Poland is ruled by the same sort of people who brought her to ruin in 1939, and if they do not change course soon, Poland will be forgotten and cease to exist.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
“Poland, once poised to lead Eastern European nations as a regional power, will now at best follow the lead of Mr. Orban, whose conservatism is equally thoughtful and effective as the Czech republic’s Vaclav Klaus, but, given the size and potential of Hungary, can actually impact policy in the region rather than be a voice in the wilderness. Poland, and Polish conservatives, meanwhile, have lost their historic chance to lead.”
So I wrote on these pages on June 2nd, 2014, so it is today. Prime Minister Orbán’s principal argument with regard to European politics—that unrestricted illegal migration is a danger to European identity and security—is no longer a fringe or marginal position, as even Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker have acknowledged the urgency of border security. Likewise, Mr. Orbán’s warning that a European Union that attempts to undermine European national and religious identities in favor of ideology will risk disintegration has borne itself out with the British vote to leave the Union.
Mr. Orbán’s measured recalcitrance has made the point of view of European conservatism very clearly. Now, with his recent pivot to stand with twenty-seven other EU member-states for the re-election of European Council President Donald Tusk, he has again demonstrated the pragmatism and sense of realism that go hand in hand with idealism in the conservative disposition. Mr. Orbán, the “trouble maker” of Europe, understands what continental conservatives throughout Europe should now all accept: the time for iconoclasm is over.
Europe is at a crossroads. For those European conservatives among us who have been struggling for unity, but against centralization, it is time we recognize that our tactical political gambits have been successful. 2016 proved our point. 2017, depending on election results in France and Germany, may prove our point all the more so. Yet independent of the election results, the question is no longer “should Europe change,” only “how”?
The British debate over the United Kingdom’s place in the Union is over; the time of the British political iconoclast in the EU is over. It is now the time for pragmatic and realistic negotiations that will enshrine EU-British relations that preserve trade and security cooperation between two sovereign blocs: the European Union and the British Commonwealth. The British government recognizes that the time for iconoclasm has ended. Prime Minister Theresa May stood with the majority of the EU nation states in re-electing the acting EU Council President. She wisely understood that the British ought not antagonize the EU further: The British are by democratic mandate headed for formal independence and owe courtesy and diplomatic deference towards the EU in the lead-up to formal British withdrawal from the Union. Prime Minister May recognizes that British victory in the coming years means a good treaty with the EU, not standing athwart the EU majority in the waning months of Britain’s formal membership.
Almost all the member-states of the European Union now realize that the Union is in a race for time. Either it will reform and find accord, or it will collapse and necessitate a completely new European architecture for the twenty-first century. At this point, whether or not the European Union formally collapses or not, it is obvious to almost all that new ideas are in order. The general sense of the twenty-seven countries that voted to re-elect Mr. Tusk recently is a conservative one: to reform the Union through existing structures rather than further erode those structures.
This requires clear thinking and pragmatism. The recent White Paper on the EU issued by Jean-Claude Junker makes apparent that the notion of a multi-speed European integration, wherein various blocs within the Union integrate at different rates, is gradually becoming a reality. Whether or not this is controlled integration or controlled disintegration is another matter—at this point, it appears to be the only realistic means of maintaining the Union. It is inadequate in the long-term because it lacks democratic and historical grounding, but it is the prevailing mood in Europe now.
It will soon become clear whether or not the EU will face a second existential challenge. The lone nation-state to withhold its support for Mr. Tusk was Poland. The decision was born of antipathy for their compatriot, whom Poland’s current rulers accuse of being a German agent and an assassin who murdered the former Polish president.
Mr. Tusk has indeed long enjoyed the support and political patronage of Chancellor Angela Merkel, but Mr. Tusk’s Polish rivals—centered around Jarosław Kaczyński—are likewise “German agents.” Mr. Kaczyński recently voiced his support for Chancellor Merkel’s re-election bid in Germany and the Polish government he informally controls has asked for and received German soldiers, tanks and officers to man strategic positions in Poland. Germany today exercises near total military, economic and political power over Poland, overshadowed only by the United States—all of this at the request of a bipartisan consensus stretching from the previous Polish government to the present government. Historically, this situation is akin to Poland’s old request for Prussian military units to be stationed on its soil as a presumed buffer against Russia. Then as now, Poland erased itself from the map of Europe, all the while howling that it was being erased by force. Then as now the pretext was the “Russian threat” and the odd presumption that “for your liberty and ours” it was necessary to curtail Polish-Russian relations in favour of German-Russian relations.
