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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 29, 2010
A New Force in Polish Politics?
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A New Force in Polish Politics?
October 29, 2010   
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Janusz Palikot, the founder of a new left-of-center party called the Support Movement, talks to Krzysztof Rowiński.

You recently said that if political emotions continued to rise in Poland, blood would be shed. What can you say about the tragic shooting in ŁódĽ, where an assistant to an Eurodeputy from the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) was shot and killed, apparently for political reasons?
I warned [PiS leader] Jarosław Kaczyński against inciting emotions in Poland, against starting a revolution and questioning the democratic order. I said that if he continued to take people with fire torches onto the streets of Warsaw, as he did in September, blood would be shed. Unfortunately, this has happened. I would like to express my deep condolences to the victims. Regardless of whether the killer was sane or not, I have no doubt that Jarosław Kaczyński is personally responsible for the outbreak of negative emotions in Poland. We need to show our solidarity but also call on Kaczyński to stop that fire-torch march, which has been going on for months now.

Jarosław Kaczyński said at a press conference that Prime Minister Donald Tusk, leader of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party, is to blame for the murder...
Here, I’d defend Tusk, because he’s not the one who walked the streets with torches... and not the one who said that Bronisław Komorowski was chosen president of Poland by mistake. Finally, he’s not the one who keeps repeating that conspiracy nonsense about the Smolensk disaster being a political plot. Komorowski and Tusk, if anything, ease the situation. Jarosław Kaczyński is trying to gain political capital, using the tragic shooting, just as he did with the tragic death of his brother Lech Kaczyński [the previous president of Poland, elected in 2005, who died in the air crash in April this year]. It’s disgusting.

What kind of Poland would you like to see?
I want a country where the Church does not dominate public life. I don’t want bishops to exert their influence on the legislators, because that is exactly what fundamentalism is all about. That’s drifting towards theocracy. For the last couple of months, we’ve seen the Church act almost as if it were a political party. It almost unanimously supported Jarosław Kaczyński in the last presidential elections. I want a secular state. That’s the first thing. Second, I want a friendly state. Despite many efforts on the part of people like Leszek Balcerowicz [finance minister in 1989-91 and 1997-2000 and the architect of the country’s transition from communism to capitalism], Jerzy Hausner [economy and labor minister in a left-wing government in 2001-2005] and myself, in my capacity as the chief of the “Friendly State” committee [a special parliamentary committee dealing with legislation to reduce red tape], the other Poland continues to prevail—a Poland of red tape, where a citizen must wait for official decisions to be issued in various matters, instead of public administration just being there for the people. Third, I want an open-minded state where citizens would not be divided depending on their sexual orientation, ethnicity, church affiliation or city of origin. I would like women to decide themselves about whether they should have an abortion or not, instead of the law telling them what to do. I think it could be put this way: I’d like the possibility of a black Jew becoming the president of Poland one day to be a realistic prospect.

Some commentators box you in as a leftist. Others, like Agata Bielik-Robson, a professor of philosophy at the Polish Academy of Sciences, say you are a liberal voice. How would you describe yourself?
It’s true, there’s a great deal of confusion among journalists and, what’s worse, among the public as well—resulting from the fact that the traditional divisions between left and right are obsolete, not only in Poland, but also elsewhere in Europe. Take, for example, the appropriation of some liberal or even conservative ideas by Tony Blair [British prime minister in 1997-2007]. Also, the founding in the Czech Republic, Slovakia or the U.S. of parties that are more citizen-oriented, more like movements, shows that it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Law and Justice (PiS), for example, with their social platform, are by no means right-wing. The Civic Platform (PO), which I joined in 2005, was a liberal-conservative party by then, but with time, if you examine their political decisions, they turned almost fully conservative. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), now aspiring to be a left-wing party, gave up on most of their left-liberal proposals when they formed the government, mostly under pressure from the Church. It is this mixture of what the parties in fact are and what they want to be that makes Polish politics so complicated. And that’s why people have trouble classifying the Support Movement. I think there’s something modern that makes us... more a civic movement than a traditional party.

How do you think this movement will influence Polish politics?
The change has already begun, though it’s not sure yet whether I will benefit from this process. PiS is turning extreme, following in the footsteps of the League of Polish Families (LPR). The PO is drifting towards conservatism, something along the lines of the PO-PiS project [the two conservative parties were expected to form a coalition government after the 2005 elections but the plan never materialized]. The SLD stays decidedly left-wing, but with limited political power. And among all these groups, there will be a liberal party with some social democratic values—the Support Movement. That’s my forecast for our political scene in the coming months.

In terms of international politics, who would you say Poland’s strategic partners are?
I am a sound supporter of European integration. I think we need a close partnership with Germany and France. We should also work on improving our relations with Russia. The U.S. right now is not the best partner for Poland, especially considering their trade and the consequences of our [military] involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Next year’s parliamentary elections will most probably take place during the Polish presidency of the EU. Are you worried about Poland’s image abroad as the political struggle gets ugly?
Considering Jarosław Kaczyński’s recent behavior, I have some reservations. Our reputation may suffer if this goes on through our presidency. Maybe we should reconsider and move the elections to the spring.

And if you fail to be elected in parliamentary elections next year, will you quit politics?
Throughout my life I’ve never entertained negative scenarios. In 12 months, I’m going to be in parliament.
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