This is personal and professional. My wife and I have the third edition of our comparative economics textbook now in press at MIT Press. We have chapters on transition economies, and one is on the Polish economy. The standard story is that Poland has been the great success story of transition (now accepted to be over pretty much everywhere for awhile now). It adopted largely western market capitalist institutions successfully, while avoiding mistakes made by other transition economies. It avoided dismantling its social safety net. It was careful about privatizing state-owned enterprises, and in fact continues to have a higher percentage of its output run by them compared to most other such economies, with this tied to its lower rate of corruption than many of them. While it joined the EU, it avoided giving up its currency, which allowed it to devalue and preserve economic growth even as EU nations fell into recession.
Indeed, the ultimate economic success of Poland came during the Great Recession when it was the only nation that did not go into recession at all, steadily growing even through the pit of 2009. It was the first Soviet bloc transition nation to come out of its transition recession, with a reasonably functioning parliamentary democracy, and it has outperformed all the rest economically. In 2007, its president, Lech Kaczynski of the conservative Law and Justice Party, signed the Lisbon Treaty, which allows the EU to enforce judicial independence and other features of western democracy. Later he would die in a plane crash in Russia, which led to his twin brother, the party’s current leader to formulate conspiracy theories that Russia was behind the crash. A souring of attitudes came over the party as it went into a period out of power. But Poland would become one of the most respected members of the EU, with a former president, Donald Tusk, now an EU leader.
On returning to power the Law and Justice party has followed a new track, obsessed by conspiracy theories, it has turned against Russians, Muslims, and Jews, but loves Donald Trump as well as the also neo-authoritarian regime of Victor Orban in Hungary (who is pro-Russia in contrast with the Poles). Both now thumb their noses at the EU and its rules. The latest for Poland is a new law that allows the government to remove half the judges and otherwise take firm control of the judicial system in a way violating Section 7 of the Lisbon Treaty. The EU has formally condemned this move under the treaty, with tis setting up a possible loss of voting rights in the EU for Poland. But the government seems not to care and is more committed to pursuing its nationalistic and authoritarian policies.
An irony of the current situation is that one of the politicians driving the changes. Stanislaw Piotrowicz, was a prosecutor during the period of Communist rule prior to 1989 who helped put dissidents in jail. The irony here is the extreme anti-communism of the Law and Justice party.
What is mysterious is that there is not some obvious economic crisis or problem that is driving this “populist” political trend. Again, economic inequality is not high and corruption is low. The unemployment rate could be lower, but the economy has seen much growth reasonably well distributed, and it is broadly stable without inflation or major control by foreigners, even the hated German neighbors.
That said, one subtle issue of economics may be playing into this, even if it still seems to be secondary. Moving out of the Soviet bloc into the EU has changed the frame of reference. Whereas preciously the Poles could see themselves as better off economically than the politically dominating Soviets. Now they compare themselves to higher income Germany, France, and the UK. Indeed, an irony of the UK Brexit movement is that a motivating element in it has been anger over immigrant “Polish plumbers” supposedly undercutting good local Brits in the job market. The Poles are going elsewhere than Poland to better themselves economically, and this may well provide a backdrop that supports the current dark political trend.
Nice Job Barkley,
I agree mostly and have watched he political right wing’s rise in Poland with interests precisely because Poland wasn’t seriously adversely affected by the Global Great Recession.
What interests me therefore is why the majority of the population elects representatives supporting the conservative elements.
I’m not close enough or informed enough to know what the reasons are, but surmise that its primarily due to propaganda by the right… which I’m sure includes the propaganda related to the relative comparisons having shifted to the western European power houses — Germany in particular.
From my acquaintances who are resettled Poles in the US (only two, one of whom is a mid 40’s female professional with global work experience and education), and my long time acquaintances in Germany, the ethnic animosities of Germans with Poles, eah with the other are extreme, even though as in the US ethnic and racial animosities, unfounded.
I think this plays into the right wing propaganda in Poland as it also plays into it in Germany’s far right propaganda… emotions run deep and from my experience dominate election cycles. Rationalism has never been an attribute of political party candidates.
I do not have a definite answer, but part of it is the strength of the Catholic Church, which reinforces a conservative anti-Semitic nationalism.
The Poles seriously dislike both the Germans (Lutheran) and the Russians (Orhodox), both of whom conquered and ruled them in the past century, as well as earlier during the partition of Poland. Ironically there slowness in privatizing state-owned enterprises, combined with some limits on foreign direct investment, were heavily motivated by not wanting either Germans or Russians taking control of their firms.
In terms of the economy, while they avoided recession, their growth has slowed somewhat in the last few years, which has weakened that economics support. They do not feel like rhey are catching up with Western Europe anymore.
Hi, greetings from Poland!
Right-wing was always very strong here but it usually couldn’t rule without coalition partners. On the left, communist party transformed to social-democratic party Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and prevented a creation of some not post-communist left-wing party. During late 90s/early 00s SLD become indistinguishable from neoliberals and after corruption scandals during its last time in government, its support collapsed and never recovered. That opened the way for the spit of right-wing (Law and Justice) and liberals (Civic Platform) — before 2005 elections they planned to form coalition, but the talks failed and the first Law and Justice government was created but it was very weak and the snap election was called in 2007. Ten years later, in the last elections three parties were just below the election threshold so Law and Justice won the majority with only 37.6% of votes.
To sum up, the nationalist right with open support of very conservative Catholic Church was always present in Poland but usually only having ~30% support so unable to overrule the rest. This time they consolidated under Kaczyński (Law and Justice registered to elections as one party, but in reality it’s a coalition with two other small right-wing parties), had a boost from the lack of social spending during Tusk’s and Kopacz’s governments and pretty weak campaigning by liberals, and to top that some dose of electoral luck. They know that this can be a one-time chance, so they want to use their power for fundamental and permanent changes.
Welcome to Angry Bear. First comments always go to moderation to weed out spammers and advertising. It is still Christmas in Poland, yes? In any case, Merry Christmas.
From what I read here and infer Poland’s liberal / conservative division is East/West along traditional lines.. the Western half having been developed with pre-war Germany and Western Europe. The Eastern half with less industrial coal (and presumably more agricultural than industrial, just my wag) being the more conservative half … probably, imo, pretty much like all nations… agricultural rural nearly always conservative, with high doses of conservative religious doctrine, versus the more industrial, denser populated metro regions.
This seems also to be the case in Poland from the “A” and “B” Poland map in the following link. Note that highly industrial metro Warsaw is an island in the conservative “B” eastern section of Poland.
We have the same divisions here… Midwest & former Confederacy slave agricultural states traditionally socially conservative (and economically only because the aristocracies of the past still hold sway 100 years later by controlling State politics.
See (for starters):
Also see results of 2015 political map here
Looks like I’m dead wrong about agro / population density relation to conservative / liberal in Poland.
So it appears as if the East / West political division follows long transition from Imperial border between Germany and Russia that ran along the same border as the election map shows.
Shades of long lasting tradition being passed down from generation to generation with controlling interests taking root. Gee, where does the US see that same traditional division?
You are mostly right that the political division follows eat-west lines. On the matter of population density, the low density northeast has lots of forests and wilderness areas. The southeast has long been famous for having many very small and poor farms, a troubled region throughout the period of Communist rule as well as since, and also probably the heartland of very conservative and Catholic political sentiment.
The trade union backed Polish govt has slashed child poverty, introduced media plurality (where there was almost none), and stopped the plundering of the economy by crony capitalists and foreign Big Business. The budget deficit has fallen by half while spending has increased massively.
The West can’t face reporting the facts that it has supported Old Commies in Poland for a generation!!
Welcome to Angry Bear. First comments go to moderation to weed out spammers and advertising.
Wow, Varsovian, are you a paid propagandist or do you really believe the massive lies you are spouting here? There has been support for the social safety net, at least some parts of it, but beyond that massive restrictions have been put on press freedom. You equating a spread of govt propaganda as “introduced media plurality” sounds like Fox News calling itself “fair and balanced.” Yes, restrictions have been placed on foreign business, but new crony capitalists tied to the current govt are making out like bandits, heck, are the new bandits. This is the sort of line V.V. Putin hands out in Russia.
Budget deficits declined prior to the Law and Justice Parrty came to poer in 2015. They have basically been constant at about 2.5% of GDP since then.
Look, buster, if you want to come and just flagrantly lie, keep in mind that there are people who know about Poland and will show you up for the drooling mouthpiece for a creepy government of extrerme and despicable nationalists.
BTW, why the hell is your disgusting government hiding the site of the World War II Jewish memorial? Your government shows its true colors with this sort of garbage, and it has plenty of former Communists in it, including some of its biggest loudmouths.
Just reading the 1st couple of paragraphs of Varsovian’s link tells you all you need to know about his ideology .. another ethno-nationalist, anti-immigrant, far right wing conservative absolutist ideologist. He’s just spouting the far right’s propagandist lines.
So which bit of having a Communist husband-and-wife team in charge of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts do you like?
Love having the remnants of Totalitarianism, do you?
Love old guys like Jaruzelski bing gifted a house in central Warsaw for services to the nation, which included murdering patriots?
Ever heard of Jola Brzeska? Of course not! 50k low end tenants were evicted in Warsaw alone in the EU’s biggest property fraud worth billions! Jola was a tenants’ rights campaigner. Know what happened? They took her to a local forest, hands tied behind her back. Poured fuel over her and burnt her alive. The police claimed suicide to give people time to wipe the CCTV recordings.
The independent public prosecutor saw no problem. The case will remain unsolved.
The Liberal mayor wasn’t bothered either – as she was too interested in defrauding a Holocaust asset.
Which brings me onto the next item – how Liberals throughout Europe were happy to cheer on the first utterly corrupt and Communist led Solidarity government in 1989 – whose first move was to pronounce all acts of the Communist era “Legal”. In one fell swoop all Commies could keep all their ill-gotten gains. All Liberals whooped with joy as the heirs of dead Jews were deprived of their property rights so the guys who’d oppressed Poles for decades could be rich.
And yeah – call me all teh names you like, but I have both Jews and Righteous among the Nations in my family, so they kinda bounce off me 🙂
Liberals in Poland = Rich Old Commies.
Barkley Rosser talks about Donald Tusk’s erstwhile friend Vladimir Putin. OK, so let’s talk. Look up the profits of Poland’s fuel giants Orlen and Lotos. You might notice how they’ve rocketed in the last two years. Wonder why? Our Donald set up an illegal fuel importation scam with Putin. Fuel openly came across the borders in road tankers tariff-free. The Customs guys were up in arms, as were the secret service (FSB/Mafia operation) – but the independent public prosecutors told them to shut up as it had been “OKed at the very highest level”.
The Polish taxpayer lost a billion bucks. Talk about a smoking gun – this one just kept on firing.
At around the same time as he set up that illegal deal, Tusk also signed up for Europe’s most expensive gas deal with the Russians – or rather he told his coalition partner to sign the deal. Even the European Commission baulked at this one and struck it down (without saying it was obviously corrupt).
And then there was Smolensk – the report comes out in March I believe. Should be interesting reading.
I’d just like to leave you with this one thought – in charge of the President’s visit to Smolensk was a certain Tomasz Turowski. Communist Poland’s leading spy in the Vatican in the 1980s. Because of a corrupt judge, he never went through the vetting process. He was in secret contact with Anne Applebaum’s husband in the 1980s. R. Sikorski – Tusk’s foreign minister.
