July 05, 2010

Pyrrhus victory for a colourless president in Poland (and Germany)

I am still in Coventry but livestreaming and mediatisation mean I have followed the Polish presidential elections - and the German ones - more or less as if I had been there. I had followed some past Polish elections much more closely, and indeed I had reported the last presidential ones (in 2005) for il Manifesto (this was for instance my article on Lech Kaczynski's victory: kaczor.pdf).

The Polish election night started with the exit polls and if one had looked at the images without sound, would have came to the wrong conclusions. On one side, the liberal Bronislaw Komorowski looked as colourless as ever, the little crowds looked bitter, and when two heroes of the Polish transformation joined on stage (Tadeusz Mazowiecki, first democratic prime minister in eastern europe, who by the way I have the honour to have taught how to eat langoustines in a restaurant of Transtevere in 2003, and Wladislaw Bartoszewski, first non-communist foreign affair minister), they all looked tearful. On the other side, Jaroslaw Kaczynski looked bright and determined, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd making victory signs. But the winner was the former. Why such inverted emotions? Because Kaczynski, even losing, had received twice as many votes as the opinion polls had predicted a few weeks ago, or had predicted for his twin brother when he was the candidate. Komorowski, by contrast, had hoped to obtain a landslide in the first round two weeks ago, but eventually needed a second round and prevailed by just 6 percentage point. At midnight, just for the sake of adding some artificial drama, the official results from half of the polling stations even put Kaczynski ahead, but only because the first stations to declare are the small ones from the countryside, where Kaczynski is much more popular than in the cities.

The Polish campaign was quite surreal as it was a snap election following the Smolensk catastrophe in April, when Lech Kaczynski, his wife, the President of the Central Bank, the highest military chiefs and a dozen prominent politicians of all political parties (including the Left's presidential candidate) died in the same place where 20,000 Polish officers were murdered by Stalin in 1940. Nobody loves martirology as much as the Poles, and all sides were therefore extremely careful to show dignified behaviour - which was a decent thing, but came at the cost of frank debates. In line with global trends, the main events were the two TV debates: in my livestreaming-informed opinion, the first was a narrow Kaczynski's victory and the second a clear Kaczynski's victory: Komorowski was just too technical. A curious paradox: in the April prime ministerial debates in the UK, Clegg and Brown had attacked Cameron for being allied, in the European Parliament, with the homophobic party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski. In the Polish debate, guess what Komorowski attacked Kaczynski for? Yes, for being allied with David Cameron, the nasty selfish Englishman who wants to cut European subsidies for the poor Polish peasants and for building Polish roads. Given how they mutually damage each other, the European Conservative and Reformists group of MEP should be renamed Embarrassing Company of Rejects (it also includes Czech climate-change deniers and some Latvians who can't help celebrating their SS division). This also demonstrates that national politics continue to idealise and demonise politcs from other countries, better if from far away (e.g. a mythical Obama and a horror Italy), in a game of distorting mirrors that says a lot about today's democracy - I will get back to this point often as my transnational travel makes me spot more of such mutual distortions.

Although I had written extensively about Kaczynskis' faults, I must say that even before the Smolensk catastrophe I had an instinctive stronger sympathy for them (for Lech rather than Jaroslaw though) than for the annoyingly arrogant and aristocratic Komorowski. This is also because in my field - labour -, the Kaczynskis are more leftwing than the liberals, and not suprisingly were supported by the union Solidarity, while the liberals are proposing a drastic attack on union rights (and Polish unions are already so weak that none can blame them for damaging the employers). This time, Kaczynski went as far as to try to attract leftwing votes, stressing his social side and even expressing appreciation for the former communist leader Gierek (who is still remember positively by many in his home region Silesia). So on election night I had the best impression from two uncommon women. First, Kinga Dunin, feminist writer, who cleverly said that a Kaczynski's victory would have been the best thing to get Poland rid of both the conservative liberals, and Kaczynski himself (given his incapacity to rule, once president he would become as unpopular as he was when shortly prime minister in 2006-07). Second, Joanna Kuzik-Rostkowska, journalist and former Labour and Social Affairs minister, chief of Kaczynski's electoral committee. A really brilliant woman, with independent ideas (for instance, she supports the right to IVF, which Kaczynski wants to ban), she is one big reason of the surprisingly good result of Kaczynski among the youngest voters (although his main electorate remains the grey one).

One footnote: the candidate of the Left obtained 13% in the first round, well above expectations. He is even very happy about it, which says it all. In a few months, the Left has been beaten in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland (+UK). In the EU, it remains in power only in Greece, Portugal and Spain (+ the odd Slovenia), probably just because the Right prefers not to have to rule those countries. Yet they are still happy....

If Komorowski is colourless and boring, the Germans have done even better in their own snap election (but an indirect one) last wednesday, electing the stiffy christian democrat Christian Wulff, whose only merit is being disliked by Angela Merkel, who thus found the way to remove him from party diatribes (imagine if Blair had been allowed to make Brown king). But like in Poland, it was the process, not the winner, to be interesting. Wednesday was a long day that needed three votes, while Wulff should in theory have won easily in the first round. When finally elected, Wulff (and Merkel) looked funereal. Much speculation went on during the day about the behaviour of die Linke: if in the first round it had voted for the candidate of the socialdemocrats/greens (the popular former eastern dissident Gauck), this would have won, and bye bye Wulff and Merkel. This is absurd speculation, because had die Linke voted for Gauck, surely fewer conservative delegates would have voted for him. But there was a better reason for die Linke to vote Gauck: removing the image that they are still tied to their communist past and therefore cannot forgive dissidents such as Gauck. Constrained by internal divisions as their are, they missed this opportunity. Paradoxically, when post-communism seems to have become quite irrelevant in Poland, it is still a huge burden for German politics.

[PS: I already hate the fact that Warwick's blog facility does not include Polish fonts - or at least I can't find them]


- 4 comments by 0 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Tom P

    Liking the first post Guglielmo, I will certainly comment in more detail when I have time….

    05 Jul 2010, 11:34

  2. Anonimus Pristinensis

    Dear Guglielmo, the footnote stands proudly in the middle of the text, not humbly at its feet where its name should confine it. Footnotes are an unruly lot: do have a frank conversation with them and threaten terrible punishments – such being turned into someting like this – to other miscreants.
    Footnote: also we in pristina hate the fact that you can’t find the Polish fonts, and find it very unnerving.

    05 Jul 2010, 14:47

  3. alessandro

    Ehi, Guglielmo, this is really a nice idea. Following you travelling around Europe will hopefully make me feel less disappointed with my recent OECD failure. Do not forget to mention sport events you’ll come across, so that Luca (and Filippo) may also enjoy this blog. I am particularly curious to know your viewpoints on European politics, and your post on Poland already was an original one. I have bookmarked this blog. Keep in touch.

    09 Jul 2010, 22:22

  4. martino

    As it happens too often, Alessandro is right: mixing pop&politics, do no forget to mention sport, so that I (together with the youngsters) may also enjoy this blog. We are in touch.

    11 Jul 2010, 15:45


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