for digitalization. There will be also a subsidy that would allow the New Left to survive until the next elections. And apparently this is what the New Left leaders actually fought for. For the voters, they have silly smiles and explanations that “we could not do much more.” One could say that the New Left, as the weakest part of the coalition, could not have counted for more. But one could only wonder how many votes could have the New Left secured, had them led a proper electoral campaign, and not just accompanied Tusk in his march for power.
And what about Left Together, the party whose representatives looked best of all the left-wing MPs in the previous term? The party politely aligned itself with Tusk in the campaign as well, just to find out that the neoliberals do not want to implement their moderately social demands (which was more than obvious to happen). What will the party do then? It will not enter the government, which is fine, but it will support its formation (quite as if Tusk cared about this at all). In other words, Left Together will not engage in the pro-business and most probably anti-worker government, but will approve the formation of such a government.
For eight years, the opposition has been proving that it does not have much to offer, apart from removing Law and Justice from power and possibly reversing the most detrimental anti-democratic moves, including a reform of court system which put it under stricter political control.
While getting back to the rule of law is a good thing, bringing back technocratic austerity is not a solution. Tusk and his allies worked hard to persuade voters that this was not what they were planning to do. But now, when the vote is over, there is no more need to pretend anything. What we read in the coalition deal is a textbook example of the same ruling style that the Civic Coalition (then Platform) presented 8 years ago, and which was rejected by the majority of voters back then.
Wherever the ‘democrats’ actually offer any more detailed proposals, they are both cheap and insignificant – like the promise of eliminating school homework (will the government decree this and then punish teachers who do not obey?!). The coalition agreement is a record of arrogance of our “democrats,” who, after the cold shower of a series of failures, are still convinced that the public does not expect anything but slogans and concessions for business. After Law and Justice proved that Poland can have a social policy other than lack of any, Civic Coalition intends to ostentatiously leave the working majority of Poles just with empty slogans about ‘need for comprehensive solutions’. If any social measures are to stay, they will be a heritage of the ‘populist’ rule and not an initiative of the new, enlightened and pro-European leaders. It is a shame for all self-proclaimed social-democrats to support this.
I am just not sure if the coalition leaders, delighted with themselves, know that if they pursue policy in this way, most Poles will soon decide that giving another chance to Law and Justice is the best they can do. Even if this means endangering the rule of law again. And this may happen sooner than Tusk and his minor allies think.
Cover image: Donald Tusk with leaders of Third Way and New Left announcing the coalition agreement, and Leszek Balcerowicz – the father of all austerity policies in Poland and the ‘shock therapy’ of the nineties.