Friday, 9 July 2010

A new opening for the Left (and Greens)

May Day: Greens march with
trade unions and SLD
(photo by Alicja Szymczak)

Of course, I am less than happy with the outcome of the presidential elections, but the struggle carries on. Many among the Greens feel that the main obstacle for a reemergence of progressive politics in Poland is the anti-Law and Justice (PiS) hysteria. It prompts many otherwise left-leaning voters and opinion leaders to support the Civic Platform (PO), a deeply conservative and market fundamentalist party passing for "liberal", but hardly representing any progressive agenda at all. The anti-PiS mobilization wipes everything that is progressive, green, feminist, social democratic or even liberal out of the scope of reasonable political choice. I am amazed how many in the liberal media follow this suicidal path.
It is in this context that the result of Grzegorz Napieralski, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), also supported by the Greens, is considered to be a miracle. He obtained nearly 14 per cent of the popular vote. Were the circumstances different, it would not be that impressive. But it was deemed to be a failure. In the time of sharp polarization, with only reluctant help of most other SLD leaders, and with some of them (Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz) even openly supporting his Conservative rival Bronisław Komorowski, he was expected to win no more than 3 or 5 per cent of the vote.

But why is it a new opening for the Left? And, even more so, for the Greens?

Napieralski showed his political cunning in not supporting either Komorowski or Jarosław Kaczyński in the second round. He let them struggle for the minds and hearts of his voters by including left-wing agenda in their programmes. And they did it, or at least they did try. Komorowski started to talk about public financing of in vitro fertilization, 35 per cent obligatory quotas for women on the lists to Parliament, and cheaper railway tickets for students. Kaczyński raised the issues of labour relations, public health care and the model of welfare state. He even called the institution of permanent employment contract "one of the very fundaments of our civilization." So, progressive agenda unexpectedly appeared in the very center of debate between... two right wing candidates.

But obviously, it is not the Right that is going to represent this agenda in the future. But will the Left be able to do it? Napieralski declares he wants to cleanse his party of neoliberal elements that proved so unuseful and even disloyal during his presidential campaign. He probably will attempt a renewal of the SLD in a close cooperation with the Greens, the Women's Party, and trade unions. If only he is consistent and determined, he can transform SLD from the party of postcommunist establishment into a genuine Social Democracy. And this would open the way, in Poland, for a more progressive future.

Adam Ostolski

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Two short comments on the ongoing elections in Poland

Quoted in Le Journal du Dimanche (20th June) about the rise in support for Jarosław Kaczyński among young voters: Pologne: Le face-à-face des droites. In NRC next (21st June) about the good result of pro-gay left candidate Grzegorz Napieralski: Homovriendelijke kandidaat deed het goed in Polen.

Monday, 17 May 2010

If animals could vote

For left-wing voters, there does not seem to be a big choice in the coming presidential elections. Both major candidates, Bronisław Komorowski (Civic Platform) and Jarosław Kaczyński (Law and Justice) happen to be right-wingers. Their is no substantial difference in what they say on the war in Afghanistan, NATO, nuclear energy, women's and LGBT rights, relations between the State and the Church, and so on. There is a trade union link in the case of Kaczyński, making him look a bit more "pro-social" of the two, but he is far from the "one-nation Conservative" image of his late brother Lech. Although he is visibly more cautious about privatisation than Komorowski, and much more supportive of the public health care system, he still boasts about his government having lowered taxes (for the rich, to be sure). Even those differences taken into account, no impressive choice for a progressive voter anyway.

Oddly enough, this creates an occasion for hitherto neglected topics to come into the fore. The issue of animal rights, or rather of the complex relations between humans and animals, appears to be quite important. At least, it enables one to really distinguish between the two main rivals. One of them lives with a cat, while the other is a devoted hunter. As it can be seen on the banner profligated by the (hitherto unknown) Animal Protection Party:


The fact of Komorowski's killing animals for pleasure is being raised not only by animal rights activists, but also by some of his right wing opponents. The pro-Kaczyński "Rzeczpospolita" published at least two cartoons about the hunting candidate (both by Andrzej Krauze). One of them displays a "Honorary Committee of support for the Hunter" in form of a row of hanged animal corpses, while the other represents voting as a unanimous action by a herd of frightened-to-death animals.

The other side raises the issue of human-animal relations as well. Last Sunday, on the inauguration of the Honorary Committee of support for Komorowski, Professor Władysław Bartoszewski (Poland's former minister of foreign affairs) made an allusion to Kaczyński's being a bachelor: "If Poland is to be degraded to the Rwanda's or Burundi's level of world's attention, it would be the best reason to vote for a man who has the experience in raising fur-bearing animals, but does not have the experience of being a father." This is a wonderful example of how racist, homophobic, and speciesist formulations may still pave their way into the mainstream of respectable political discourse. Though I would not bet it helps.

