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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 27, 2011
Politics & Society
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Left to Their Own Devices
October 27, 2011   
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Aleksander Kwaśniewski, president of Poland from 1995 to 2005, talks to Grzegorz Chlasta.

Are you planning on setting up a new leftist party together with Janusz Palikot, whose Palikot Movement (RP) made it into parliament in the Oct. 9 elections?
The way I see it Janusz Palikot must first get to know his parliamentary caucus really well. The Democratic Left Alliance must heal its wounds and adopt an urgent recovery plan. However, I think dialogue and cooperation between different communities are needed on the left side of Poland’s political spectrum. Cooperation is needed between Palikot’s people and the SLD, as well as the Political Critique community and smaller parties like the Greens and the Women’s Party—because the leftists in Poland have potential for 20-odd percent support. The latest vote is yet another election that has confirmed that.

Say some it would be better to expand the left wing of the victorious Civic Platform (PO) party and seek to build a two-party political system in Poland. What do you think of this idea?
I don’t think that’s a good idea. European systems have originated from a different tradition than the American system and are based on a different way of communication between politicians and citizens. America has its traditional two-party system—actually one that many Americans complain about—which is impossible to penetrate. A few times there have been attempts to field a third candidate, but no one has been successful. Europe, on the other hand, is more pluralistic, more diverse. In Europe, parliaments reflect the actual differences of views in society to a much greater extent and much more accurately and better balance out these differences. As a result, here we sometimes have several leftist and rightist parties plus the liberals in between. Even Britain, which in practice had a two-party system for years, now has a coalition government with the liberals, formed after the last elections. I don’t think Poland is any different from the mainstream European tradition. We are closer to Germany or France, where there are more parties, than the United States, where there are two.

Before the elections there were some defections of politicians from the SLD to the PO. Doesn’t this mean that the emergence of a large left wing within the PO is in fact a realistic idea?
I don’t really understand how this could work. The different positions would be reflected at party conventions, but not in parliament by the presence of different parties. This means we would be dealing with a situation in which parliamentary pluralism would be replaced by intra-party pluralism. I think this would mark a step backward, and we would lose out on that. It’s not a very realistic concept.
When should the Palikot Movement and the SLD start working together?
Neither group is particularly large. The SLD had more deputies in the previous parliament than the Palikot Movement has now. Both parties will be coming up with different bills because each had different ideas during the election campaign; they will now have to try to carry these out, at least in part. It will be interesting to see what results such talks could produce. What are we supposed to do with the question of religion in school, in vitro fertilization, euthanasia? Which of the RP’s bills dealing with sensitive social and religious issues could be supported by the SLD?

Do you support the RP’s call for the legalization of marijuana?
In this particular case, I’m against it. Although I’m not really an expert on this, because I don’t have those kind of addictions, so I don’t really know. This demand probably goes too far. But the issue needs to be discussed. Proposals have been made and some kind of follow-up is needed. And I’d be interested how this famous left-wing section of the PO will behave. Will this be the left wing of the PO or a disciplined part of the PO as a whole? I bet big money that it will be a disciplined part of the whole, and not a faction free to vote on issues of conscience, for example. In short, I think that cooperation between the RP and the SLD should start with their work in parliament. The European elections may prove a testing moment, but that is still three years from now. What will happen in the intervening period? I think a lot.

Will you become involved in creating a new group?
I don’t know if this is about a new group. Perhaps it’s more about a new leftist coalition. I would favor such a process. But I cannot imagine playing any formal role in that. Day-to-day party work must be handled by young people. I’m positive that there are several candidates for leaders within the SLD. This is not a job for a politician with a track record like my own.

But aren’t you tempted?
No. In fact, strangely enough, I am confident that this stage is already behind me. Today I can do the advising, assisting, supporting and presenting various Polish arguments on the international arena. That makes a lot more sense and is more useful and more satisfying than stepping back into the same river—I organized the Polish left at the beginning of the political and economic reforms in the country.
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