Crystal Palace and political leadership preserved

30.07.2015 | By Bartosz Światłowski

     A scale of opposition expressed in the May presidential elections shows that the capital accumulated by Andrzej Duda is considerably bigger than purely a negative manifestation of political preferences or a temporary drop in popularity. This is not just the initiation of the generational change or an endeavor to redefine the functioning of state organs that are at stake but a struggle for original and indispensable authenticity of political leadership.

Eventually, Polish political scene has become vigorous. After years of stagnation and fruitless deadlock where political scene was dominated by only two actors, whose chances were definitely unequal, the so-called anti-system people, gathered around Pawel Kukiz, introduced a breath of contestation. They are young patriots dissatisfied with the chronic inability of the government to improve economic situation and growing alienation of the policy makers. Although some of their demands are demagogic, they sometimes use anti-system rhetoric, and a number of activists are just casual people, the movement initiated by Pawel Kukiz has become a more serious catalyst of social discontentment than the artificial, nihilistic acolytes of Janusz Palikot or exotic, publicity-seeking supporters of Janusz Korwin Mikke. On the other hand, it is definitely the political opponents of the indolent authorities, who turn into their advantage the negative capital the Civic Platform and Bronislaw Komorowski accumulated in eight years. Actually, the primary questions concern a model of political leadership, governance style, and the challenges faced by Andrzej Duda. Despite downplaying its role, the president’s office plays in the Polish political system a significant role – this institution is of the crucial importance in legal and political terms and may become of the key importance after parliamentary elections scheduled for 25 October, given their possible outcome. It may also be important from the right-wing parties’ perspective and  effect a potential shift in the strategy of state governance. Thus, a role Andrzej Duda may play is much more significant than political factors or parliamentary calculations might show.

Integral framework for support

            The electoral struggle for the position of the head of the Polish State was determined by at least three factors of the general nature: constitutional legal framework empowering the president’s office with specific competencies, political and partisan potential of candidates as well journalists’ favor toward politicians’ attitudes, their ideological provenance, and partisan affiliation. Each of these factors impacts the ultimate outcome of the presidential projects. Constitutional anchoring of the presidential office is not powerful but provides president with a number of instruments that may impact the work of other authorities. Along with the right to veto, legislative initiatives or nominations, president coordinates foreign policy with the government and is in chargé of the army, which is crucial in the situations where the state’s security is threatened. Yet – which is most important – the power wielded by the first citizen of the Republic of Poland has its source in the decision made by the Polish people, and this is what makes the presidential position in the political system the strongest – this is a political decision of the whole nation. On the other hand, this is an obligation, a kind of a challenge for the president, given a wide ranges of problems articulated by a large number of social groups. Thus if any of these groups, organized around a specific social or economic problem, opposes legislative propositions or any decisions made by other authorities, it is entitled to expect president’s involvement and support as he is their exponent. President may in no way be downplayed, isolated or indifferent to the problems of Polish people as he is a part of the system countervailing excessive concentration of power in only one center. Thus a non-confrontational style should give way to handling problems of all social groups or, in a way, metapolitics. A role of the arbiter would mean abandoning executive powers that should primarily be based on the strategic concepts designed for solving current problems, correct identification of internal and external challenges, and ability to establish public institutions and milieus provided with any intellectual and financial tools for understanding and changing the socio-political reality. Combination of organizational talents, willingness for real, ambitious, and political existence, personal intellectual attributes, faculties necessary in political struggles is of critical importance in the process of consolidation or weakening of the position of president. Not only should president be predictable, able to take decisions based on independent analyses but also keep listening to the citizens, experts and his party activists. Social responsiveness, good relations with aides, and sources full of concepts develop the conditions indispensable for succeeding in any political activities. This is what President Komorowski and his aides lacked.

Certainly, another factor of crucial importance is an opportunity for the possibly most objective presentation of one’s own ideas to run the office, which depends on the degree of pluralism and reliability of the mainstream media. This is a serious problem in the Polish media market as there is no status quo in the television media, which favors those in power nowadays. National Broadcasting Council is responsible for the composition of public broadcasting stations and channels and its composition reflects parliamentary figures. On the other hand, private media companies are most frequently dependent on the capital of foreign corporations, where the journalists concerned about post-1989 Polish political transformation play the leading role. Actually, a substantial number of them are active participants of Polish political disputes on the vetting, decommunization, assessment of the martial law, etc. This provides an opportunity for a relatively easy hermeticization of the political system by people determined to keep the central and right wing parties away from the policy of settling accounts with the communist system. No matter how profitable it might be, the majority of the richest Poles who began to do business in the 1980s or collaborated with the communist secret services are also against extending the media offer with new channels or titles. Such combination of regulations and personal biographies provides a solid basis for the alliance of the governing party and the establishment taking advantage of the post-1989 political transformation. This alliance was noticeable particularly between the first and the second round of presidential elections when the public TV decided not to broadcast the program of the author critical about the ruling party.

Crystal Palace of Komorowski

            The recipe for Poland proposed by Donald Tusk in 2007 has become an acute problem for the Civic Platform. His primary assumption that a multidimensional strategy for political survival and frightening Poles with the opposition party, which was supplemented with the alliance with establishment groups, will ensure a permanent political success was wrong. Indeed, this helped Tusk gain a high position in the international organization and enabled milieus associated with the most prominent financial centers, media or secret services to consistently ossify the state structures. Regarding Poland, the networking nature of modern social, political or economic structures (the notion ‘networking’ is quite popular nowadays) was observed in the area well beyond the extent of the state’s influence. The state’s interference frequently means hampering social or economic initiatives instead of coordinating and supporting. The way in which government offices, public or local government institutions are organized still resemble vertical feudal relationships, where the overlord’s will was decisive. The process of state’s deprivation of the deep axiological contents or – which is even more visible – elementary effectiveness of functioning at the levels close to citizens was the intentional game of Tusk, who aimed to shift emotions into other fields of social reality, depoliticize politics, and divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ (whom we despise because they are just different).

