Monday, April 15, 2013

Kwach TAK

Ex-President Aleksander Kwasniewski is the saviour of the left. That, anyway, is the hope for many Polish leftists and rightists alike as Kwasniewski prepares to lead a new leftist group Europa Plus. The left sees him as the incarnation of the pro-EU, Western urbane social democrat who can finally propel the left back into the centre of Polish politics. He did it before. Why not again?

But even some on the right seem to want him back. Who better to knock down than the true embodiment of socially liberal, spiritually barren ex-Communists. Kwasniewski is the gift to rightists like Jaroslaw Kaczynski that keeps on giving.

As for me, I'm sceptical. I see way too much baggage.

Kwasniewski's run was notable. For years, he was Poland's political Midas. He was able to transmute collaboration with the Communists into success as a social democrat in the early days of transformation. He went on to beat the very symbol of the Polish political opposition, Lech Walesa, in the closely contested 1995 presidential election. He then handily won re-election in 2000.

While political king, Kwasniewski managed to shrug off scandal, incessant rightist attack and internal leftist revolts all. He vetoed a number of key bills (a flat tax), pushed through a new constitution, and helped steer Poland into NATO and then the EU.

Everything seemed set for him to leverage his very successful Polish political career into international crown. NATO secretary general? Why not. The head of the UN? Yes, please.

But then the very conjuncture of his political past got in the way. The thing about political transformation is that it was messy. After being unhooked from the veneer of communism, many on the left found their footing in the murkiness of opportunistic capitalism. Fortunes were made, fortunes were lost, and everyone borrowed everywhere.

Kwasniewski was able to dodge most accusations throughout his career, at least until the scandal-prone days that closed the 2001-05 reign of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) Kwasniewski helped found in the early 1990s. Poland's Teflon prince of the left suddenly found himself unable to avoid the sticky stink of corruption.

Booze has helped tarnish his image. The first really bad drunken scandal occurred in Charkow. But his post-presidential drunken escapades were somehow more damaging. His media appearances were fewer, making the bad examples more memorable. The internet-based cesspool of blogging triggered cascade effects as well as depraved bloggers (ha!) linked to videos of the best of the events to ensure they were fixed firmly in the collective memory. Here's a few highlights: here, here and more recently here.

In the end, I can't say for sure that Kwasniewski's seemingly imminent return to the Polish political limelight won't be a success. People are tiring of the Civic Platform. Few alternatives exist. Kwasniewski was not either of the Lechs when president and many cherish him for that.

But I can say that he is not the saviour of the Polish left. The left does not need a dinosaur undermined by the sins of the past 20 or so years of post-transformation leftist politics. It does not need a politician who loves to combine booze with political discourse.

It needs a person or party that can challenge the right represented near the centre by the Civic Platform and near the fringe by Law and Justice. To do so, one cannot be a former communist. In fact, no former communists can be in the party at all. It needs, above all, to find backers that don't feel somehow slimy supporting it.

Until a day when a person or party like that can be found, the left will remain the bronze medallist of Polish politics and the right will remain ascendant.

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