Print Friendly and PDF
only search openDemocracy.net

Academies of hatred

A series of public events in Wrocław, Poland’s European Capital of Culture in 2016, have been disrupted by radicals. Those responsible are not only supported by the main right-wing opposition party. They have also received strong material support from the present Polish government.

National Rebirth of Poland supporters. Fickr/Michal Porebiak. Some rights reserved.National Rebirth of Poland supporters. Fickr/Michal Porebiak. Some rights reserved.

The disruption of Zygmunt Bauman’s lecture at the University of Wrocław on June 22, 2013 by the far-right Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (NOP, National Rebirth of Poland), is one of many similar events to have recently taken place across Poland.

National Rebirth of Poland supporters. Fickr/Michal Porebiak. Some rights reserved.National Rebirth of Poland supporters. Fickr/Michal Porebiak. Some rights reserved.

The disruption of Zygmunt Bauman’s lecture at the University of Wrocław on June 22, 2013 by the far-right Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (NOP, National Rebirth of Poland), is one of many similar events to have recently taken place across Poland.

The lecture was organised by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, an intellectual branch of the German Social Democratic Party; an independent Ferdinand Lasalle Centre of Social Thought; and the Department of Social and Political Philosophy of the University of Wrocław which I chair. Zygmunt Bauman, the most renowned Polish scholar in the world, was the main speaker. Another hero of the event was Ferdinand Lassalle, a Breslauer and a student of the university in Wrocław in its German times, Karl Marx’s collaborator and the founder of the German social democratic party, whose remains rest in the Jewish Cemetery in Wrocław. The occasion was to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first social democratic party in the world, established by Lassalle. The topic of the meeting was the ideals of the Left, old and new, and the contemporary challenge leftists face, in this new stage of capitalism and its crisis.

I got involved in organizing Bauman’s lecture at the University of Wrocław hoping for a scholarly and critical debate about the future of Poland and the world - scholarly, because inspired by an eminent thinker and critical, because the opportunity for a renewal of egalitarian thinking about economy and politics, now eagerly taken up in many parts of the world, is met in Poland with disdain from political parties which duplicitously present themselves as leftist, and with ridicule or repression from the others.

This was the second visit by Bauman to the Polish city of Wrocław that I had organised. The first took place in 1996. On that earlier occasion, no one expected any disturbances to occur during a series of academic and public appearances by the author of Postmodern Ethics. There were also no incidents when Bauman spoke in Wrocław to the European Congress of Culture in September 2011, soon after our city was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture 2016.

What sort of change has occurred in the meantime, in the public space of both Wroclaw and Poland, which has made possible this series of disturbances? These incidents cast a sinister, dark brown shadow upon the image of Poland. But there is one advantage to be drawn from them. It is that this question can no longer be shunned.

A punch-up

This academic meeting was seen by some as a fusion of Jewishness, Germanness and Leftishness. Since it was also open to the public, it was perceived by local xenophobes as an invitation to a punch-up [1]. For Bauman is not only a Polish scholar of great stature and an author quoted in many disciplines. He was also, during the Stalinist period, a military officer of the Polish army. He is also a Jew, just as Ferdinand Lassalle was. And for the past two decades the ideals of the Left have been construed as the ideological foundation of a violent communist regime which murdered Polish patriots, the source of an evil aimed at enslaving the country.

Just before the meeting began, quite unexpectedly, the mayor of Wrocław turned up. The organizers of the event invited him to welcome our guest as the city’s host. He only managed to say: “I am Rafał Dutkiewicz. For those not already aware of it, I would like to say that I am the mayor of this city”. In response, about a hundred members of NOP rose as one from their seats, unfolded a huge banner saying “NOP/Śląsk Wrocław”, and began howling, yelling, chanting and vilifying the guest speaker, organizers, and mayor alike.

It should be noted that under this mayor, the soccer club of Śląsk Wrocław, current champion of the Polish soccer league, is being generously supported by the local municipality. Among the chants thrown in the mayor’s face by these extremist soccer hooligans was one about the memory of “the excommunicated soldiers”. Those soldiers were the members of the Polish underground who were never reconciled to the communist take-over of post-war Poland, were persecuted by that regime and banned from collective memory until 1989. They symbolize a moral and political attitude which is rather close to the mayor’s political views: the municipality he has presided over for eleven years has recently erected a monument to one of them, a cavalry officer, Witold Pilecki. This material expression of the aesthetic politics of the city aligns well with the political aesthetics dominant in the whole country. Despite the official rhetoric of pluralism, the canons of this aesthetics dictate political tastes in Poland in a way which it is rather impossible, and unwise, to ignore. 

