by Peter Gentle
In April this year, while police searched her house in connection with a corruption investigation while she was a minister of construction in the previous, ex-communist led government, 57-year-old Barbara Blida went into the bathroom, fetched a gun from the washbasin cabinet and shot herself through the heart. For many in Poland, the last two years of the constantly unstable Law and Justice government, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski – his identical twin brother Lech is President of Poland – will be remembered by that dramatic suicide.
The Kaczynski twins have led a war on Poland’s 1980s and post-communist 1990s past. They see Poland ruled by an informal, corrupt cabal of ex-communists and liberals, who got their hands on the spoils in the transition to capitalism. This ‘oligarchy’ control media and much of industry, they say, and have thrived on post-communist privatizations. The Kaczynski government has pursued their opponents ruthlessly, say their critics, politicizing the legal and secret services to do so.
One of the most contentious laws they created to do this was the so-called ‘Lustration Act’ – basically a vetting law, not just to weed out politicians and civil servants who served in the communist regime and after, but also lawyers, teachers and journalists.
And not just Polish journalists. This PJM correspondent in Warsaw is British born, who in the 1980s was at university in London. But I still had to sign the lustration document saying that I never collaborated with any Polish communist secret services. So even foreign journalists have got caught up in Kaczynski’s war on communists and liberals.
The Lustration Law was eventually ruled anti-constitutional by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, but the government has vowed to create new laws to weed out the ‘cabal’.
The main targets of what has been a mono-thematic government are not just the ex-communists. The main challenger to Law and Justice in the election on Sunday is the Civic Platform – currently ahead in the highly volatile opinion polls – made up of members of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s old Solidarity trade union.
But Civic Platform, led by Donald Tusk, are economic liberals; they say they want to speed up privatization and pass business-friendly laws. They also favor a much more conciliatory relationship with the European Union, with which the Kaczynski government, as Polish nationalists, has had a difficult time.
Civic Platform, and the Left and Democrats, dominated by the ex-communists, have made much of the Kaczynski government’s bad image abroad. Poland, they say, is ‘ashamed’. They promise to concentrate, not so much on the past, but on the future – getting Poland ready for the challenge of dropping the Polish currency, the zloty, and converting to the Euro, and creating a thriving economy which will tempt back over a million Poles who have left the country since Poland joined the EU in 2004.
In substance though, the gap between Law and Justice and Civic Platform is not so wide: the differences are more in style than content. Whoever wins there will still be some form of lustration; and Civic Platform will not liberalize Poland restrictive abortion laws or make any other social reforms.
But the tone of public life maybe different.
In the final days of the campaign corruption is back on the agenda again. One candidate for Civic Platform, Beata Sawicka, was set up by the ubiquitous Anti-Corruption Bureau in October and apparently caught red handed while taking 250,000 zlotys for a tender for a 2 hectare property in Hel, northern Poland when she was working for the local authority.
Civic Platform immediately dropped her from their list of candidates.
Sawicka gave a televised press conference Wednesday, and as tears rolled down her face she claimed that she was set up by an operative from the Anti-Corruption Bureau who literally seduced her as part of the entrapment.
She said about her attempts to clear her name: “One former MP is dead [referring to the bathroom suicide of Barbara Blida] and another is desperately fighting for her life.”
Was she threatening us with another suicide?
Some people will be glad when this election campaign is finally over
Peter Gentle is a Warsaw-based journalist. He blogs at The Beatroot.