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Time for decision

Published on March 7, 2012 by: in: Politics

“Not right-winger, not liberal, not even any fascist” – Kazik Staszewski [1], lyrics from the song 12 groszy

Janusz Palikot, currently the chairperson of a numerous opposition party in the Polish Parliament, must realize that the time when he behaved as an unruly boy trying by all means to focus the attention of adults has already come to an end.

photo: Paro_for_Peace

photo: Paro_for_Peace

Janusz Palikot cannot make a decision. We know for sure that he is no longer a right-winger. But we still don’t know who he is. When asked by Tomasz Lis[2] who is the future of the left-wing, he answered that this division into right-wing and left-wing seems out-of-date and then he referred to both Spanish and American outraged as well as Zygmunt Bauman[3], who wrote that there is no chance to become a right-winger or a left-winger when privatization covers so many, as Palikot said, instruments of public life. For Zygmunt Bauman or Tony Judt this is the argument for returning to issues which haven’t been discussed in politics and on political debates. For Janusz Palikot, in contrast, this is the reason for treating politics as an ever-lasting performance, during which symbols, not content, matters. It sticks out a mile when one looks into his demands.

Nearly at the same time, during the interview with Cezary Michalski for the magazine Krytyka Polityczna[4], Palikot made himself out to be a social democrat, trying by all means to prove that he is as much a left-winger as those who invited him to the discussion. He claimed, “As an answer to your question, even if not everything convinces you, I just want to declare once again and prove that the logic of all these issues is social democratic, not populist or neoliberal”. These skeptical issues which may convince Michalski are: multimedia libraries Mediateka with free access to the Internet financed by the state, free contraception and the flat tax with a substantial tax-exempt amount but without any allowances. It is hard to consider it particularly left-wing, especially as Palikot suggests uniform VAT amounting to 18%, which means that the tax would increase by about 13 percentage points for food and about 10 for drugs. Taking into consideration that the average family spends currently on food and alcohol-free drinks 24.8% of their money and farmers spend even 31.8% (data collected by the Polish Central Statistical Office), the maintenance of the same consumption would increase the expenses adequately to 28% and 35% percent. The program of Ruch Nowoczesne Państwo[5] admits that the power of this system lies mainly in its simplicity. One would say that is a simple system for simple people, but Palikot underestimates them. They also can count.

Agata Nowakowska was right when she wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza[6] that “Janusz Palikot has a tough nut to crack – how to convince poor people that he is the most important left-winger in Poland if he wants mainly them to pay for the crisis?”. Michalski asked Palikot the same question. How Palikot plans to compensate poor people for such a great increase?

“In response, we would increase the minimum salary so as to level the increased costs of living. Moreover, I have already said that the people with the lowest income would be exempted from income tax. There also would be the reform of social benefits that allows to spend money for solving particular problems, not for maintaining the mechanism which often wastes money instead of helping.”, he answered.

Noble promises, but they do not answer the question exhaustively. The growth of the minimum salary means the slower increase of jobs, especially in case of the least qualified employees. What is more, not everyone has a job, meaning a lawful one, so not everyone would benefit from the promised increase of the minimum salary as well as the increase of tax-exempt amount. But everyone must eat. The employment rate in Poland was only 59.3% in 2010. Nearly half of women do not work. One out of three people between their 55-64 has a job. All of them – the unemployed, retired people and the pensioners would lose with reference to the suggestions made by Palikot.

We all remember how severely the Civic Platform [7] was criticized in 2005 when the party proposed the introduction of the flat VAT. They avoid the flat tax like a plague since then. Palikot probably remembers that situation because what other than “we won’t strive to introduce the flat tax” may be understood by the statement included in the program of Ruch Nowoczesne Państwo, which claims that “The introduction of the flat tax is important, but not key for Polish economy! We would promote it, but there are some other essential problems.”?

The anti-program of the anti-party

Even the first contact with the program of the Palikot’s Movement deters. Text seems to be written by some not really talented high school student who, in addition, failed a dictation. Scarcely 9 pages abounds in both orthographic and spelling mistakes. Particular points remind the electoral leaflets of plankton politics for whom few people vote. The following statement serves as the example: “First of all, the control over such an enormous deficit requires courageous political decisions as well as action because this issue concerns saving millions a year and for many years. We won’t solve such a big problem by little steps”

Ruch Nowoczesne Państwo thinks that it is key to liquidate “the decisions made by financial commissions, the functional rules (sic!) of many administrative departments and the church fund”. Moreover, the party suggests the merge of the Polish Social Insurance Institution and the Polish Agricultural Social Insurance Fund. No one really knows how the liquidation of the functional rules of many administrative departments would be carried out and how it would enable the state to save, according to the author of the political program, 20 milliards a year. The liquidation of the Polish Agricultural Social Insurance does not liquidate obligations toward farmers. One may even claim that, at the beginning, it would produce additional costs.

