Friday, December 9, 2011

A Theory About Polish Politics

This morning’s New York Times has a piece about Polish PM Tusk’s avid support for Germany’s stance in EU bargaining.  The article plays up Tusk’s pan-Europeanism and leaves out his equally passionate attachment to fiscal orthodoxy à la Merkel/Schäuble.  Putting both together, you have the classical liberal position, one that can still be found in every European country, although seldom with as much backing as in Poland.

I don’t have a detailed understanding of Polish politics, and I welcome comments from readers who can set me right, but here is my tentative explanation:

In every European country there are three historic political traditions.

religiously based conservatism, nationalistic and authoritarian,

liberalism, secular, internationalist, and devoted to free-market economics,

socialism, which can be more liberal or conservative in matters of religion and nationalism, but centers on economic egalitarianism.

(In some countries a Green pole has emerged, but this is new.)

What happened in Eastern Europe is that communist regimes discredited the left political tradition.  Where ostensibly left parties continued to hold their own politically in the post-1989 environment, it was on the basis of “competence” and the pull of patronage, not anything that deserves to be called socialism.  Each country is somewhat different, of course, depending on the circumstances of transition.

In Poland, as in Hungary, the ex-communists discredited themselves, failing to provide even a technocratic fig leaf for their patronage-based politics.  This has left the field entirely to conservatives and liberals.  Worse, both countries have the most reactionary of conservative parties, extremely nationalistic and hostile to democracy.  The election of Tusk in Poland was greeted almost everywhere else with a sigh of relief: here is a reasonable man and a reasonable party, someone we can work with.  One should not forget, however, that he is a liberal in a country that is virtually without a left—in other words, someone who has no need to trim his free-market ideology in order to compete for the support of the egalitarian wing of the electorate.

The point is that it is not just cosmopolitanism that draws Tusk toward the EU project, but also his approval of its neoliberal goals.  You could write a very different article about Polish EU politics foregrounding, instead of nationalism/Europeanism, the dichotomy of market liberalism versus the “social Europe”.

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