Poland: infested with liberalism

Ten years after the great promise of capitalism, life in Poland has not improved much. But Poland will reject neo-liberalism, just as it did communism.

Bernard Margueritte | March 2003 issue
Poland is a remarkable concoction of the globalist cuisine. In 1989 the country made the transition from communism to democracy through a non-violent revolution dedicated to policies based on respect for dignity and solidarity. Next, without being consulted on the matter, the people underwent the standard neo-liberal shock treatment of economic hardship and individualist ideas. Eleven years later, the nation has become demoralized, inequality is omnipresent, and the economy is ailing. The system is both ineffective and sordid. In addition to being immoral, it is an economic disaster.
Some will vehemently counter such an allegation by referring to Warsaw, with its ultra-modern office buildings, luxury hotels, Dior shops and Mercedeses. The capital and especially the towns elsewhere in Poland have undergone a metamorphosis. Gone is the drab look of yesteryear. The shelves in the shops are no longer empty, and the long lines have disappeared. A while ago we might have added you could walk into a bookshop and purchase any book your heart desired. This is no longer the case. The unfortunate paradox is that with the present material abundance, people read less than they used to, when they would smuggle in the finest literary works. Those with money have little use for culture, while those who love it are usually poor.
One might even argue that cultural life is no longer what it was under communism, despite the censorship (or perhaps precisely because of the rebellion it instigated). The theatres are deserted, movie production is a far cry from the masterpieces of Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi, and few people remember when the last good book was published. A few cultural oases continue to fight the tide. Especially in music, there is the Warsaw chamber orchestra. To little avail, however, since the chief concern is to make money, as quickly as possible and through any means available. One form of materialism has supplanted another. The reign of money smells no sweeter than the dialectic materialism of the past.
How noble the opposition was under communism! And how exciting Solidarnosc was! Those who loved Poland during its struggle no longer recognize the country. An American friend who was posted in Warsaw fifteen years ago and has returned as an attaché to the embassy laments: ‘I hoped to return to this country where we would talk all night long with fascinating intellectuals. Nowadays in Poland, however, nobody has time for anything anymore. The sole concern is to make a profit. Every street corner has a McDonald’s: the America of the destitute!’
Not everybody is doing badly. Between 10 and 15 percent of the population enjoys a decent and sometimes an excellent standard of living. While a university professor’s salary is 600 euros, managing directors make at least as much as their counterparts in the West. The system caters to this monetary elite. While Poland professes neo-liberalism, the State has not disappeared altogether. Instead of caring for the indigent, it caters to the businesses and the affluent (corporate tax exemptions, tax breaks for the wealthy, erosion of public services so that the private sector may prosper). A reverse Robin Hood…
The excellent sociologist Jadwiga Staniszkis writes of ‘state capitalism.’ Several former directors of communist operations now run private companies. The lords of the former regime have done well. They control two thirds of the new businesses and account for half their board members. They are on excellent terms with the former opposition leaders, who have also prospered overnight. They parcel out the thriving public markets amongst each other. The new members of the elite have joined forces.
Few leaders are immune to the prevailing amorality and corruption. Hardly any market can be conquered without giving the decision-makers their share of the pie. The laws intended to prevent this course of events are circumvented without a murmur of protest. When we asked an entrepreneur in the Southwest of Poland how he planned to cope with the enactment of new laws on transparent allocation of public markets, he gave us a puzzled look and laughed: ‘What planet have you come from? There are three substantial firms in the region. We divide the markets between us and pay off the authorities together. The calls for tenders are obviously bogus.’ Society is so riddled with corruption that bribing the responsible official is the only way to obtain a document from the town hall within a reasonable time frame. A newspaper recently disclosed without any consequences whatsoever the rates for bribing football referees. Prices rise with promotion to a higher division.