Elsewhere in these pages, I made the point about Mr. Kaczyński’s political activity in the Ukraine that he “surrounded himself with Russophobes and men of little intelligence, purged his party of many thinking conservatives, and ultimately made a fool of himself.” Today, one may elaborate this point and add that not only has Mr. Kaczyński botched Poland’s eastern policy, he has definitively ruined Poland’s European standing. All of Eastern Europe, including the conservatives of Hungary and even Great Britain, which is leaving the Union, have united against Mr. Kaczyński’s little government. Not since 1939 has Poland been so badly isolated on the world stage. Indulging in morbid humor: The only difference now is that since Mr. Kaczyński and Mr. Tusk invited German soldiers to station in Poland, while wholly dedicating themselves to preserving Ukraine, there is no need to invade Poland from either east or west.
Dark humor aside, the current Polish situation is Europe’s next crisis. It is the unfortunate truth that Poland’s recovery on the world stage since 1989 can now be called a definitive failure. To be clear, Poland’s Catholic culture, as embodied in the political activity of Pope John Paul II and Primate Stefan Wyszyński before him, is Europe’s greatest strength—a strength which saved the continent from the Cold War and brought about the present extent of the European Union. As a people, Poles are amongst the best that Europe has to offer. Sadly, this is not reflected in their political architecture.
The present Third Republic proved itself more durable than the Second Republic, but it has collapsed into a petty tyranny of incompetents no different from the Sanation dictatorship that shattered Woodrow Wilson’s dreams of a free and independent Poland following World War I. It is now ruled by people who on the one hand are convinced that a German-Russian conspiracy exists to subvert their country, that German-Russian state sponsored terrorists collaborated with the European Union Council President to murder the Polish President, and on the other hand who demand that German soldiers defend Poland and German statesmen bankroll her. Poland is ruled by the same sort of people who brought her to ruin in 1939.
The easiest way to understand the Polish failure is to compare the country to Hungary. Both faced very similar problems. Both were burdened by imperfect post-communist constitutional orders akin to the compromises Americans had to make with the institutions of slavery in order to form an independent government. Hungary under Mr. Orbán has done the hard work of amending the Hungarian constitution, thereby rectifying the problems arising from post-communism through legal means. In Poland, Mr. Kaczyński’s acolytes—the utterly dependent President and Prime Minister—simply ignored the Polish constitution and declared the entire document moot. Constitutional order was never a strong aspect of the Polish political tradition, where aristocratic oligarchs enjoyed absolute power, including the power to vote Kings in and out of office. The new “Polish Masters,” following in the footsteps of their idol, Polish dictator Marshal Piłsudzki, found the constitution not to their liking and discarded it for all practical purposes. This situation naturally brings into question the extent to which Poland is a constitutional republic. Eager to protect itself from domestic popular discontent, the current Polish government invited the Venice Commission and the European Union to examine and opine on the rule of law in Poland. When the Commission and the European parliament censured Poland, the government—shocked—rebuked the censure as an attack on Polish sovereignty. Indeed it would have been had Poland itself not requested the procedure.
In terms of economic policy, Poland has utterly failed—counting from 1989 to the present—to achieve the goal of raising the standard of living for the general populace. The current government is cementing all the poverty, inefficiency and systematic unemployment that has lingered on since 1989 through policies that will destine Poland to remain economically underdeveloped for the foreseeable future. In short, the present Polish government has raised the welfare state to the level of chief substitute for rational economic policy.
Conservatives are generally opposed to the welfare state. Prudent conservatives recognize that it may be necessary, as statesmen from Bismarck to FDR have argued, to retain a basic safety net despite theoretical inefficiencies of government intervention in the long run as a means of preventing crippling revolutions in the short run. The Polish government, unfortunately, does not see the welfare state either as a case of compassionate redistribution from rich to poor or as a pragmatic buffer against revolutions. The present government has radically expanded the welfare state in Poland with cash payouts from the state to all families with two or more children.
This welfare scheme is not even a component of a broader economic agenda. It is the economic program of the government. The principle concern of the present government is to raise tax revenue in order to fund greater cash handouts. In pursuit of this goal, the tax and regulatory agencies in Poland have been given broader authority to harass business. They naturally fail to have much effect on the international corporations on the Polish market which usually have larger legal and accounting budgets than the Polish state. They do, however, serve to destroy the last vestiges of Polish-owned private business initiative. The private market is mainly composed of international corporations while the largest Polish owned economic entities are all government-owned. In fact, the proportion of the economy that is government-owned is between forty and fifty percent. The proportion of the private business market which is owned by regular Poles is abysmally low. There is hardly anything resembling a middle class. The government is doing nothing to rectify this disproportion and everything to cement it. The civic and commercial institutions associated with advanced economies have not grown in the last thirty years. The government sector is now vastly larger than it was under communism.