Canonisation and escalation

The development of such radicalism in Wrocław has been carefully documented for some time now. It has been the subject of a disturbing report by the local Nomada Foundation; everyday xenophobic attitudes have been uncomfortably exposed by an experiment conducted by the pupils of one of the high schools in the city. There is no doubt that radical groupings in the city are acting ever more boldly and brazenly. About two months earlier they achieved a significant success in preventing Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Parliament, from lecturing at the University of Wrocław on April 24, 2013. Their way of applying pressure on the organizers of that event and Cohn-Bendit himself, was to call upon everyone to protect their children from ‘the paedophile’. At the last moment Cohn-Bendit cancelled his journey to Wrocław.

The so-called nationalists in Wrocław and in Poland have been especially encouraged since the moment their activities were canonised by Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the main opposition party in Poland, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice). After a group of soccer supporters staged a violent brawl following a soccer match in Warsaw and were prosecuted by the police as well as criticised by various government officials, Kaczyński chose to extend to them his ideological and political protection by calling them 'genuine patriots'. Ever since, untouched by the law, they pick fights at soccer stadiums, disrupt lectures and political meetings, light fires under the doors of people whom they consider alien, and have been known to attack people with machetes. Thanks to Kaczyński, moreover, they have usurped for themselves both the roles of judges of history, and executioners, the sentences being carried out summarily. The leader of Law and Justice has strengthened them in their convictions, while according them a type of political protection which cannot be matched by any other political strand in present-day Poland.

But interestingly, the nationalists are not only supported by Law and Justice. They have also received very strong material support from the present government of Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform).

Political soccer

The rules of ancient democracy are said to have been modelled upon the principles of the Olympic Games. Just as warring Greek tribes temporarily suspended their mutual animosities at the time of the Olympic Games and sent their representatives to Olympic arenas in order to continue their wars in a vicarious form in various sport disciplines, so in democratic Athens each local community sent their representatives to the Assembly to haggle for local interests on their behalf.

In present-day Poland the ties between sports and politics are much more intimate than that. Peel away all the empty rhetoric and political imagery, and it becomes rather difficult to dispel the notion that the Civic Platform’s project for the modernization of Poland, and the promotion of its interests, exhausted itself in the organization of the European soccer championship in 2012. Setting subjective impressions aside, no one can deny that the Civic Platform, which has been ruling the country for the past seven years, displayed the greatest political energy as long as it was preparing the whole country for this spectacle, and lost it, immediately and totally, once the show was over.

Accordingly, Poland owes to this party more than two thousand (!) small sports playgrounds, located in almost every local community. They are known as 'Little Eagles' and cost 1,233,477 Polish zloty each [253,000 GBP]. The aim is to train young soccer talents, but also to fill up the leisuretime of the young who now have the opportunity to enjoy it more than enough as 30 per cent of them have no jobs. We owe to this party also four large, cutting-edge stadiums in Gdańsk, Poznań, Warsaw and Wrocław, as well as barely passable roads built in order for us to be able to drive to them, even though, as yet, two years after their near-completion, there is really no good reason to do so.

It is difficult to dispel the impression that Civic Platform never intended to govern the country in a democratic manner, through any kind of covenant with society. It just wanted to manage and administer society by means of sports. Conceiving politics as a spectacle, the party fused politics with sports in an unprecedented way. Apparently the leadership of the party assumed that the Little Eagles and the stadiums would become centres of sporting rivalry, entertainment and cultural events, venues to excite positive passions, and to discharge them. They seem to have assumed also, apparently judging from their own experience (the leadership of the Civic Platform, most especially the prime minister Donald Tusk, are well-known and devout soccer players themselves), that holding EURO 2012 in Poland would endow them with a powerful means of promoting the country in Europe and in the world. They seem to have thought, too, that at the same time they would acquire a powerful instrument to manage the popular masses, their leisure, emotions, and thoughts.