Decentralization has proved nefarious and has caused the proliferation of a multitude of local mafias that systematically exploit their territory. As evidence, note the fortunes amassed by most of the local elected officials in a few years… The director of a PR firm commissioned by the European Union to launch all-expense paid projects enabling municipal authorities to improve their transparency and their ties with the citizens has deplored the lack of interest on the part of the cities…
State justice remains an illusion. In many cases gangsters are privileged over victims in the justice system. Moreover, the snail’s pace of the courts makes trying to reach an ‘amicable’ understanding, even one mediated by the mafia, preferable to digging in one’s heels about legal rights. The liberal jungle is compelling, and anybody with the means can obtain authorization to do as he pleases, including building a concrete edifice in the middle of a national park!
The West has contributed greatly to this depravity. In 1990, a Western VIP told us: ‘Solidarnosc was all very well as an anti-Communist strategy. Seriously, though, invoking social justice and union participation is no longer relevant!’ Little Poland has thus been ‘bought out’ by international capital. All firms of any value have been sold, and Polish officials happily filled the budget gaps with the revenues from privatization.
Thanks to this practice, Poland offered a deceptive impression for a while – in the Western press, it was even referred to as a ‘miracle.’ But the source ran dry. By now, Western companies own almost all the banking industry, two thirds of the businesses and the bulk of the media. What is left of Poland, sold out and not even to the highest bidder?
The down side is growth that has plummeted to 1 percent, increasingly ominous foreign exchange and budget deficits, and an unemployment rate of close to 20 percent. Half of all families live at or below the minimum subsistence level. Peasants vegetate amid destitution. Old age pensioners divide the streets for each person to search through household rubbish. Once again, neo-liberal bankruptcy has struck. Giving all the benefits to the rich and the businesses is pointless without giving the masses a higher standard of living and establishing a market to boost the economy. At the end of the day, the producers will bear the brunt of the situation.
The state has no money left. How could it, after all has been squandered? Social benefits, health insurance and unemployment compensation are constantly being reduced. The first decisions taken by the new ‘leftist’ government were along these very lines. Since we give to the rich, we need to cut corners with the poor! Each government – connected with Solidarnosc as the post-communist left – has pursued the same policy for eleven years. Rather than changing policy, getting into power means getting a piece of the pie.
Governments and political officials of all persuasions (except for a select few) are in cahoots. Former communists have taken the lead. Previously accustomed to carrying out orders from the Kremlin, they readily obey the edicts of the World Bank… The principle is virtually the same, except that this time there is money in it for them. Nor do they have anything to fear from the approving media. The deputy executive editor of a major weekly recently called the opponents of neo-liberalism ‘illiterates,’ while a daily referred to the participants in the Porto Alegre rally as ‘hooligans’ and ‘homosexuals.’
Worst in the long run, all these governments have slashed the budgets for education, research, culture and health. In a decade, the time will come to pay the piper in a rude awakening. All researchers able to do so are already fleeing the country in even larger numbers than under communism. A young manager of a Western firm explained: ‘Why should we spend money on research and education? We do not need researchers, since the Western firms investing here provide state-of-the-art technology. What we need are 10 percent brilliant managers and a massive, poorly paid work force to attract the firms from the West.’ A recent survey revealed that 56 percent of the Poles considered the 1970s the best period since the end of World War II. Only 20 percent mentioned the present. In fact, neo-liberal materialism has been almost as tragic a failure in Poland as communist materialism was. Professor Jozefina Hrynkiewicz, vice chancellor of the polytechnic for economics and humanities, writes: ‘Liberalism, like socialism, is a Utopian concept… Backtracking after the achievement of social Utopias comes at a very high price for the country. Poland is now experiencing the cost of abandoning the socialist Utopia. Unfortunately, this has not protected us from lapsing into the similarly detrimental liberal Utopia.’ The Emperor has no clothes. We have betrayed the Solidarnosc revolution, which had positioned Poland at the vanguard of the quest for a new political system and a new economy based on moral and spiritual values.