Statistics are not a good measure of Poland’s situation, and the image they painted of a prospering economy since 1989 have led to the present shock amongst pundits at both the most recent election results and the accelerating unravelling of the country since 2015. The seven-eight percent unemployment rate, hailed as one of the lowest in Europe, is a misleading statistic because it does not account for the millions of Poles who have been forced to emigrate West by perpetual jobless economic growth, which has been the norm for thirty years. Americans got a taste of jobless economic growth for a short time in the waning years of the economic recovery under President Obama. It is perhaps the most disheartening of economic situations: a rising GDP and rising corporate profits combined with falling wages and high unemployment. This has been the norm in Poland since 1989 and has levelled out into the systematic basis of the economy. Subsequent governments have been content to solve unemployment by exporting Poles abroad rather than attempting to create conditions for domestic economic advancement. No greater testimony to the failure of Poland since 1989 exists than the fact that emigration from Poland since 1989 has been at rates unseen since either the fall of Poland in the late eighteenth century or World War II. Those left in the country experience an average income of roughly 600 Euro per month with costs of living no different than those of Germany or Belgium, and an effective twelve-hour workday.
The equivalent of an entire generation of the youngest, highly educated, and most productive Poles have fled the country, principally for Great Britain. Politically, this has left Poland without a domestic constituency eager to reform the economy. There is no political pressure on either the government or opposition coming from the aspiring middle class because there is no aspiring middle class. Taxes as a share of real income total roughly fifty percent of gross salaries, which are on average at the European poverty level, and the willingness of the population to suffer further privation in hopes for effective reform is at an end. People no longer organize and vote: They flee.
The government has not only destroyed bilateral relations with Russia and the West, it has resisted a Chinese overture to heavily invest in the Polish economy. China, completely independent of Polish efforts, decided that Poland should become its chief strategic trade partner in Eurasia and the focal point of a mass land-based transportation network that would have goods delivered from Chinese factories to European warehouses in forty-eight hours. Poland—the Chinese decided—would be the center of Eurasian trade. To date, China is the only major power in the world to have lavished the current Polish government with the honor of a state visit and a show of serious respect. The response of the Poles to this fantastic economic opportunity has been muted uninterest.
All this will soon become Europe’s next crisis. It will be a crisis more severe than Brexit because Poland is not vying to be outside of the EU. Britain will, within one or two years, enjoy a renaissance of good relations with the EU, as all political bonds which had been a source of displeasure will have been dissolved while economic and cultural exchange will blossom. Poland is poised to remain the sick man of Europe.
The prospect of a multi-tier European Union, which is now taking shape, could effectively push the Polish problem to the margins of European affairs. Isolated and impoverished, Poland will eventually lose its lavish EU funding and, having refused to undertake the creation of an alternative to EU membership, she will lag. Yet Europe cannot escape the fact that Poland is an enormous country with a formidable population.
Instability in Poland has, like Balkan instability, always posed a danger to European order. Segments of Poland’s political scene will likewise deepen their sense of despair and seek outside intervention as they have always done. This process is already under way and has been for quite some time. Eventually, it will all end when Germany, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia agree to a course of action that stabilizes the Polish situation for the next hundred years. Subsequent Polish parliaments will ratify subsequent stabilization measures, subsequent generations of Poles will leave the country and in the end—Poland will be forgotten and cease to exist. This scenario had already played itself out in the past, during the partitions. It has now commenced again. One could say that it is up to the present generation of Poles to work to rectify the situation, but they know better—they are boarding airplanes and buses and leaving the madness behind in favour of calm, decent lives. One sees them everywhere on YouTube channel after YouTube channel: from Tokyo to Toronto, the modern Pole is an intelligent, creative individual whose talents and hard work are helping build other countries because his own is determined to remain stagnant. Poles make good neighbours wherever in the world they may be. As Poles enjoy peaceful bourgeoisie lives around the world, Poland will remain transfigured by the cult of Smolensk: the pinnacle of all her national vices coalesced into a political religion which can only end just as the fateful flight of the Tupolev ended on April 10th 2010
That is, in suicide.
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