Translation: Monika Zell
After a few years of a Pole living abroad, there appear the first problems in the use of Polish. The accent starts to sound strange and Polish vocabulary slips one’s mind, giving way to the foreign one. It would seem, however, that when the daily, direct contact with Polish language is maintained, one can avoid those embarrassing linguistic problems. In fact, after living in Germany for 6 years I haven’t noticed that my pronunciation became similar to that of the speeches of Benedict XVI. But there appears another, more serious problem. The sound of individual words remain exactly the same, but the sense of many of them becomes completely reversed. When I try to describe my view on the world in the discussion with my compatriots, I come across something like a language barrier. In contemporary Polish language the necessary words are missing, and those we have are usually so strongly marked that they actually make a meaningful discussion impossible. So while talking about the views I try to appeal more to the personal experience rather than political abstraction. When we diverge from common and devaluated concepts and show ourselves a little bit of good will, it appears that there is less that divides us than we think. Unfortunately, politicians and the media build walls between us, juggling concepts and imposing false dividing lines.
Within a few years I had to learn to translate my views into Polish, but I often still feel frustrated and confused. I listen to political debates of my friends representing different political options, from Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) to Law and Justice (PiS). Almost all of them are confrontational towards each other. Those aggressive squabbles which every debate turns into, are a bit narcotic. We are addicted to our enemies. Demeaning the opponent releases some kind of endorphins in us, improves our self-esteem. The more we insult someone who has a different view, the more we reinforce the feeling of our infallibility. I don’t want to be naive, but I have a deep feeling that the vast majority of Polish-Polish quarrels results from the language contamination, not from some kind of an invincible gap between our moral systems. To be able to communicate, we have to rebuild the foundation of the common language and disenchant the fundamental concepts. I am neither a linguist, nor a philosopher. I can only express my intuitive hunch supported by the experience of many conversations that with such attempt to create a new language, there could develop a political program which would be accepted by many people without representation in our current party system.
When it comes to me, this kind of thinking started from the notion which so far was almost insulting to me: ‘to recover conservatism’. This slogan appeared in my head when I started to write a letter to the so-called conservative fraction in Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO). Thanks to Leszek Jażdżewski’s idea right after the Sejm vote on civil partnerships, one could send an e-mail to those members through www.liberte.pl with the expression of indignation at the rejection of all the bills. The editorial office prepared a ready-made template of the letter, but I took advantage of the possibility to create my own. Not in order to get to the conscience of right-wing parliamentarians – to be honest, their previous statements and behaviour gave the right to assume that attempts to start a discussion with them would be like a nod as good as a wink to a blind horse, or rather (indecently) casting pearls before swine. However, every time when such text is made public, one has to remember about all those readers whose views have not yet been finally formed. Maybe they hesitate because nobody tries to talk to them using language they understand. Maybe they lack personal experience allowing to form an individual opinion, and only the extreme right wing speaks to them in a clear and understandable way. This is because the right wing seized the concepts of political ethics, stole them from all of us and considers them its own.
One of the most important lessons of mature democracy I learned in Germany was that those concepts do not belong to one fraction. They constitute common good. The left wing, right wing and the centre has the right to them. What is more, the major parties on the German political scene defend those concepts, when necessary, from attempts to be appropriated by extreme groups. In Germany, the most active enemy of neo-Nazi groups is the right wing. No representative of CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany), or of even more conservative CSU (Christian Social Union of Bavaria) will stand up to defend football hooligans shouting anti-Semitic slogans. No one from the right side of the political scene will attempt to justify the organisers of any campaigns of an openly xenophobic or nationalistic character.
But back to Poland. Everyone who has traced the history of the hottest philosophical debates of the last two decades knows that the winning side was not the one with the majority of votes in parliament, but the one that seized the linguistic sphere in time. For example, ‘conceived life’ won with ‘the right of choice’, because the latter was more marked emotionally, sounded better and referred directly to the ethic codes everyone could understand. The fact that for some time left wing groups had the necessary majority in parliament to liberalize abortion laws, ultimately didn’t matter. The other party imposed such a strong moral blackmail through propaganda that it actually disabled any discussion.
Unfortunately, getting into squabbles with our opponents only gives them more credibility. Instead, we should focus on restoring meanings of the key concepts. Mass emigration experience should be helpful. Millions of Poles moved to the West. Most of them decided not to go back for good, but they maintain strong ties with their homeland. They visit their families, talk to them and describe new experiences. This intertwining of cultures leads to small but very significant mental changes. It’s not that a Polish student or plumber who comes home for holiday is to deliver a lecture to his parents on European values. A Polish plumber after a few months in Germany does not automatically change into an ambassador of tolerance and openness, but is seeped in the local language. He learns that some hateful and contemptuous expressions which are common in Poland, are not allowed over Odra River. He observes the reality of the country where homosexuals have the right to marry, and he sees that it doesn’t threat his own sexual and cultural identity in any way.