Even the Church, the guarantor of Polish tradition, has not escaped neo-liberalism. It has strayed very far from the commitment of John Paul II, who on his recent visit confirmed that after having helped crush the communist sceptre, he expected to spend his twilight years fighting the hydra of neo-liberal capitalism, the other side of the same materialist coin. He reminded his compatriots that they needed to assemble a programme of mercy, social justice and solidarity. ‘I know,’ he told them, ‘that many disapprove of a system that aims to conquer the world and is inspired by a materialist view of mankind… at the very moment when a vociferous liberalist propaganda of a freedom devoid of truth and responsibility is taking root in our country as well.’ The pope went on to recall that the main concern of the Church should be ‘the unemployed, those who live in ever-deepening poverty, without any prospect of improvement for themselves or their children.’ Alas, the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk confided, ‘nobody in the world, not even within the Polish episcopate, understands the message of the pope.’ Are there any signs of hope? The latest myth is the accession to the European Union, which is regarded as a sure panacea. But what can a country in the midst of such disarray hope to achieve in the Union? Poland’s leaders are struggling to obtain more European funding but have not managed to use what has already been allocated to them: less than half of the 1 billion euros has been invested.
After all, the accession of this cadaverous Poland might well prove the kiss of death for the Union. In addition to causing new problems (especially for the French peasants), this country, as a pro-American bastion, claims to be Washington’s Trojan horse within the Union. Some have disclosed their views. Mr. Leszek Balcerowicz, president of the National Bank, for example, recently admitted that Poland should join the Union, even though he personally considered the European model a bit social and therefore quite inferior to the rough and tough American system!
This country sold out to foreign powers and rife with corruption is not Poland. In 1980 the battle cry of Solidarnosc was: ‘Let Poland be Poland!’ It still applies. The march continues. Visiting the steel-works and the mines or watching the unemployed in the small towns will reveal immediately that fire smoulders beneath the ashes. The flame of Solidarnosc will be rekindled. This country has not died. Tomorrow the Poles will reject neo-liberalism, just as they discarded communism. The political and economic system will be rebuilt based on respect for mankind and with dignity and social justice. Poland will astonish us once more and once again become an example and an inspiration.
 

Solution News Source

Poland: infested with liberalism

Ten years after the great promise of capitalism, life in Poland has not improved much. But Poland will reject neo-liberalism, just as it did communism.

Bernard Margueritte | March 2003 issue
Poland is a remarkable concoction of the globalist cuisine. In 1989 the country made the transition from communism to democracy through a non-violent revolution dedicated to policies based on respect for dignity and solidarity. Next, without being consulted on the matter, the people underwent the standard neo-liberal shock treatment of economic hardship and individualist ideas. Eleven years later, the nation has become demoralized, inequality is omnipresent, and the economy is ailing. The system is both ineffective and sordid. In addition to being immoral, it is an economic disaster.
Some will vehemently counter such an allegation by referring to Warsaw, with its ultra-modern office buildings, luxury hotels, Dior shops and Mercedeses. The capital and especially the towns elsewhere in Poland have undergone a metamorphosis. Gone is the drab look of yesteryear. The shelves in the shops are no longer empty, and the long lines have disappeared. A while ago we might have added you could walk into a bookshop and purchase any book your heart desired. This is no longer the case. The unfortunate paradox is that with the present material abundance, people read less than they used to, when they would smuggle in the finest literary works. Those with money have little use for culture, while those who love it are usually poor.
One might even argue that cultural life is no longer what it was under communism, despite the censorship (or perhaps precisely because of the rebellion it instigated). The theatres are deserted, movie production is a far cry from the masterpieces of Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi, and few people remember when the last good book was published. A few cultural oases continue to fight the tide. Especially in music, there is the Warsaw chamber orchestra. To little avail, however, since the chief concern is to make money, as quickly as possible and through any means available. One form of materialism has supplanted another. The reign of money smells no sweeter than the dialectic materialism of the past.
How noble the opposition was under communism! And how exciting Solidarnosc was! Those who loved Poland during its struggle no longer recognize the country. An American friend who was posted in Warsaw fifteen years ago and has returned as an attaché to the embassy laments: ‘I hoped to return to this country where we would talk all night long with fascinating intellectuals. Nowadays in Poland, however, nobody has time for anything anymore. The sole concern is to make a profit. Every street corner has a McDonald’s: the America of the destitute!’