On all these counts the Civic Platform suffered a major defeat because their assumptions turned out to be erroneous. It was, moreover, rather surprising to see a conservative party operate upon assumptions that reeked with an optimism untypical of the conservative attitude which is an important strand within its own ideology. The soccer infrastructure, by far the most important contribution of this party to Poland’s progress, has now become a symbol of the failure of its modernization project.

Managing human masses by means of stadiums, a political technique employed prominently in ancient Rome, has its obvious limitations. Sport creates strong divisions between “us” and “them”. The divisions thus fashioned focus upon sports rivalries and are symbolised by differing colours marking the armies of such substitute wars. Sport as a vicarious war enables us to discharge the passions aroused by rivalry in a controlled manner. This, however, only works well in civilised countries in which the populations, as well as their authorities, are still capable of grasping the difference between sports and politics. Even the Brazilian authorities, in a country of the so-called Third World that is a perennial soccer world champion, are now receiving a painful lesson in the difference between these from its own people.

The leaders of Civic Platform have apparently been referring to outdated textbooks for their political marketing. Despite the perfection of the instruments designed to manipulate these public passions, they remain unpredictable. Civic Platform seems to have forgotten this crucial fact. They have also it seems forgotten the unparalleled wisdom of the great Polish philosopher and most successful Polish soccer coach ever, Kazimierz Górski, who once famously said that the only certainty in the game of soccer is that “the ball is round and there are two goals in it”.

As a result of these astounding oversights on the part of Civic Platform, the passions of the soccer supporters, for whom this party has laboriously built stadiums, have been effortlessly hijacked by Law and Justice and are now being inculcated with a xenophobic ideology rather than the conservative-liberal one. In other words, the political soccer match arranged by Civic Platform for the whole nation has been won easily by opposition leader Jarosław Kaczyński. An unequalled champion of political acrobatics, Kaczyński has shot a penalty goal against Tusk without even going onto the pitch. It is a wholly different matter, though, if he will be able to benefit from his victory.

By undertaking modernization by means of soccer, Civic Platform has transformed a huge stream of taxpayers’ money into an expensive concrete infrastructure, instead of devoting themselves to working out how to build instruments of inclusion for the human masses who for the past two decades have suffered economic and social exclusion. This project has certainly enriched the bosses, though not the workers, of the Polish construction industry - in fact one of the main reasons for Civic Platform to undertake it in the first place. But when Civic Platform loses the upcoming elections, the same bosses, always hungry for more, will no doubt support Law and Justice without any qualms.

As a result, the stadiums have become venues for the concentration and recruitment of new members of extreme right-wing groupings, to be trained in the skills of soccer hooliganism. Instead of becoming centres of family entertainment and the popularisation of culture, Polish stadiums are now functioning as academies of hatred for those who are just beginning their adult lives but have already lost all hope of a decent place for themselves in their own country.

The xenophobic radicals, fed from both political hands, are gradually ceasing to be a marginal eccentricity of Polish political aesthetics, and a minor symptom of the psychopathology of Polish political life; they are now becoming an independent and vigorous political power. We do not yet have 'Budapest in Warsaw' (the term used by Jarosław Kaczyński to express his admiration for Victor Orban and his authoritarian transformation of Hungary) but we will not have to wait too long for it. This incident at the University of Wrocław and many similar ones demonstrate that Poland is pockmarked by various local infections of virulent nationalism not dissimilar to the Hungarian Jobbik.

That the promotion of Poland through soccer did not work was due not only to the desperate weakness of the Polish national team. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that even though in antiquity sport marked the beginning of Greek democracy, in post-modernity sport has become the beginning of the end for Polish democracy. 

A systemic incapacity

In the run-up to the event planned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of German Social Democracy, members of the National Rebirth of Poland were summoning each other via Facebook to stage its disruption and in the process, formulating negative judgments concerning Zygmunt Bauman’s past. Informed of this imminent danger Leszek Miller, former prime minister and the chairman of the Polish Social Democratic Party, sent a letter to the Minister of Interior Affairs, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, requesting that he protect the event. An analogous intervention was undertaken by the German ambassador to Poland who canvassed support from the Foreign Ministry. Eventually the event was secured by the police, while Bauman and his companion were assigned personal bodyguards, at the University’s expense.