Anyway, it is fascinating to watch how new topics emerge as a means to make a difference between the two otherwise so similar rivals. I am going to watch it carefully. And as you may have already guessed, I would be more than happy to cede my vote to one of my cats this time...

P.S. Today's news (Thursday, 19 May): Komorowski gives up hunting. Good news. Maybe animals cannot vote, but it seems they sometimes do count.

Adam Ostolski

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Greens after Party Conference

4th Green Party ConferenceThe previous weekend (16 and 17 April) Polish Greens gathered in Warsaw for the fourth Party Conference. It was my third party congress since I joined the Greens, and so far the most exciting one. We made some changes in the ranks of our leadership: Dariusz Szwed has retained his position of the male co-chair, while Agnieszka Grzybek has been replaced by Małgorzata Tkacz-Janik as the female co-chair of the party. But what is the most important, we had occasion to discuss and update our political programme. What it means to be "Green" in today's Poland? What sort of alternative to the dominant Civic Platform -- and to the political scene in general -- are we dreaming of? We have always been an anti-neoliberal party, but what it precisely means in 2010, seven years after our party's establishment?

After the conference, some are speaking of a "social turn" in our politics, while others claim we simply made our long-held principles more detailed. Anyway, there is a sense of breakthrough. At the conference we adopted four documents: on electoral law, on social policy, on public health, and on education. It is now much clearer what do we stand for in these domains, what sort of electoral reform do we propose in order to reopen Poland's political landscape, and what our vision of social justice is like.

In electoral law we stand for the opening of political scene for new parties and movements by lowering thresholds, as well as introducing restrictions on commercial electoral campaigns. We also support better representation of women in politics and lowering of the voting age in local elections to 16.

In social policy, public health & education we stand for the vision of public services strongly opposed to their commodification and privatisation. Especially health and education should be treated as human rights, and not commodities. We want better protection of women's rights in employment, health, and education policy. We support employment policy based on jobs creation, and not only on the "activation" of the unemployed. We want to foster better work-life balance in order to support public health and create better conditions for gender equality within family. We stand for policies that would diminish social and economic inequalities between people.

Sounds great, ain't it? What we still lack, however, is the power to translate it into binding laws and policies. But no worry, next local elections will be soon.

Dariusz Szwed and Małgorzata Tkacz-Janik
Dariusz Szwed and Małgorzata Tkacz-Janik, co-chairs

Ewa Charkiewicz
Ewa Charkiewicz and Paweł Fischer-Kotowski

Johann Bros
Johann Bros

Adam Ostolski
Adam Ostolski

Bartłomiej Kozek
Bartłomiej Kozek

Bartłomiej Kozek, Irena Kołodziej and Aleksandra Kretkowska
Bartłomiej Kozek, Irena Kołodziej and Aleksandra Kretkowska

Hanna Gill-Piątek and Wojtek Kłosowski, voting
Hanna Gill-Piątek and Wojtek Kłosowski, voting

4th Green Party Conference
photo by: Maciej "Psych" Smykowski

Sunday, 14 March 2010

NYT on Poland's young Left

Twenty years after the fall of communism, an attempt to rejuvenate the left is in full swing in Poland, led by a circle of young idealists, who argue that the time has come to open up political discourse to ideas that have long been demonized because of the country’s communist past. - writes Dan Bilefsky in "The New York Times" (12th March, 2010).

More: Polish Left Gets Transfusion of Young Blood.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Gender policy or gender politics?

Five years down the road of EU enlargement, the dominant mood is one of disappointment. Is this simply a crisis of leadership (some have even begun speaking of a backlash) in the European Union? Or are we perhaps dealing with a broader phenomenon sometimes referred to as "gender fatigue"? What may be at stake here is the exhaustion of a certain strategy of pushing for women’s rights – a strategy whose present embodiment is in the "gender mainstreaming" policy. We might also ask whether we are facing three separate challenges here, or three aspects of the same impasse – in European political institutions, in social attitudes, and inside women’s organization? If the backlash in the EU, gender fatigue in the workplace and disaffection with gender mainstreaming within the women’s movement are three separate independent phenomena, then the recipe for our problems would be to continue doing what we have done all along, only more effectively. If, however, we are dealing with various aspects of a single crisis, then we need to ask about its root causes.

In the article The European Union, Gender Politics and Social Change in a collection Gender in the EU (pp. 30-32) published by the Heinrich Bőll Stiftung, I am trying to trace the consequences of the replacing of feminist politics with "gender policy". What is the true meaning of the recent exchange of politics for policy? What happens, when we leave behind struggle for change, and try to negotiate the administration of change instead? Will we be able to restore the momentum of social movements, and their utopian power? These questions are pertinent not only for feminist struggle, but for the environmental and other struggles as well.

Adam Ostolski
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