by Alexei Bayer*
There is an old joke involving a Russian who is taking the train from Moscow to Berlin and a German who is going from Berlin to Moscow. Their trains pull into Warsaw and both think that they have already arrived at their respective final destination.
This joke reflects how Poland throughout its history has always straddled the East and the West. Few still remember that, until the end of World War I, Poland had even been physically partitioned between Russia, Austria and Germany.
Is PiS fulfilling Sakharov’s vision?
It is useful to recall that Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet nuclear physicist, human rights campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, once maintained that Soviet communism and Western capitalism would inevitably converge. He saw the two social, political and economic systems coming close together.
Guess what! This is what’s happening in Poland, but not, as one would have expected, at the behest of some communist party. Ironically, this special form of East-West unification is coming about thanks to Polish Catholics and the far-right populist Law and Justice Party (PiS).
The party recently scored a decisive victory in the parliamentary election, guaranteeing it another four years of veto-proof majority in the Sejm, the Polish parliament.
PiS’s ideology is muscular Roman Catholicism. It is a nationalist, authoritarian party. The party may pride itself on its anti-Communism and has indeed a different ideology. But that evidently doesn’t keep it, in many of its policies, from harking back to the country’s communist legacy.
Meet Mr. Kaczynski, the neo-Commie puppet master
Since coming to power in 2015, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has mounted a strong attack on the judiciary branch. He has pushed independent judges into retirement and given far more power to government ministers to appoint judges and mount criminal investigations.
While the government had to reverse some of those measures due to protests from domestic opposition and the EU, Mr. Kaczynski — Poland’s shadowy leader — has promised to revisit them after the election.
In true Communist party fashion, the country’s independent media — actually a key factor in weeding out communism — has been cowed. Hate speech against opponents is now a feature of the country’s political life as well.
Deeds have come on the heels of treacherous and libelous words: Pawel Adamowicz, the liberal mayor of the city of Gdansk — incidentally, the birthplace of the Solidarity movement back in 1980 — was assassinated in January 2019.
What is especially grating is that Poland’s civil society is now under full-blown attack. Mind you, the amazing courage of civil society was what stripped the Communist regime of its power back in the 1980s.
By way of example, feminist — or rather: women’s — organizations have been targets of harassment. Their crime? They supposedly undermine Poland’s traditional Catholic values. Speaking up for women’s rights is evidently anti-Catholic.
Other organizations, and various minorities, are also getting their share of unwelcome attention from the PiS government and its supporters.
The Communist dream invigorated
PiS, in short, aims to create a repressive, homogeneous society not much different from the late unlamented Polish People’s Republic — albeit in the name of Jesus Christ, not Karl Marx.
Except, in this case, it combines communist-era methods with Western-style prosperity.
You see, Poland is an economic success story. Having emerged from under the communist rule dirt-poor, it has become the China of Europe. It has posted steady GDP growth since 1991, avoiding a recession even in the aftermath of the 2008-09 global financial crisis.
Having grown at an average rate of 4% over the past three decades, Poland now has the sixth-largest economy in the EU.
The PiS government loves to attack the EU, but none of that economic miracle would have happened without support from Brussels. The 2014-20 EU budget earmarked over €80 billion for projects in Poland.
Meanwhile, the country contributes only around €3 billion a year to the EU budget. Even more important, other EU countries provide markets for 80% of Polish exports. Some 70% of imports also come from the EU, making sure that Polish families have the best quality of consumer goods.
This is not what Sakharov had in mind when he talked about communism and capitalism growing closer together, but it is perhaps a Polish version of convergence.
*Eastern Europe Editor of The Globalist
**first published in: www.theglobalist.com