Not everybody is doing badly. Between 10 and 15 percent of the population enjoys a decent and sometimes an excellent standard of living. While a university professor’s salary is 600 euros, managing directors make at least as much as their counterparts in the West. The system caters to this monetary elite. While Poland professes neo-liberalism, the State has not disappeared altogether. Instead of caring for the indigent, it caters to the businesses and the affluent (corporate tax exemptions, tax breaks for the wealthy, erosion of public services so that the private sector may prosper). A reverse Robin Hood…
The excellent sociologist Jadwiga Staniszkis writes of ‘state capitalism.’ Several former directors of communist operations now run private companies. The lords of the former regime have done well. They control two thirds of the new businesses and account for half their board members. They are on excellent terms with the former opposition leaders, who have also prospered overnight. They parcel out the thriving public markets amongst each other. The new members of the elite have joined forces.
Few leaders are immune to the prevailing amorality and corruption. Hardly any market can be conquered without giving the decision-makers their share of the pie. The laws intended to prevent this course of events are circumvented without a murmur of protest. When we asked an entrepreneur in the Southwest of Poland how he planned to cope with the enactment of new laws on transparent allocation of public markets, he gave us a puzzled look and laughed: ‘What planet have you come from? There are three substantial firms in the region. We divide the markets between us and pay off the authorities together. The calls for tenders are obviously bogus.’ Society is so riddled with corruption that bribing the responsible official is the only way to obtain a document from the town hall within a reasonable time frame. A newspaper recently disclosed without any consequences whatsoever the rates for bribing football referees. Prices rise with promotion to a higher division.
Decentralization has proved nefarious and has caused the proliferation of a multitude of local mafias that systematically exploit their territory. As evidence, note the fortunes amassed by most of the local elected officials in a few years… The director of a PR firm commissioned by the European Union to launch all-expense paid projects enabling municipal authorities to improve their transparency and their ties with the citizens has deplored the lack of interest on the part of the cities…
State justice remains an illusion. In many cases gangsters are privileged over victims in the justice system. Moreover, the snail’s pace of the courts makes trying to reach an ‘amicable’ understanding, even one mediated by the mafia, preferable to digging in one’s heels about legal rights. The liberal jungle is compelling, and anybody with the means can obtain authorization to do as he pleases, including building a concrete edifice in the middle of a national park!
The West has contributed greatly to this depravity. In 1990, a Western VIP told us: ‘Solidarnosc was all very well as an anti-Communist strategy. Seriously, though, invoking social justice and union participation is no longer relevant!’ Little Poland has thus been ‘bought out’ by international capital. All firms of any value have been sold, and Polish officials happily filled the budget gaps with the revenues from privatization.
Thanks to this practice, Poland offered a deceptive impression for a while – in the Western press, it was even referred to as a ‘miracle.’ But the source ran dry. By now, Western companies own almost all the banking industry, two thirds of the businesses and the bulk of the media. What is left of Poland, sold out and not even to the highest bidder?
The down side is growth that has plummeted to 1 percent, increasingly ominous foreign exchange and budget deficits, and an unemployment rate of close to 20 percent. Half of all families live at or below the minimum subsistence level. Peasants vegetate amid destitution. Old age pensioners divide the streets for each person to search through household rubbish. Once again, neo-liberal bankruptcy has struck. Giving all the benefits to the rich and the businesses is pointless without giving the masses a higher standard of living and establishing a market to boost the economy. At the end of the day, the producers will bear the brunt of the situation.
The state has no money left. How could it, after all has been squandered? Social benefits, health insurance and unemployment compensation are constantly being reduced. The first decisions taken by the new ‘leftist’ government were along these very lines. Since we give to the rich, we need to cut corners with the poor! Each government – connected with Solidarnosc as the post-communist left – has pursued the same policy for eleven years. Rather than changing policy, getting into power means getting a piece of the pie.
