Aleksander Smolar

In societies with colonial histories and that are traditionally open to the world, there is widespread tolerance of diversity at a fundamental level. So says Aleksander Smolar; who is afraid that, for Poland, the smallest step towards adaptation will be a dramatic struggle.

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28 September 2006

Poland: Radicals in power

Since the Kaczynski brothers’ political ascendancy at the head of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), there has been a string of developments that have alarmed Poland’s EU fellow-members: the election of a civil rights spokesperson who openly advocates the death penalty; plans to close down the body that monitors the independence of the media; a law drafted that would abolish the autonomy of the civil service, to name but a few. To understand how this situation arose, one needs to look more closely at the period of change in Poland since 1989. The “radical” government stems from that section of the Solidarity movement opposed to the route transformation took; for the radicals, the reckoning with the ancien regime has been insufficient, leading to a system they view as a pathological symbiosis of communism and capitalism, democracy and a post-communist mafia. The cultural traditionalism of the PiS, writes Smolar, has landed on fertile ground in a contemporary Poland suffering from social alienation, distrust in democratic institutions, high unemployment, and growing income discrepancies.

To Polish ears, the language of the Western revolutionaries of ’68 “carried the burden of oppression”, recalls Aleksander Smolar. Western ’68ers were often hostile to supporters of the Warsaw March revolt and indifferent towards the subsequent “anti-Zionist” purges. Yet the events were disastrous for Polish Jews at the time and are still relevant forty years later, writes Aleksander Smolar.

The Kosovo war should force the European Union to rethink its future. As the new commission, chaired by Romano Prodi, takes over it should seize the opportunity to move the EU from an inward-looking institution consumed with an economic agenda to an all-European political project.