Poland after Law and Justice: handle with care

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The result of the Polish elections on 21 October 2007 has left western Europe “exultant”, writes Neal Ascherson for Open Democracy.

Describing the coalition parties in the previous regime as “two of the nastiest and maddest” ever to share power in post-war Europe, he says that “young and urban voters overcame their distaste for politics” in electing Donald Tusk’s centre-right Citizen’s Platform. 

Ascherson claims that there is “vast relief” abroad and at home after the end of the Kaczynski government. He describes Law and Justice’s time in office as “a continental embarrassment” with “bigoted and oppressive” domestic policies, including “anti-gay rhetoric” and “ruthless, witch-hunting treatment of opponents”. Moreover, its foreign policy was “farcical in its crude nationalism” and alienated its neighbours and the EU. 

The author believes that the new government will be “more European” in that it will be “less protectionist” and “more welcoming to free-market forces”. There will be a rapprochement with Merkel’s Germany and a cautious retreat from the Kaczynskis’ “reckless enthusiasm” for President Bush. 

Moreover, he states that the government “will try to undo Poland’s reputation for obstructive ‘national egoism’ in Brussels”. At home, he predicts that Tusk will concentrate on “unpicking the web of political patronage” and “repair the damage done to the rule of law”. 

Ascherson claims that Law and Justice dominated the media “by outrageous purging and political appointments worthy of […] Putin’s Russia”, and predicts that the National Broadcasting Committee will be dissolved. 

Claiming foreign policy under the Kaczynskis deteriorated into “paranoid rudeness”, he nevertheless argues that the Polish veto on EU-Russia agreements as long as the Russians boycott their meat imports is “totally justified”, with the alternative being to let Poland slip into the zone of Russian economic blackmail in which Ukraine and Belarus find themselves. 

Moreover, regarding Polish demands for Brussels to concentrate more on Ukraine, he says that far from being “pushy and obstructive”, Poland cannot do otherwise as it is “utterly committed to the fate of this region” for historical and strategic reasons. 

Ascherson concludes that although the last government was “terrible” and its fall “a brilliant day for democracy”, Poland has little choice but to continue to be awkward and shout rather than whisper deferentially if it is to avoid being “overlooked and […] trodden underfoot”.