Shortly before the meeting began the police officer in charge of the action at the University of Wrocław announced that he was obliged to stay within the limits of law and that, accordingly, he could not intervene unless there were an immediate danger to life, health and property. To the argument that people who came to the lecture with an evident and announced intention to disrupt it are about to violate academic customs and rules of scholarly debate, he responded that the law does not protect these values.

One of the main sources of the audacity of these Polish xenophobic groupings is the helplessness of law and of its execution. It is enough to say that the Polish law protects all sorts of irrational beliefs and religious feelings, which incidentally are in Poland extremely easily wounded, but it does not protect the principles of scholarly debate. 

Radicalism at the academy

After the disruption of Bauman’s lecture some commentators remarked that xenophobic graduates of the academies of hatred had now decided to enter the universities. The disruption of the lectures of the philosophy professor Magdalena Środa and editor Adam Michnik have been invoked in support of such opinions. Attempting to restore some symmetry into the debate, Ryszard Legutko, a professor of philosophy and a current member of the European Parliament, recalled an event at the University of Warsaw in which he took part together with Norman Podhoretz that was disrupted by a leftist group; the police intervened there as well. One may also add that several years back the philosopher Peter Singer from Princeton University was prevented by catholic activists from speaking at an ethical congress in Warsaw because of his stance on euthanasia. Desiderio Navarro, a Cuban intellectual, publisher and translator of Polish literature into Spanish, recently fell victim to a racist attack in Kraków; nothing similar having happened to him during his frequent visits to Poland over the past 35 years.

The opinion that nationalist xenophobia is only now beginning to enter the universities is however misleading. If any ideology is nowadays prominent at the otherwise de-politicised academies, it is more frequently xenophobic than anything else. In fact, it has been present in Polish universities for a very long time now, and feels quite at home there.

Shortly after the disruption of the event in question, a professor of the University of Wrocław and a representative of this ideological strand, who spoke, symbolically, under the monument of the king of Poland, Bolesław Chrobry [2], described the organizers of Bauman’s lecture as ‘neo-Stalinists’ and accordingly called for ‘the de-Stalinisation of the University’. Two weeks afterwards this call, eagerly seized on by the NOP, became the pretext and the slogan for yet another demonstration in a public space in Wrocław. The NOP, by now granted considerable momentum by its repeated “successes”, staged it, once again, with impunity.

The call to ‘de-Stalinise the University of Wrocław’, as formulated by this particular professor, was somewhat hilarious. Firstly because it has been enunciated by a former member of the Polish communist party who has now switched allegiance to the “nationalist” one and is now apparently seeking a place on an electoral list of the Law and Justice party. Secondly because there are no Stalinists at the universities any more, for they have died out, while those who somehow managed to survive, like this particular professor, changed their views radically some time ago when Stalinism ceased to be profitable. They have adopted the xenophobic outlook, instead, as nowadays it has become profitable.

Professors, like priests, are only human. No wonder, then, that some of them are only doing and thinking about what is profitable for them. Some members of the Polish professoriate, frustrated by humiliating salaries, are seeking substitute satisfactions in the sphere of politics as expertly served up to them by Law and Justice. Unable to enjoy any recognition for their work, they are finding a vicarious yet unfailing satisfaction in lodging public extermination games against those academic comrades who happen to hold different political views.

The image problem

Immediately after this incident, the Rector of the University of Wrocław was asked whether he intended to take any action leading to (i) bringing to justice the perpetrators of the disruption which so violated scholarly discourse and academic customs; (ii) investigation of the behaviour of academics at the University who were abusive about the invited guest and the organizers of the lecture; (iii) protection of freedom of scholarly investigations and openness of academic discourse through prevention of similar disruptions taking place in the future; (iv) salvaging the image of the University of Wrocław as a place of scientific work, open towards different views; (v) protection of academic workers undertaking to organize extra-curricular scholarly events. For it is now to be expected that as a result of such incidents scholars and public figures, as well as any student of colour, may in the future decline invitations to take part in events organised by the University of Wrocław, or to enrol in it.

The Rector’s response has been a display of helplessness because he has no legal means at his disposal to do any of those things. Shortly after this exchange an assembly of rectors of the higher education institutions in Wrocław adopted a resolution against xenophobia, which was equally an expression of their determination and of their powerlessness.

