Friday, 7 January 2011

How Poland became greener in 2010

2010 was a strange year for Poland, with the Smoleńsk tragedy and its aftermath, early presidential elections, and floods. Also for the Greens, it was a long and unusual year, a year of breaking through. The electoral breakthrough in the local elections in November, with our first ever elected councillors and members of regional parliaments, did not happen in a void. First there were significant changes within the Green Party, as well as important changes in the general political context.

The sense of breaking through first came to my mind in April, during Green Party Conference. At the Conference we accepted four policy documents, precising our aims and values in the domain of electoral law, social policy, health service, and education. The discussion was informed, passionate, and fruitful. The new policy documents resolved a prolonged tension within the party concerning our stance on social and economic policies. It gave our leaders and activists a tremendous sense of empowerment.

Małgorzata Tkacz-Janik
(photo from Wikipedia)
Then there was a series of changes in the political situation. In the presidential elections, the Greens supported Grzegorz Napieralski, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). His political programme proved closer to the Green vision than the programme of any other candidate. Then there were long and difficult talks about a coalition in the local elections. We achieved an agreement, and in the November elections many Green candidates (though not all) ran on Social Democratic ballot. Now we have two members of regional parliaments: Małgorzata Tkacz-Janik (co-leader of the Greens) in Silesia and Ewa Koś in West Pommerania, and three members of municipal councils: Beata Kubica in Opole, Krystian Legierski in Warsaw and Sebastian Kotlarz in the rural commune of Kąty Wielkie. Sebastian Kotlarz was elected as an independent Green candidate in a first-past-the-post constituency, he highlighted his Feminist convictions in his campaign. Krystian Legierski is not only the first Green councillors in Warsaw, but also the first out gay candidate elected to a political office in Poland; we have made history.

But there was also an important breakthrough in Polish media. In 2010, two strong taboos were definitely broken. First, there is no longer a taboo concerning the Church and State relations in Poland. Until August 2010, the overwhelming majority of Polish people discontent with the dominant position of the Catholic Church in political life or its economic privileges had been virtually voiceless and invisible. Those who would question the privileges of the Church would be often dismissed as 'extremists.' Now it has all changed. The position of the Church started to lose its unquestionable status in April, when the Church supported the controversial burial of the late president Lech Kaczyński in the Wawel Cathedral. Then the media started to discuss the workings of the Property Commission that was responsible for transfering to the Church institutions valuable properties and tremendous sums of money on grounds that seem quite unclear, to say the least. And then there was a conflict about the cross put by scouts in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw in the days of Smoleńsk mourning. On 9th August, a huge crowd of young people come to demand the displacement of the cross and a closer separation of Church and State. Now it is evident that anticlerical demands have supporters ready to come out and defend their right to be heard.

And there is also a second taboo that did not survive the turbulences of 2010. It is the Polish system of pensions introduced by the infamous government of Jerzy Buzek. Until recently, it was unquestionable. Now, even some neoliberal experts denounce it as irrational and costly. So there is also much more space for its progressive critics to speak out.

The Greens start the new year empowered -- with our new programme, with our councillors, and with media more open to debate. But 2011 will also be a year of challenges, parliamentary elections and debate on nuclear energy in Poland not least important among them.

Adam Ostolski

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