Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The politics of the symbol

Doesn't it occur to any of the commentators about the ongoing battle for the Smolensk cross outside the presidential palace that it's but a distraction?

Politicians on both sides are using the battle over symbols to sideline any meaningful discussions about public finance reform, reducing the budget deficit and national debt. THIS is key. Policy, not politics. (I was interested to see in last week's Economist an Italian minister saying that those two, distinct, words could only be translated into Italian, as in Polish, with one word - la politica/polityka.)

There's a party-political game going on as well, for anyone caring to look an inch beneath the surface.

President-elect Komorowski could have said, "Hey, it's just a cross. It doesn't bother me - or indeed anyone else. Leave it there, replace it eventually with a permanent memorial of some sort, end of issue." But no. He insisted that it be moved. This was a calculated political act, designed to stir up the usual nutters who could be guaranteed to come up with a good show for the media in cases like this. It was bound to provoke the PiSites who would side with the weirdos. In short, a trap for PiS, who walked right into it.

Komorowski and PO are using the issue of the Smolensk Cross to paint PiS into a corner. And they are doing so successfully, if my reading of social attitudes is right. (Well, here in Warsaw, at least.) "Give 'em enough rope," PO is saying. Since losing the presidential election, PiS has been straying ever more deeply into LPR country. And as they do so, their electability declines.

The strategy is working. A wedge is being driven between 'normal' Poles who see themselves as rational, civilised people, siding with the moderate clergymen, scouts, policemen, the vast majority of public opinion and the media; and then we have 'nutters' who see conspiracies, traitors and agents everywhere. PiS is allowing itself to get tarnished as the 'nutters' party.

Nationalist Catholics, to whom the antics on Krakowskie Przedmieście plays, represent one-twentieth, maybe less, of Poland's population. The ones who outside the presidential palace were calling priests traitors and scouts bolsheviks are politically a tiny, weeny, minority. This is where PiS's electorate will end up by the time of next year's parliamentary elections if these shenanigans continue.

I went along to see for myself. The atmosphere this evening outside the palace was tense though I could not feel any aggression in the air. People were discussing the pros and cons, trying not to let emotions run into the debate for fear of sparking anger. A middle-aged woman was discussing with two men, one older, one younger. "Why are you always bringing Jews into it? It only serves to undermine your argument," she said. The younger man replied. "See that restaurant across the street there? Magda Gessler owns it. 14 and 15 year-olds are regularly seen staggering out of it, completely drunk."

I'm sure the very next opinion polls we see published in the wake of this business will show a marked drop in PiS's support at the expense of PO and the ex-communists.

It will stay as long as politicians continue to benefit from it.


Jeannie said...

I'm just thinking they're postponing the moving of the cross until this group gets bored and leaves.

Someone mentioned this very group protests a variety of things. Instead of bringing the riot police in and hurting citizens in the process, do you think it could just be a simple postponement?

That is my two cents.

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

Your comment, Michael, seems correct.
And it is sad that so much "polityka" consists of emotional manipulation and not with dealing with issues. If Komorowski did indeed set-up the fringe nutters, that speaks badly of both Komorowski and the nutters.

So you reckon PiS will sink to LPR levels? Could we be looking towards a differently (perhaps more) polarized political system with a traditional (socially and economically) "Left" coming back into the picture? Or would just having Palikot nestled in PO satisfy all the anti-nutter nutters?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Jeannie - interesting to see how long the cross-protecting faction will keep it up - they're not quitters!

@ Ryszard - you've just explained the Palikot mystery in one neat sentence! I fear the postcommunist left will be the biggest beneficiary of all this; they're currently keeping a low profile.

adthelad said...

Remember the cross to the dead of Gdańsk where the Pope said his first mass on Plac Piłsudzkiego, or the crosses outside the shipyard? Heady days? Are they next on President Komorowski's list? Sure it stands to reason that there must be core supporters of those crosses within the protesting group as I'm sure there are joiner inners, fame seekers and agitators.

Naturally, the scouts and the church hierarchy don't want this blown out of proportion, as neither do many of us, but not all these people are 'bad' or wrong :)

Of course, elimination of all religious tendencies has to be the final aim, but I'm sure we'll all survive this minor altercation.

As to politics? Kaczynski has every right to hate Tusk's and Kamorowski's guts. If not for the way they treated his brother or disdained his death then for all their other politics of love and sweet promises :) Throw on top that how practically all proper sovereign safeguards for a thorough investigation have been cast aside,as if his brother's life wasn't worth even that. (see how Israel has carried out helicopter crash investigation in Romania).

Still, it fills the web and the papers and gives a little something to everyone to feel righteous about, eh?

adthelad said...

I should highlight that the death of all the military hierarchy, let alone the remaining dignitaries and honorary guests, should be sufficient reason for the safeguarding of the evidence for the Polish or Nato led crash investigation. Unfortunately for them Kaczyński was the Head of State who died alongside, so it no longer counts as a military or diplomatic flight and so of no greater significance. Well, no relevance to the fact that JK should give his respect to the new President.

Ooops. I'm getting carried away ;)

adthelad said...

Sorry - correctin again - should be 'Remember the cross to the dead of Gdańsk or the cross where the Pope said his first mass on Plac Piłsudzkiego?