Governments and political officials of all persuasions (except for a select few) are in cahoots. Former communists have taken the lead. Previously accustomed to carrying out orders from the Kremlin, they readily obey the edicts of the World Bank… The principle is virtually the same, except that this time there is money in it for them. Nor do they have anything to fear from the approving media. The deputy executive editor of a major weekly recently called the opponents of neo-liberalism ‘illiterates,’ while a daily referred to the participants in the Porto Alegre rally as ‘hooligans’ and ‘homosexuals.’
Worst in the long run, all these governments have slashed the budgets for education, research, culture and health. In a decade, the time will come to pay the piper in a rude awakening. All researchers able to do so are already fleeing the country in even larger numbers than under communism. A young manager of a Western firm explained: ‘Why should we spend money on research and education? We do not need researchers, since the Western firms investing here provide state-of-the-art technology. What we need are 10 percent brilliant managers and a massive, poorly paid work force to attract the firms from the West.’ A recent survey revealed that 56 percent of the Poles considered the 1970s the best period since the end of World War II. Only 20 percent mentioned the present. In fact, neo-liberal materialism has been almost as tragic a failure in Poland as communist materialism was. Professor Jozefina Hrynkiewicz, vice chancellor of the polytechnic for economics and humanities, writes: ‘Liberalism, like socialism, is a Utopian concept… Backtracking after the achievement of social Utopias comes at a very high price for the country. Poland is now experiencing the cost of abandoning the socialist Utopia. Unfortunately, this has not protected us from lapsing into the similarly detrimental liberal Utopia.’ The Emperor has no clothes. We have betrayed the Solidarnosc revolution, which had positioned Poland at the vanguard of the quest for a new political system and a new economy based on moral and spiritual values.
Even the Church, the guarantor of Polish tradition, has not escaped neo-liberalism. It has strayed very far from the commitment of John Paul II, who on his recent visit confirmed that after having helped crush the communist sceptre, he expected to spend his twilight years fighting the hydra of neo-liberal capitalism, the other side of the same materialist coin. He reminded his compatriots that they needed to assemble a programme of mercy, social justice and solidarity. ‘I know,’ he told them, ‘that many disapprove of a system that aims to conquer the world and is inspired by a materialist view of mankind… at the very moment when a vociferous liberalist propaganda of a freedom devoid of truth and responsibility is taking root in our country as well.’ The pope went on to recall that the main concern of the Church should be ‘the unemployed, those who live in ever-deepening poverty, without any prospect of improvement for themselves or their children.’ Alas, the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk confided, ‘nobody in the world, not even within the Polish episcopate, understands the message of the pope.’ Are there any signs of hope? The latest myth is the accession to the European Union, which is regarded as a sure panacea. But what can a country in the midst of such disarray hope to achieve in the Union? Poland’s leaders are struggling to obtain more European funding but have not managed to use what has already been allocated to them: less than half of the 1 billion euros has been invested.
After all, the accession of this cadaverous Poland might well prove the kiss of death for the Union. In addition to causing new problems (especially for the French peasants), this country, as a pro-American bastion, claims to be Washington’s Trojan horse within the Union. Some have disclosed their views. Mr. Leszek Balcerowicz, president of the National Bank, for example, recently admitted that Poland should join the Union, even though he personally considered the European model a bit social and therefore quite inferior to the rough and tough American system!
This country sold out to foreign powers and rife with corruption is not Poland. In 1980 the battle cry of Solidarnosc was: ‘Let Poland be Poland!’ It still applies. The march continues. Visiting the steel-works and the mines or watching the unemployed in the small towns will reveal immediately that fire smoulders beneath the ashes. The flame of Solidarnosc will be rekindled. This country has not died. Tomorrow the Poles will reject neo-liberalism, just as they discarded communism. The political and economic system will be rebuilt based on respect for mankind and with dignity and social justice. Poland will astonish us once more and once again become an example and an inspiration.
 

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM


We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy