Can Europe Make It?

What's Left in Poland?

In the first article of our new debate on the Left in Poland, Anna Grodzka MP discusses her party, the Palikot Movement, and its commitment to freeing up and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit of the Polish people.

Anna Grodzka
25 July 2013

Anna Grodzka MP being interviewed in the Polish parliament. Wikimedia commons/Boston9. Some rights reserved.

The Left in Poland

In September of 2001, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) took power, portraying itself as a social democratic or social liberal party. However, it soon became apparent that a neoliberal agenda took precedence over any traditional socialist or social democratic ideas of equality and social justice.

Despite some positive examples of left-wing sensitivities displayed by members of this party – including the late Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, to name but one – such tendencies were not important priorities of the SLD government. The electorate gave SLD only twelve percent n the next election and forced it to enter into opposition to the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), which hijacked many of the Left’s ideas and demands.

PiS established a right-wing coalition goverment, and left the SLD and other left-wing parties and associations on the defensive. They continued Poland's tradition of neoliberal economic policies which, combined with the conservative worldview of those in power, effectively defined Poland's post-1989 history. This was shown in 2007, when the only slightly less conservative Civic Platform (PO) came to power. The 2011 parliamentary elections gave hope - ten percent of the electorate voted for Palikot's Movement as a way to break the conservative right’s domination.

Palikot's Movement

It’s no easy task to define the Palikot Movement - mainly because the Movement is a new party, yet to define its political programme and realise its full potential. It will also be hard for me to be objective.

We are committed to the realisation of ideas presented during our election campaign - a secular state, a separation of Church and State, and making human rights a reality in Poland. We feel the ideas of equality, personal freedom and diversity are far from respected in Poland. We attach a high degree of importance to equality between the sexes and passing laws protecting minorities. We also support a de-bureaucratized Poland and support small businesses. Our views on the economy are shaped by the alter-globalist and anti-neoliberal discourse.

We are not yet a consolidated party. Many of our concepts must yet be translated into concrete actions, but the internal integration process of our party continues and gives some reason to be optimistic.

Palikot's Movement is certainly a pro-European party. We believe our ideas for Poland will be best realised within a unified Europe. We support a European federation, but the form of this federation and the political and economic characteristics are important to us. As mentioned above, we are shaped by alter-globalising and anti-neoliberal discourses, and as such, we see the need for a major change to the current capitalist system. We also hold dear the social democratic sensitivity towards inequality, and thus issues of poverty and unemployment. We believe the way out of the current financial crisis and social problems in Poland and Europe is not budgetary cuts, particularly those affecting the least priveliged in society. Instead we support strengthening the internal market, strengthening the position of employees vis-a-vis employers and entrepreneurs vis-a-vis both the state and corporations. 

Green energy, the pro-consumer movement and an ecological policy of sustainable development are also at the heart of the Palikot Movement’s programme. An equally important part of our programme is support for investments in the real economy, as well as education and science devoted to developing advanced technological production and services.

We also attach priority to making up for lost time in terms of social policy in Poland. Policies supporting reproductive rights, equal access to education and decreasing social inequality should be a priority for Poland.

Unfortunately, up until now, because of our own mistakes and lack of consistency, as well as a virulent and sensationalist media, Palikot's Movement has yet to achieve a sensible political image in Poland.

For me personally, eco-socialist, anti-globalist and feminist ideas are the most important. But of course, the Left is about much broader issues and I think Palikot's Movement fits into this wider definition of the Left.

What is Poland like?

Poland is divided. We do not know who the majority supports.

We do know one thing, and that is that politicians desperately try to curry favour with the clergy, seeing the support of this group as vital to their political success. They in turn support policies which provide state assistance to the Church. For this group of politicians, the church pulpit is a political podium. We do however have a group of politicians who are fed up with this state of affairs and hope to break this dependence - those who support moving the Church away from state affairs and thus support a separation of the Church and the State.

In simpler terms, they support democracy. The main problem with the Church is the xenophobia and nationalist beliefs of many priests and Church officials. This is a worldview that many Poles cannot agree with. It is a worldview which is met with protest. But again, it is based on these raw emotions that conservative politics in Poland are built on. The Catholic clergy disappoints more and more people. Instead of leading a conciliatory policy of building bridges and preaching tolerance, it offers a recipe for the perfect individual. It supports hate spewed by certain "Catholic" media and activists. This is a policy which will lead to disaster for both the Church, and for Poland.

However, we do not support this policy idly. Despite the liberalization of Polish society in the last few years, this is still a common and widespread problem. It influences every aspect of social life: formal education, mainstream media, the public space and tradition. Going against this conservative vision is still perceived in Poland as a rebellion against the accepted boundaries. It is perceived as a move against a cultural identity which has never been clearly contested before in Polish history.

My hope for Poland

I’m doing my own thing, as one can say. I do what I believe to be right. I would one day like to look back and be able to say I did what I could for social and economic change that I believe to be essential.

I am convinced that in a globalized economy and information society guaranteeing a fair quality of life for citizens is not possible without a balance in the social and economic sphere. In a well-functioning and effective society, economics is not the result of the market’s invisible hand but quite the opposite: a well-functioning society guarantees an effective economy and a fair distribution of resources.

States which ignore their societies and avoid a responsible social policy, introduce policies further increasing social inequality and feelings of injustice, avoid rational distribution of the Earth’s resources and human capital and ignore the needs of future generations, acting against the natural needs and expectations of every person. Social and economic success is dependent upon how the state and democratic, non-governmental actors are able to free up and encourage the entrepreneurship of its people.

This economic and social effect, along with technological advancement and improvement of the quality of life is not possible without the support of the democratic state for values such as personal freedom, rule of law, equal opportunities, diversity and social solidarity, as well as solidarity between employees and employers, states and nations. It is obvious to me that a state in which a majority of society does not feel economically secure and feels economically wronged, denies the point of its existence. A state which blocks upward social mobility and personal success will not foster a creative and innovative society and thus will negate its potential.

I strive to realize this vision above party lines in a cooperation centered on ideas. This is showing its first signs of success in the form of the "Fair Society" parliamentary group which I created, and the social movement behind it. At present, I am concerned with vital legislative solutions to halt the tendency of  increasing social inequality. This includes the problem of evictions without substitute housing, the problem of an ever increasing number of the working poor, the increasing difficulties in establishing workers’ unions and the increasingly opaque nature of social consultation. I am also active in the field of respecting diversified identities, working on the Gender Reconciliation Act and the Civil Unions Act, as well as the problem of exclusion of women and the handicapped.

From enthusiasm to hatred

I am met with a lot of positive reactions and support for what I do. However I know that as an openly transsexual person, devoted to the idea of improving equality and acceptance in Poland, I am often perceived through just this aspect of my person and my activity. This has caused many difficult situations for me since being elected to the parliament. Unfortunately, as in many European states, there is a growing popularity of xenophobic ideas.

Attempts at intimidating and attacking those working for equality and freedoms find support, particularly amongst the young supporters of right wing political parties and those holding conservative views. I believe these groups are also worth entering into dialogue with - predominantly to educate them. Much is dependent on their closest surroundings, local communities. We must, both in Poland and in Europe, foster and promote sustainable, varied and just cohabitation for all in society.

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