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May 24, 2024

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Post-Communist or Truly Free Poland?

By Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent

WARSAW–“For years, Poland was considered a model of democratic transformation, with Lech Wałęsa’s peaceful revolution heralding a new era based on the rule of law. Now that image is threatened by a conservative government that has plunged the Central European nation of 38 million into a deep constitutional crisis.”

That lead-in to an Associated Press story was typical of the way Poland’s internal political conflict has been depicted by the liberal and leftist media. A similar narration has been projected by The “New York Times”, “Newsweek”, CNN and other mainstream opinion-molders. It is no wonder that many PolAms became confused. Polonian publications and websites as well as Polish-American public opinion in general tend to be on the conservative side. The now governing Law and Justice (PiS) party regularly commands over 60% support from US Polonians eligible to vote in Polish elections.

Running on a platform promising “good changes”, PiS became the only party since 1989 to win a parliamentary majority at the polls, With that significant advantage, it embarked on an ambitious program to right the blunders and injustices of the past 26 years, That has included debunking a deeply engrained urban legend,.promoted since the early 1990s by Poland’s left-leaning “Gazeta Wyborcza” whose political orientation is similar to that of the ultra-liberal “New York Tines.” Its narration alleged that “Solidarity’s bloodless revolution freed Poland from communist rule and opened the way to freedom and prosperity.” Slick PR efforts have entrenched that “feel-good” version so that even some Polish Americans have come to believe it. The reality was considerably more complex.

In actuality, selected Solidarity activists and dissidents willing to play ball with the tottering communist regime clinched a backroom deal in 1989 enabling them to enter the political scene if they guaranteed impunity to the outgoing communists. In 1992, Lech Wałęsa teamed up with other activists who had also served as SB (secret police) informers to oust the Jan Olszewski government which wanted to expose their communist-era ties. That was the start of a post-communist clique that effectively was to rule the country under different party logos for most of the next 23 years. A prime example was the ideologically liberal but economically pro-business government of the Civic Platform party (Platforma Obywatelska or PO) that lost last year’s election after eight years in power..

Using a dispute over the Constitutional Tribunal as their main pretext, the suddenly dispossessed pro-PO elites launched a no-holds-barred propaganda attack on the conservative administration. They called PiS “fascists”, accused them of destroying democracy and warned of 5 AM arrests which have somehow failed to materialize. A self-styled Committee in Defense of Democracy (KOD)  began promoting its anti-government hate campaign in the foreign liberal media and called on the European Union and Western governments to intervene in Poland’s internal affairs.

KOD is supported by communist-era apparatchiks, secret police, military brass, media types, entertainers, academics, lobbyists serving foreign-interest groups and others whose power and influence waned following PO’s election defeat. Law and Justice came to power promising a fair shake and more opportunities for a majority of Poles who have not enjoyed the benefits of Poland’s transformation monopolized by its privileged elites.  The new government argued that Poland, need not be only a neo-colonial country offering cheap manpower and cut-rate industrial sites for foreign companies to assemble their products and siphon the profits back home. Instead, it should actively protect its own interests, create a viable Polish economy and defend its national dignity.

Undaunted by the opposition’s slanderous attacks, the “good change” government has continued its ambitious reform program including:

1) The Family 500+ program providing a 500 zł ($129) monthly child allowance to age 18 to counteract the country’s depopulation and encourage procreation;

2) Lowering retirement age to 60 for women and 65 for men which the previous government had raised to 67;

3) Raising the tax-free base to 8000 zł (about $2,050)  a year

4) Providing free medicine for over those 75 and over;

5) Increasing the minimum wage to 12 zł/($3.07) an hour;

6) A special retail tax on large, mainly foreign-owned supermarkets and discount chains to give smaller Polish-family-owned businesses a fighting chance;

7) A plan to re-Polonize (buy back) former Polish banks often hastily sold to foreign financial institutions;

8) The Morawiecki Plan to create Poland’s own indigenous entrepreneurial class and industrial base;

9) Tough anti-terrorist and law-enforcement legislation which may have contributed to  NATO’s trouble-free Warsaw Summit and safe World Youth Days with Pope Francis;

10) A drop in unemployment to 8.6%, the country’s lowest level since the compilation of such data started in 1992.

11) Reduction of poverty and redistribution of wealth, largely attributable, according to the World Bank, to the Family 500+ program;

12) Plans to reform the judiciary so judges cannot place themselves above the law.

13) More emphasis on Polish history and culture in the public media and school curricula and state subsidies for cultural projects promoting Poland’s cultural heritage.

The bottom line is that it’s not important what European Union bureaucrats or “The New York Times” say but how the Polish people themselves see things. Suffice it to add that PiS now enjoys 41% popular support, up from the 38% of the vote that enabled it to win last October’s election?

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