Magazine article The Spectator

Poland's Great Divide

Magazine article The Spectator

Poland's Great Divide

Article excerpt

Poland is furiously divided - but it's not in the grip of 'hyper-nationalism'

Bono has a new opponent: Liroy, a tattooed Polish rapper whose hits include 'Jak Tu Sie Nie Wkurwic' ('How can I not get pissed off?'). He was outraged when the U2 singer recently claimed that Poland is succumbing to 'hyper-nationalism'. In an open letter Liroy wrote: 'Your knowledge on this subject must be based on a rather questionable source and is far from the truth. Both as a musician and a Polish MP I would like to invite you to Warsaw to discuss the subject... and see for yourself the current vibe of Poland.'

It's obvious where Bono got the idea. Everyone in western Europe seems convinced that Polish democracy is on the verge of extinction at the hands of a right-wing nationalist party that seized power last October. There's a widespread belief that the 'anti-liberal' and 'anti-democratic' Law and Justice party (PiS) is trampling on the constitutional court, intelligence services and public media.

For Poles like Liroy, however, this is a partisan narrative, accepted uncritically by foreigners. The 'Poland lies in ruins' line, they say, is a crafty piece of spin by the ousted party, Civic Platform. Critics insist that Platforma, as it's known, disgraced itself in government. Its eight-year reign was corrupt, incompetent, arrogant and slavishly pro-European. Now, they say, the party is seeking to undermine its successor with the help of Brussels.

That is a partisan narrative, too, of course -- one eagerly promoted by PiS supporters. An atmosphere of disinformation and propaganda makes it difficult to determine the truth. Poland is the land of spiskologia , conspiracy theory and counter-conspiracy theory, where nothing is what it seems.

PiS is a much more complicated group than most English-language journalists make out. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a 66-year-old cat-loving bachelor, is its chief ideological architect. Described as 'part Yoda, part KarlLagerfeld', he is regarded by many as the most powerful man in Poland. He exercises that power indirectly, through two younger, more telegenic figures: Andrzej Duda, the country's new president; and Beata Szydlo, the prime minister.

Along with his identical twin brother Lech, Jaroslaw starred in the 1962 children's film The Two Who Stole the Moon . They joined Solidarity, the movement that overthrew communism, but became disillusioned after Poland's transition to democracy. They believed that Solidarity had agreed to a disastrous compromise, letting outgoing communists retain control of parts of the economy, media and intelligence services. The brothers were determined to undo this uklad ('pact'), which enemies insisted was a figment of their imaginations.

When Jaroslaw became prime minister and Lech president, they seized their chance. But Jaroslaw held office for barely a year and Lech died in a plane crash in Russia that wiped out much of the PiS leadership. Jaroslaw has worn black ever since.

Despite attempting to keep a low profile, Jaroslaw hasn't lost his gift for provocation. When the opposition reported PiS to Brussels, he compared them to the 18th-century noblemen who betrayed Poland to Catherine the Great. 'In Poland, there is a horrible tradition of national treason, a habit of informing on Poland to foreign bodies,' he said. …

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