On the day of the incident at the University of Wrocław, the Minister of Higher Education, Mrs. Barbara Kudrycka, called the organizers asking for the private address of Bauman in order to send him a letter of apology. Sending such a letter is certainly a proper thing to do. The question remains whether Minister Kudrycka, before she leaves office, will take any other action regarding the problem at hand. And if so, what kind of action? Will she bestir herself to respond to the same questions which were addressed to the Rector of the University of Wrocław?

The present and the future minister of higher education will have to respond to a more general question as well. Suppose anyone within academia attempts to invite an eminent scholar who, apart from being a recognised professional, happens also to be a Jew, Arab, German, Russian, feminist, gay, lesbian, Muslim, protestant, Pentecostal, atheist, of a different colour, a social democrat, or a cosmopolite. Will such a person have to take into account the possible threat from local xenophobes who may happen to perceive the invited guest as persona non grata? Will it be necessary, forever after, to ask for police protection for any academic event which local racists might happen to disapprove of? Will the Minister of the Interior place his troops at the rectors’ disposal? Given the present circumstances, will the Ministry be ready to pick up the tab of the significantly increased costs of deliberation in the humanities and social sciences?

The politics of the present regime towards higher education, which has generated an attitude of extreme asceticism while imposing a demand for innovation, in this context a rather absurd one, suggests that it will not be willing to cover the amplified costs of scholarly research and higher education. This means that the space for free academic discourse, much reduced already by inadequate funding of research and academies, will rapidly shrink even further.

One may be justified in suspecting that the present regime will be more willing to cover the cost of police protection in the universities than that of their adequate funding. Yet if the regime does decide to protect its academies by deploying its police force, it will soon have to acknowledge that scientific deliberations conducted in the shadow of police batons and their smoothbore rifles may not yield particularly bold or innovative results. 

The venue

The European Capital of Culture 2016. Photo by Adam J Chmielewski. Some rights reserved.

This widely discussed incident took place in the city of Wrocław which in 2011 won the title of the European Capital of Culture 2016. Wrocław’s bid stressed the multicultural nature of the city and its openness to ethnic, cultural and religious diversity: “The fate of migrants is particularly close to the hearts of the inhabitants of Wrocław, descendants of people who, having lost the right to live in their native lands, made a foreign city and region their new home. (...) Polish Wrocław is a place of constant fusion of diverse cultural horizons. Many visitors stop here for a longer time or remain here for good. New arrivals feel good in Wrocław as everybody in this city is a recent arrival from elsewhere: the present Polish inhabitants arrived from other parts of Europe themselves. The homo wratislaviensis is a multicultural creature, open to otherness, tolerant and cosmopolitan, like his habitat”.

According to this document, various nationalities “live in Polish Wrocław in peace and mutual respect. This spiritual harmony is evidenced by the District of Mutual Respect, where followers of all religions pray side by side. Another example of peaceful coexistence of religions in Wrocław is provided by the good neighbourly relations between the local Catholics and the Muslim minority, whose prayer room is next door to a Franciscan parish church. Ethnic and religious exclusivism is much weaker in Wrocław than in other parts of Poland, or Europe for that matter. The various social groups’ ability to live in harmony and mutual respect is the only possible attitude in the face of a historical experience which has been particularly cruel to the urban fabric of Wrocław and to its residents. This is undoubtedly a lesson that the present-day people of Wrocław know how to learn from the painful history of their city”.

The outcome of the event that I helped to stage and participated in may be interpreted as belying everything that the citizens of Wrocław thought of themselves, what has been thought about the city by people such as Norman Davis, Roger Moorhouse and Gregor Thum, or what I myself thought while I was writing the successful bid. That vision of the gangsters hurling confused and violent slogans in a university lecture room should have immediately prompted me to revoke these beautiful but untrue words.

It did not. Firstly, because these words remain true of the vast majority of the citizens. Secondly, because the bid contains frank, even painful, references to the social problems with which a significant portion of the population of the city, which is the second richest in Poland after Warsaw, has been coping with for a long time. It also points to clearly-defined groups who, as a result of the consistently unequal distribution of goods for the past two decades have been suffering from social exclusion. Wroclaw’s bid won the contest for the European Capital of Culture because it contains a diagnosis of the problem of exclusion from our culture, as well as the outline of a programme to overcome it. 