Within the program, politicians rightly claim that Poles generally work too short. Only if they worked longer, even until their 70, the increasing problem with the solvency of the retirement system, which even now has an enormous deficit, would be solved. Instead of the obligatory raise of the retirement age, Ruch Palikota suggests the introduction of the growth of benefits due to longer work. But the mentioned increase exists now and it is even non-liner (the longer we work the more capital we collect for shorter period of life during retirement). Is it possible that Palikot does not know that?

We read further, “It is essential to limit the privilege of the uniformed services. Young, educated and healthy people shouldn’t retire”. Apt remark, but why just limitation (and to what extent?) and not complete liquidation? What should attract people to work is a good remuneration, not retirement at taxpayer’s cost. Moreover, the forced idleness of young retired people is often harmful to them, especially when they have been active before.

Palikot plans to level people’s opportunities owing to the popularization of the Internet and foreign language courses. Noble platitude, but in his program there is not a single word specifying the education. There is not a single word about kindergartens or Polish higher education system. Having taken these into consideration,  it’s hard to take his plans seriously.

Palikot’s demand to build cheap flats for rent is undoubtedly right. He tells about it during the interview for Krytyka Polityczna. “We should both liquidate poviats[8] and the offices of the Voivode[9] as well as limit the number of the Councilors of the Sejmik[10]. The gained money should be spent for the housing fund which, under the provisions of the Polish Act on Public-Private Partnership, would oblige gminas[11] to build, with the financial support of the fund, flats with settled rents. (…) With reference to highly specified conditions, the state would give money for private undertakings, but then it would have the right to control the rent of these flats. It would give a chance to build additionally 50-60 thousands of flats a year, which means that during one term of the Parliament about 200.000 of flats would be built.”, reports Palikot.

It is hard to estimate without detailed calculations and even provisions how much would it cost and how many flats would be built. Nevertheless, the demand became completely unfeasible when the Palikot’s Movement appointed Piotr Ikonowicz as the expert for combating social exclusion. He promised amendments to Polish Protection of Occupancy Rights Act, which obliges gminas to provide a council housing for people having eviction notice. Palikot and Ikonowicz attempt to forbid private owners to evict occupants who do not pay the rent. What is more, the politicians plan to prohibit banks from auctioning the flats of debtors who do not pay off their credits. “This is unprofitable for indigent families that dream of having own flat. No one would build a council housing, if occupants who do not pay the rent could not be evicted.”, comments Marek Wielgo in Gazeta Wyborcza and adds that “Flats for rent are currently indispensable in Poland”.

To sum up, Ruch Nowoczesne Państwo seems rather reliable with reference to moral issues and the rules of a secular state. In comparison to European standards, the politicians declare moderate liberal demands. When it comes to economy, they remind us of the anti-bureaucratic activity of the Przyjazne Państwo[12] committee, whose demands are already partly out-of-date (because they have entered into force), and propose the reduction of taxes for the semi-poor and increase for the poorest. When it comes to social issues, which should enable to assign the Palikot’s Movement to left-wingers or right-wingers, their demands are unbelievable. Neither left-wing nor liberal. Just incoherent and internally inconsistent. Palikot declared that parties do not pay much attention to political programs and he based the opposition against the political class on this assumption. However, he also prepared the parody of a political program which discredits him utterly. He probably have never believed to have a chance to carry it out.

By references to Bauman, Palikot may take Tomasz Lis by surprise, but he will neither build any council housing nor help to fight the poverty of any child. It’s high time he began to work hard towards his demands in the Polish Parliament. It’s high time he decided if his political program resembles the ideas of a moderate and liberal Hausner[13], to whom he often referred after the election, or the ideas of the expert for combating social exclusion – radical and left-wing Ikonowicz? Janusz Palikot, currently the chairperson of a numerous opposition party in the Polish Parliament, must realize that the time when he behaved as an unruly boy trying by all means to focus the attention of adults has already come to an end. For him, the time of careless childhood has come to an end and the hard time of maturation has begun. Time for decision began.

Translation: Aleksandra Kozłowska

[1] Polish lead singer, songwriter and leader of the band Kult

[2] Popular Polish journalist

[3] Polish sociologist

[4] Polish left-wing magazine

[5] Political party led by Janusz Palikot

[6] Popular Polish daily newspaper

[7] The current major coalition partner in Polish government

[8] Polish administrative unit

[9] Polish administrative unit

[10] Polish provincial-level assembly

[11] Polish administrative unit

[12] Polish Parliament committee created in 2007

[13] Polish politician and economist

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About Leszek Jażdżewski

Politologist, publicist, regular political commentator in Polish media. Editor in chief of “Liberté!”, Polish liberal socio-political journal. Studied international relations in University of Lodz, Institute of Political Studies on Polish Academy of Sciences, Glamorgan University in UK and Tbilisi University in Georgia. Vice-president of Liberal Forum, member of the council of Projekt: Polska Foundation, secretary of the board of Transport Integration Society, vice-president of Industrial Foundation. Coauthor of books: “Liberal reflections on life chances and social mobility in Europe” and “Democracy in Europe. Of the People, by the People, for the People?”

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