Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What do the Poles Think about the Polish Politicians?

It is a fact that in no country its citizens have high opinion about their politicians. The Poles are thus in great company. On the other hand, the degree of contempt that the Poles display towards their elected leaders in unmatched.

There is a reason for it, though: If you happen to be watching the weekly Polish news supplied by the Polish television to the rest of the world, you will soon notice that two subjects dominate the news: the politicians and the corruption in an eclectic mix.

The fall of the old corrupt regime has created, unfortunately, a perfect opportunity for a new, as it seems, even more corrupt regime to rise, only nowadays the stakes are higher. After all, the Poles now deal in a currency that has a real value. The shelves are filled with attractive products, new, shining Toyotas and BMWs waiting for the rich buyer. The situation is similar in the former USSR and its other satellites.

It seems to be a universal rule that the poorer the country, the higher probability of politicians taking advantage of the situation. After all, it they rule the country, it is no more than right that they reward themselves, they reason.

And then there is the old boy's club helping their chums when in trouble. A famous example is the quite recent pardoning by the former President Mr. Kwasniewski of a former minister that tipped off the Polish mafia about a coming police raid.

A week or so before leaving the office, Mr. Kwasniewski decided to pardon the poor man sentenced to a few years in jail. Isn't it nice to see this kind of loyalty? And isn't it a true Christian virtue to forgive?

The only trouble is that Mr. Kwasniewski, as a former communist, is hardly likely to read the Bible for breakfast. There must be some other motivation at play, the Poles reason.

There is an ongoing discussion on one Polish website aptly named: "Polish politicians, cheats, thieves, liars", which gives one a good idea about the general feeling between the ordinary Poles in this regard.

The best proof of the deep disenchantment with the politicians was the recent election in 2005, in which only 40% of Poles took part. Whether they realized it or not, by staying home, abstaining from visiting the voting booth, the absentees still voted against the current democratic system and the politicians at the helmet. No one stays at home, unless he or she feels their vote does not count. Thus, no more than 7 million Poles out of over 40 million chose the government in power.

As a result, a minority rules the majority, which is exactly the opposite how a true democracy should work. The politicians don't care, as long as they get elected and enjoy the power and the financial benefits. And why would they?

"The Poles are a nation of idiots," the former Polish dictator, Jozef Pilsudski used to say and you can not help but wonder" When 60% does not find it worthwhile to get their butts off the couch and vote for a change. Talk about shooting themselves in the foot.

On the other hand one cannot but wonder what brings about this kind of lethal apathy. What kind of society brings up people that passive and that disillusioned, seemingly positively convinced, that nothing they do can change the situation for the better. Better roll with it"

The disrespect for politicians is sadly reflected in the seldom flattering aliases they are assigned. In particular, two Polish leading politicians were singled out; Andrzej Lepper and Maciej Giertych both were given the denigrating title of "kretyn," which can be freely translated as nit-wit. Still, at least some people vote for them. One anynonymous voice feels it is not fair to single out those two particular gentlemen in this regard: "All of members of the parliament are nit-wits."

The (non) voting camp is not blind, they see if the people in power are incompetent. Jan, 18 says, "Although I am young and just beginning to be interested in politics, I feel like laughing when I see how they handle the funds given to us by the EU. How will they manage to spend 60 billion euro, when they didn't manage to spend the 12 billion euro received last year. An acquaintance of mine applied for funds three time and was turned down every time - by a Polish bureaucrat."

According to Andrzej, "PIS (the winning party of the election) already is looking for a way to break their election promises" and as a result, he adds, "I will never vote, politicians are cheats, the citizens are only needed during the election."

The democracy does not seem to be the Garden of Eden that the Poles hoped for in 1989 when the old regime fell apart. Janusz confirms, "I think that the whole 60% has had enough of what'd been happening to Poland in the last 15 years. Better go for a walk than spend time in a voting both to no avail."

Magda believes that non-voters are wrong: "Politicians will never become smarter or honest. It is up to us to choose those that are a little bit smarter and a little bit more honest. This is how democracy works."

Janusz disagrees: "I feel that no one should vote. Maybe then politicians will realize that they do not represent the nation and quit."

Andy's solution is different: "Everyone should leave a blank vote. That would be good!"

Marta states: "Politicians are thieves. We are not a poor country, but it is they that have the most money. We cannot dream about the residences like the politicians have. This is why people don't vote."

Jurek calls out: "Those that vote for the thieves should suffer under their rule," although he fails to explain why the ones that did not vote should also suffer.

It is depressing to delve into the Polish democracy, that turned out to be not the panacea for the country's problems Poles had hoped for, but instead proverbial fool's gold, too good to be true. It is first now that the Poles slowly come to realize that democracy is no magic pill. It does not bring an immediate improvement in circumstances by itself, but works more like a tool that takes long time to master and that, unfortunately, many countries never learn how to. Whether Poles will learn the ropes, remains to be seen. One thing is certain, the situation will not change for the better unless the Polish people get involved and take charge.