Back to the future, and dynastic democracy

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After 29 years, Lech Wałęsa once again brought to life the Citizens’ Committee. In 1989, the Committee’s anointed leaders of the Solidarity movement won an overwhelming victory in the first (partially) free parliamentary elections after World War 2. In the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, they got all the places that had been allocated to the opposition as a result of an agreement with the communist authorities. The rest was guaranteed for the communists themselves and their allies. The elections to the Senate, the upper house, were on the other hand completely free and Lech Wałęsa’s Committee won 99% of all seats.


After 3 decades, Wałęsa and the opposition are trying to repeat the same manoeuvre and just as the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) was removed from power, the plan is now to remove PiS (Law and Justice). The former leader of Solidarity is no longer as charisma and has less authority, but still enjoys a high esteem, especially abroad, and is the only person able to even at least partially unite the conflicted and inept opposition fractions. The official formation of the Committee was attended by the leaders of the two largest opposition groups – Grzegorz Schetyna from Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) and Katarzyna Lubnauer from .Nowoczesna (.Modern). The appointment of the Committee and the likely start of the opposition candidates from one common list makes it clear in advance what will be their program. The program will have, as in 1989, one point: to remove the rulers from power.

It is quite difficult to predict to what extent Lech Wałęsa himself is able nowadays to help the opposition. It is obvious that the success of 1989 will not be repeated, but it cannot be ruled out that many a candidate will gain direct support from the legendary leader. This should be the case for at least one person – Jarosław Wałęsa – son of Lech, who is fighting for the office of president of Gdańsk in the local government elections taking place in autumn. His immediate rival will be Kacper Płażyński – son of Maciej Płażyński, who once was the Speaker of the Sejm and together with other Polish leaders, including President Lech Kaczyński, died in the plane crash in Smolensk in Russia.

On the other end of Poland – in Cracow, Małgorzata Wasserman, the daughter of Zbigniew, a former Minister of Special Forces who also died in Smolensk, will fight for the presidency of the city.

The practice that children follow in the footsteps of their parents or that someone from the family draws from the name and achievements of e.g. one’s spouse, is nothing of a novelty, but it seems that in Poland this is beginning to take on alarming proportions. This is not as pathological as in the United States quite yet, where the citizens actually agree to support a political model present in Central Asian states created after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to be ruled by family clans – Bush or Clinton, or Cuomo in the state of New York, where federal positions and office of governor become almost hereditary. Somehow, it seemed natural for Americans that first Bush was in charge, then Bill Clinton, then son of Bush, and then Bill’s wife Hillary. (Obama distorted that pattern unintentionally, so it was only after him that we had to get back to Clinton’s wife, or George Bush’s second son – Jeb. A sly plan this time messed up by Trump.)

In the Polish Parliament in 2011-2014, there were two widows of the late Deputy Prime Minister Gosiewski, who also died in Smolensk. Tomasz Cimoszewicz, son of the former PM Włodzimierz, is a member of the Senate. The leader of Polish feminists and socialists is Barbara Nowacka, the daughter of a former deputy prime minister Izabela, who also died in the Smolensk air crash. Adam Gierek, the son of Edward, the First Secretary of PZPR, has been an MEP for 14 years, while the current Prime Minister is Mateusz Morawiecki, son of Kornel, but this one is a glorious exception, as the head of the Polish government only did enter the world of politics after a great and independent career in banking. In addition, there are a whole lot of children and spouses of voivods, presidents of cities, or local politicians in the Polish Parliament. Everyone benefited from the bonus given by the name and achievements of someone else.

29 years ago, during Lech Wałęsa’s first Citizens’ Committee, the Parliament was made up of people who lived ordinary lives of ordinary people, and very often they were part of church organisations, the entire underground movement of Solidarność, as well as illegal political groups in communist Poland. They brought to politics the fervour of people who overthrew communism, but also the life experiences of an average Pole. They were doctors, lawyers, scientists, workers, engineers, farmers, teachers etc. They had the courage of conspirators and pioneers, so necessary to fundamentally change the country.

Now, Anno Domini 2018, benches in the parliament and ministry cabinets are filled with professional politicians and family clans. Ossification, opportunism, inability to make difficult decisions, and a complete lack of insight into what the real world looks like, rather than the one created by the media, become natural properties. Just like in the West, in the democracies that our in supposed to be modelled on. Nobody is surprised that children take their parents’ profession. In the case of choosing a political career, it turns out that the whole world they know is the world of political parties and hallways in offices and ministries. It is populated by friends and acquaintances of their parents – deputies, members of the government, party activists. The greatest of virtues in this world of inherited protection is the skill of mimicry – adaptation, the ability to run continuous games, to compromise, and to move within structures and across the thickets of various procedures.

Quite often, political careers are not questioned. One needn’t have any special knowledge, special skills of a doctor or an engineer to be successful. All that is required are the inherited network of acquaintances and access to knowledge how to move in the world of appearances and opportunism. Therefore, it is a particularly easy and attractive career path for so many children of politicians.

Poland is still being admonished to follow the patterns of Western democracies. It seems, however, that the implementation of a dynastic democracy is not worth the effort. No-one will ban children to follow in their parents’ footsteps and it is quite natural that they should do so, but it seems that voters should approach the concept of inheriting offices and positions with greater caution. Imperceptibly, the patterns of Western democracy transferred to Poland may become those we see in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Paradoxically, several countries in Western Europe do not have to fear this might happen there. But only because many of the leading professional politicians have no children.

Author: Dariusz Matuszak

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