I live in Berlin, in the district dominated by Turks and gays. Therefore I have the opportunity to observe on a daily basis how two communities can exist peacefully, despite being totally alien to each other. They live next to each other and accept themselves as neighbours. In everyday matters they use each other services and exist in normal, civilised relations. I don’t want to create any illusion of an idyll. Turkish Berliners mostly come from poor and underdeveloped regions of their country. The integration of minority groups coming from regions of such a different culture results in many problems and conflicts. However, on the level of communal life with other minorities, the Turks are more tolerant than the representatives of the Polish parliament towards their compatriots with different sexual tendencies. This is mostly because each of these minorities is aware of their rights. Turkish Muslims pay taxes on their religious communities, which legitimates their right to own identity and customs, and gays can exercise the right to contract legal relationships. Both are protected by a neutral state. They don’t even have to plead this protection. The general awareness of that fact is enough.
Mental transformation connected with mass migration and its impact on those who stayed in Poland is subtle. But it forms a basis for bigger changes. This phenomenon is not described well. Maybe one should talk about some yet undisclosed potential that has a chance to realise if a political force speaking the correct language appears in Poland.
Old-fashioned politics which is cultivated in Poland combines the ideas into inseparable packages. You either accept everything or reject it. There is no ‘between’. You can be a ‘progressive’, so the supporter of civil unions, an enemy of traditional marriage, militant anticlerical, hedonist, leftist, European federalist, liberal, pro-abortionist… You can also be a ‘conservative’, so a Catholic, xenophobe, nationalist, euro sceptic, rightist, anti-Semitic, antifeminist, a defender of the unborn, homophobe. Either-or. These divisions are dictated by fear and inability to talk. Most of us are somewhere between these extremes or combine beliefs from different sides of the political barricade in an individual way. My personal views do not fall within these imposed divisions. I am against abortion, but for pragmatic reasons I believe that the best way to restrict it is its full legalisation. I think that so-called partnerships may turn out to be harmful to the society, but I support gay rights to marry. I am for the state supporting the family, but not at the cost of limiting sex education. I can see the dependence here, but exactly the opposite from that promoted by the right wing. In my opinion, the more successful love and sex experiences in youth, the greater the chance to establish a stable and happy relationship. The better sex education, the fewer abortions and more conscious parenthood, which results in an improved condition of the family. The easier and less humiliating divorce process, the greater the willingness to get married. I see the matter of homosexual rights to marry in the same way – as marriages, not civil unions. The more stable families, the better for us all, because a family – regardless of the fact whether homosexual or heterosexual – takes over the huge burden from the society: the duty to care for the ill, child-rearing, providing assistance to the elderly. A loving couple, if under community’s protection, gives back in return much more than it can actually get from it.
Such thinking is indeed conservative. Of course, I am not talking about blunt reactionism of politicians who call themselves conservatives, who are so afraid of any changes that they try to remain status quo pretences, even at the cost of hypocrisy and conjuring the reality. My conservatism allows changes, accepts the arguments of science and differences. I believe in institutions and forms of coexistence developed by mankind over centuries. However, I believe that we know too much about complicated nature of man to petrificate those forms into those from a hundred years ago. Traditional concepts from social philosophy, such as conservatism or progressivism, left wing and right wing, originated from XIX century, before the great discoveries of modern psychology and social sciences. Their creators were helpless when it came to the mysteries of psychology. They could not understand the essence of human evil, they didn’t know the power of instincts and fears, which were described many years later by Freud and his successors. Unfortunately, the concepts created two hundred years ago, at the birth of democracy, exist today and determine political divisions. During this time they have been overgrown by false stereotypes, and cynical politicians commonly use these concepts as tools of moral blackmail. This weapon has to be taken from their hands. It must be said clearly that the most important traditional value developed by mankind is the ability of self-reflection leading to evolutionary change. The system which is not subject to reforms and resistant to social changes is condemned to annihilation. The state, if not surrounded by a great wall, is not able to fight effectively against the process of changes. If it tries, the best case would be the state we live now – more and more liberal society is ruled by politicians who are more and more detached from reality. Black economy community accepting the external forms of state-church ritual, but completely ignoring their content. Of course, we can keep living like that, but wouldn’t we feel more confident and comfortable in the community, the rules of which reflect the reality? Wouldn’t we feel more ‘at home’ in Poland?