Pouring concrete in Poland and in Wroclaw

Like every other city in Poland, Wrocław spends huge amounts of money building new public facilities. However, it is not true that its mayor is busy only with “pouring concrete”. The index of the city's expenditure on “soft” cultural programmes is one of the highest in Poland, as is its cultural budget. Besides, there is essentially no harm in pouring concrete in a city which is still scarred by the war instigated by German Nazism and which was consistently overlooked by communist authorities who were not quite sure whether the city would remain within Polish borders after the demise of the real-socialist regime in 1989.

The problem is that even though the city has a well-developed cultural infrastructure, it is hard to induce its inhabitants to take advantage of its offer. The diagnosis contained in the city's bid for the title of European Capital of Culture formulates this problem bluntly: barely 5-7 per cent of the Wroclaw's citizens systematically take (passive, i.e. spectatorial) part in cultural events. The bid elaborates categories of the public agoraphobia, interpassivity, and the commodification of the sphere of culture, and argues that these phenomena are commonplace across the whole of Poland.

Will the offer of the future cultural infrastructure, now under construction, attract greater attention? At the moment there are no reasons to believe that it will. The point is that cultural education in Poland, as a task of cultural institutions, has been completely neglected. Cultural institutions have been subjected to the rules of the market, and of clientelism: they have to balance their books. At the same time the present reduction in the number of pupils in schools, where cultural education should begin, instead of becoming a unique opportunity to raise the level of education, has been seized on as an opportunity for the laying-off of teachers and closing down of schools.

I trust that the European Capital of Culture in Wrocław will be a spectacular success. One also hopes that the presently designed programme will include not only spectacular yet fleeting events, which will attract for a brief moment the attention of Wrocław’s inhabitants, xenophobic ones among them, but that it will also consist of projects which will help to include the presently excluded social groups, xenophobic ones among them, into the process of a common restoration of a positive image of Wrocław.

German responsibility

During the deafening protestations of the nationalists against Zygmunt Bauman, some demonstrators raised their hands in a Nazi salute. For the Germans present in the audience this unashamed emulation of Nazi symbolics by Polish nationalists openly in a public space came as a shock; the Consul General sat in the first row of the audience, his face ashen.

The spirit of Nazism has not been irrevocably buried in Germany. Symbols of the political culture concocted by Hitler’s spin-doctors turn out to be more virulent than anyone expected. But this Nazi package is now also being received by descendants of the nation which suffered greatly from the Nazis’ particular cruelties. In this way Polish-German reconciliation, usually perceived through the gestures of political correctness, turns out to possess another surprising dimension, one that is “incorrect”, and as a rule hidden from public view.

Bauman is a severe critic of the present economic and social order. He believes that the present social and economic regime in Poland and in the world is deeply unjust, leads to exclusions, and grows within itself the seeds of its own demise. In the lecture he said that political parties which now pretend to represent the ideals of the Left, like the German SPD and the Polish SLD, should be held accountable for the emergence of this order for they have betrayed leftist values and instead entered into mutual admiration societies with the business bosses. He meant especially what Gerhard Schröder, known as Genosse der Bosse (Comrade of the Bosses), had done with the SPD of which he was a leader. Bauman expressed this judgement in the same University room in which, ten years earlier to the day, Chancellor Schröder represented Germany during a meeting of the so-called Weimar Triangle, a consultation forum for the political leaders of France, Germany and Poland.

Poles are entitled to expect that Germans, especially from the present SPD, should take a clear stance concerning what is going on in their own country. They should also be aware that the Polish brand of Nazism is not only an internal problem of Poland; it is also a problem for contemporary Germany as well as of Europe as a whole.

The party of order and the status quo

While I was insisting that the authorities of the University of Wrocław summon the police in order to protect an academic event, and then that the commander of the police troops remove the troublemakers, I suddenly remembered Arthur Schopenhauer, who pointed out to the police the most convenient place for them to shoot at the revolutionary masses during the Spring of Peoples in 1848. I also remembered Karl Marx’s ironic remarks from his 18th Brumaire: yes, I too was acting as a representative of the Party of Order who called the police to protect the status quo.