At the risk of Barkley having to hand in his resignation notice: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-06-23/if-poland-can-fix-tax-fraud-so-can-greece
The rabidly fascist Bloomberg (Yes, I am joking) sorta points out how utterly corrupt Poland was and how they’ve slashed the budget deficit while massively increasing social spending. Our rich boy “Liberals” hated any sort of social welfare spending just as much as they loved using the riot police on the workers. Old Commie habits die hard, you see. Violence and theft – their hallmarks.
As for the entrenched anti-Semitism of Law and Justice – hopefully they won’t throw out their elected President (Duda) for having a Jewish father-in-law or their new Prime Minister Morawiecki for being part-Jewish!!
Anything else you care like writing? I’ve rather enjoyed the laughs you’ve given me so far. Cuts the old blood pressure.
Where do you teach at in Poland? What relation is David to you? Not to worry I am nosey.
Nah – this is David 🙂
You get one handle or name on AB. You used David once and now you are Varsovian or Warsaw. That is fine, please just keep it at one. It is an ironclad rule. I do not care whether female, male, etc.
I have not been to Warsaw although I have worked in Czech Republic for the Germans jumping off from Passau and coming from Stuttgart. Czechs and Romanians drive like madmen on narrow roads playing chicken. Pretty countryside though and the people are friendly for the most part. Their English supersedes my German although the longer I stay the better I am speaking it. Eventually you will talk English as I will understand what you are saying anyway.
I do not expect you to agree with every person. Being polite helps your argument even though they may not agree with you.
Does it concern you how people want to support the rich, powerful and corrupt in Poland? And these people call themselves “Liberals” and feel so incredibly righteous too – it’s truly astonishing.
I really don’t understand why any right-minded American, for example, would want to have anything to do with people who, for example, had no problem with extreme child poverty – and in fact were against doing anything to remedy the fact that 500k Polish kids only had meat on the table twice a week (Official Polish govt stats 2014).
What’s so great about being totally opposed to social welfare programs?
What’s good about kicking the poor out of the apartment blocks they grew up in because a rich mafioso with impeccable Communist family connections has defrauded ownership of the building?
Why can’t foreigners at least try to understand why Poles have rejected a whole generation of Hard Right policies combined with extreme corruption? Is it that hard to grasp? And foreigners’ rejection of democracy in Poland is peculiar – and the rich seem to be winning the propaganda war by relying on convincing foreigners that it’s because Poles are a backward people who aren’t good enough to live in a democracy.
So “Liberals” are relying on convincing people that Poles are Untermenschen. Sounds familiar, huh?
OMG – I’ve just looked up Barkley Rosser – he hangs out with Jeffrey Sachs. Wow – my opinion of him has just plunged the depths. For those of you out there who don’t know (i.e. 99% of you) – Jeffrey Sachs’ transition plan for Poland pointedly excluded the return of property stolen by the Communists during their decades of tyranny.
Sachs’ plan, when actioned, legalized the theft of Holocaust assets and denied Jews and Poles alike all possibility of recovering what was morally theirs.
Russia’s Communist leaders loved it so much they wanted a piece of the action. Sachs and his ilk gave rise to Putin!
Nobody other than you,me, and maybe Run are reading this anymore, Varsovian Dave, but I shall add three points not mde over on Econospeak, just foer the record.
1) Putting a tariff on importe gas may add money to Polish government coffers; but, it is money paid by Polish consumers of the gas. They are not made better off by it.
2) I know Leszek Balcerowicz better than I know Jeff Sachs, with whom I disagreed with all along regarding social safety net policies. I knew Leszek back when the Communists were still in charge and he was wandering around the US talking about his reform proposals that seemed to have no chance of adoption.
3) It is an old line of anti-Semites that “Some of my best friends are Jewish.” As it is when there was a crackdown on Jews back in 1968, it was noted Poland could have anti-Semitism even while having almost no Jews.