Saturday, 10 December 2016

Power in the vertical or horizontal?

'The Power Vertical' is the title of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty blog about Russia, but the title can apply to any country where power is concentrated in the hands of one person; Castro, Kim Jong Un, Lukashenko, Assad, Mugabe, Maduro  - and those who are trying to achieve this end - the likes of Erdogan, Orban, and yes, Kaczynski.

Suweren, 'the sovereign'. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the largest party in the Polish parliament, though neither the elected head of state nor prime minister, is bent on building a state that channels all power through his trusted people up to him. No room then for distributed, bottom-up networked decision making, no room for people at grassroots level with a different world-view competing for control of the levers of influence.

The state-owned media has been put into the hands of loyalists who've turned it into a shameless propaganda. I don't watch TVP any more - it's party media. Now, using regulatory mechanisms, PiS is setting out to reduce private media outlets' ad revenues and hence influence.

The new trend in Polish politics in recent months is to start questioning the reason for existence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), starting from healthcare charity WOŚP, through to attacks on environmental groups.

Ahead of 2018's local elections, the organs of state are trying to discredit popular local leaders who are not from PiS, an example being Hanna Zdanowska in Łódź. She borrowed money to treat her sick child, made some mistake on the application form, repaid the loan, and is now facing investigation from the CBŚ despite the fact the bank from which she borrowed the money has not even raised this as an issue.

The education system is likewise being adjusted to the needs of Mr Kaczyński; more history (of the right sort), less stuff like science and dodgy things like evolution. The liberal wing of the Catholic Church in Poland has far less influence than the Radio Maryja end of the spectrum, broadcasting intolerance from Toruń, which tends to sees eye-to-eye with Mr Kaczyński.

Mr Kaczyński is intent on snuffing out alternative sources of power to his, just as the communist party was, creating a monopoly that did not countenance non-party initiatives. Communism deprived people of democracy via the ballot box and also of free association and freedom of speech.

Looking at the state of Polish NGOs, there's much that could be improved. Governance and transparency. Compared to British NGOs, which are generally well-run and have traditions going back decades in many cases, Polish NGOs are still in their infancy. They mean well but could do with being more professional. This does not mean they should be closed down; on the contrary, they should be allowed to grow their memberships, focus on effective fundraising and communicating with people at ground level.

The more people can get together to help one another, the less they have to reach out to the state to help them, the less influence the state has over us, the less important it is when the state is won by a person inimical to democracy.

The populist cry 'down with the elites' takes on an interesting meaning when one pauses to consider what a member of the elite actually is. According to Polish sociologist Jerzy Stelmach, it's a person whose livelihood is not in the least bit linked to whoever holds political power. All the placemen in Polish government agencies and state-owned enterprises are not, by this definition, members of the elite. They are here today, gone after the next election. They cling on to their cushy jobs by dint of their political loyalty within the power vertical, knowing that their office with two assistants, their chauffeur-driven car, is entirely dependent on PiS winning the next parliamentary election.

This makes me a member of the elite. I'm old enough and successful enough (and lucky enough) not to be financially dependent on the ebb and flow of Polish politics. This makes me independent, and, being ideologically opposed to power verticals of left or right, I'm therefore suspect in the eyes of those who support Kaczyzm.

To those who support PiS, I'd say this. There were plenty of imperfections with the PO government, especially towards the end, when complacency and laziness set in. But were things in Poland really so bad that the baby had to go with the bathwater? Was Polska really w ruinie? Was the situation in the autumn of 2015 so bad that democracy (albeit fledgling and imperfect) had to be replaced by a one-man party bent on creating a one-party state?

Power in the hands of one man? NO THANKS.

This time four years ago:
And still they come [anomalous flashbacks that is]

This time five years ago:
Classic glass

This time six years agor:
What's the Polish for 'pattern'?

This time nine years ago:
"Rorate caeli de super nubes pluant justum..."

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