The point is, however, that I am not really convinced that the present political and economic order in Poland deserves to be protected. It might seem that extremist groupings in Poland also demand a change in the social order, just as Bauman does; and that the difference between them lies only in the methods advocated. But this is not so. Polish radicalism today is nationalist, patriotic, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-feminist, anti-communist, anti-Semitic, anti-German, anti-European, anti-intellectual, etc. In a word, it stands for everything that is officially suppressed by liberal and tolerant elites striving to impose upon society their own version of decent constraints. In this sense Polish radicalism, in its exhibitionism and pornographic obscenity, may be perceived as a symptom of social revolt.

The question of a more just distribution of wealth is not, however, addressed by its members. In this sense Polish radicalism is thoroughly conservative. It does not strive towards a change of the political system because it draws from it all its strength, and moves within it unperturbed. The whole raison d’être of these Polish radical movements is to excite disorder during which their members can demonstrate their own strength, that can subsequently be used as a bargaining tool, and a political commodity. This is the whole point of politics understood as a spectacle within which to be is to be perceived.

The present system is needed by them as a venue or a platform upon which to perform their rituals of brutality and hatred. They will not find any better one. For this reason precisely they need the cosmopolites, Jews, Arabs, Blacks, agents, communist, Stalinists, Germans, Russians, Europeans and egg-heads in order to stage their rituals of hate. They are employing this inconsistent ideological conglomerate precisely because it guarantees them an inexhaustible supply of objects for their hatred. Should the objects, per impossible, ever be in short supply, they could create them without much effort. For the time being their strength is basically the strength of spectacle; for this reason it is only an appearance of strength. They will become really dangerous when they understand this. And they are just one step from it. One has only to wait and see whether they will summon the courage to take this one step.

It has nowadays become a commonplace of political criticism that the contemporary political system has been transformed into a pathetic caricature of democracy. The slogan of democratic participation is only a smokescreen for the growing oligarchisation of societies and politics at all levels. In the economic sphere, Civic Platform excels in cultivating this art and elevating it to new levels of sophistication through managing the assets of the country in such a way as to create further inequalities, without bothering about their social costs. The resulting deep imbalance in the social structure cannot be rectified overnight; it has gone way too far. For this reason the Finance Minister Vincent Rostowski will now have to find a place for a new rubric on the expenditure side of his budget: “the costs of social peace”. The longer he delays this, the more hefty sums he will have to place under this rubric in the future. The same applies to the Minister of Finance in any Law and Justice government.

Thin crust

The six post-war decades in Poland have brought disenchantment with the leftist utopia. The past two decades of the transformation have brought disenchantment with conservative liberalism. Radicalism in Poland destroys politics and dispels the hope for social peace. It overwhelms the churches and universities, the last enclaves of relative decency.

What does, then, the future have in store for us? Bertrand Russell compared civilised life to a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment may break and let the unwary sink into its fiery depths. John Gray has argued that the best that flawed and potentially wicked human creatures can hope for is a commitment to civilised constraints that will prevent the very worst from happening: a politics of the least worst [3].

The problem is that in Poland the decent crust of constraints has turned out to be very thin, and has just cracked again. The lava flowing from below refuses to cool down by itself. Nor will it be cooled any time soon, or easily.

 

 

[1] This seems to be the closest possible translation of the Polish soccer hooligans’ term “ustawka” which refers to a collective fight taking place in an agreed place and time between two antagonized groups of supporters of different soccer teams, resulting usually in many injuries on both sides, and quite often in fatalities.

[2] Bolesław Chrobry (967-1025), known as Bolesław the Great, was the first crowned king of Poland. He waged successful wars against Germany and Russia.

[3] The wording comes from Simon Critchley’s review of John Gray’s The Silence of Animals, Los Angeles Review of Books, June 2nd, 2013.

About the author

Adam J Chmielewski is professor of philosophy in the Institute of Philosophy, University of Wrocław, Poland. His books include Popper's Philosophy: A Critical Analysis (1995); Open Society or Community? (2001); and Psychopathology of Political Life (2009). He is also the author of the successful bid of the city of Wroclaw for the title of the European Capital of Culture 2016


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.