            Regarding this dimension of the political reality, President Komorowski turned out to be Tusk’s acolyte, just a political epigone of the intentionally designed illusion. And he paid a high price for his unwillingness to do even a minimal self-correction of the presidential construction. It is him who exposed himself to ridicule and embarrassment following the decisions of his political marketing advisors and became a personification of the socio-political turning point when the governing party began to be identified with embarrassment and failure while the opposition party – with political success. And last but not least, he has become a symbol of the electoral defeat – the defeat that was not accidental but resulted from the quite poor macroeconomic situation and, primarily, program and ideological emptiness. The defeat of the president who would have a carefully designed program, strategy and whose 5-year tenure would be full of initiatives would be totally different – he would leave his office with a sense of fulfilled duty toward the state and citizens. Being defeated when the state’s crisis is evident, there are no ideas about the reforms and you were recently passive must be painful as this exposes all the causes of defeat. This was not just a bad move of the president totally unaware of his alienation or the wrong identification of problems by his aides that contributed to the final outcome. This was rather a clash between the vision of alleged post-politics in Poland combined with willingness to arouse and mold the attitudes of modern Europeans, and a brutal reality of short-term job contracts, low wages, and lack of chances for economic independence of one’s parents.

            In his short story “Notes from the Underground,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky applied a term “Crystal Palace” to describe the Western civilization condition. He did it after the visit he had paid at the London World Exhibition, where he saw a huge building accommodating exhibitors from all over the world. A hybrid construction was to demonstrate the possibilities of modern architecture and technology, while in Dostoyevsky’s view it was a symbol of the condition of the Western World – abandoning transcendency in favor of materialism and offering pipe dreams about happy mankind living comfortably under one roof over  the post-historical, post-political, and phantasmagoric entirety. Yet this act also manifested how Western civilization possessively appropriated the space and notions hitherto determining clear borders between the empire and its colonies. Peter Sloterdijk, who sought inspiration in the book by Dostoyevsky, claims that this architectural manifestation of modernity “rather began to shift the external world as the entirety into magic immanence bathed in luxury and cosmopolitism.” This was accompanied by the horizon of the creation of a new man – a little bit idle and bored but mostly comfort-loving, relaxed, deprived of the clear identity, rather avoiding thinking about the past, unwilling to work on the presence, and dazed by the vision of future achievements. “Crystallization” was to have been a definite deprivation of the right for existence and return: “In a natural way the boredom guaranteed by constitution is going to become a project: its psycho-social identification melody is the mood of marching out for an expedition, optimism is to be its basic tenor.” Importantly, under such conditions all crystal palace residents will be exposed to the temptation of the sin that is going to appear in its essence, pure negativity of the caprice of life free from sacrifices, duties, and responsibility. Any comfort forcibly undermines the moral strength determining man’s capability of becoming great but also every-day decency. Thus the crystal palace has potential substantially more dangerous than promotion of consumer attitudes restricting the meaning of social life. Crystal palace represents an endeavor to restructure human mentality so that the primary virtues were not prudence, wisdom, deliberation or moderation but negative freedom, surface authenticity, happiness people are induced to believe. It might be accompanied by a farce manifested by the eagle made of chocolate or the president’s aide wearing pink glasses on a national holiday. Sometimes the essence of such post-politics is a self-destructive inability (accompanied by unwillingness, chronic lack of will) of the government institutions to enforce international agreements or national laws. Thus a kind of institutional inability to effectively enforce laws was accompanied by the social engineering endeavors to remold the expectations of a large number of Poles toward their political community and its elites – minimal expectations, delay in responding to social challenges (such as demographic problems, social stratification, development centralism) at the expense of endeavors of changes in the fields of socio-economic life.

Andrzej Duda – rescue of political leadership?

The necessity of effective use of political marketing tools in the electoral struggle may lead to the trivialization of political programs and crossing a thin line between the need for meeting voters’ expectations and systemic limitations and possibilities of the implementation of a wide range of projects or programs. Any disturbance of the balance between post-political moral decay of the state and imperatives of mass democracy seeking simple recipes, uniform esthetics, and easy message typical of the policy of Civic Platform, may also affect Law and Justice and Andrzej Duda in a way. Thus the question about reality, kind, quality, and shape of the political leadership of president becomes crucial. Is he going to focus on its attributive, relational or processual variant? It is worth viewing them separately.

An attributive paradigm of political leadership indicates personality traits and skills helping to accomplish goals. Thus this is a combination of virtues and competences allowing for gaining popularity and resources needed to successfully perform program tasks. Yet this is insufficient to make presidency effective. Leadership at this level provides a number of short-term possibilities of mobilizing supporters and triggering mechanisms to effectuate the strategy of power but is insufficient to accomplish long-term goals. Andrzej Duda has already demonstrated a remarkable effectiveness regarding personal rhetorical talents, Internet campaign, and accumulation of electoral capital. It seems that a relational aspect of political leadership – regarding own political background as well as voters – provides its more solid consolidation. Development of the long-lasting social relationship with voters is a considerably longer process that requires to have political staff, media instruments, well-thought out program and the outlined concept of leader’s modus operandi with regard to a wide range of problems and challenges faced by president. It is this level that the real sources of success are thoroughly verified, which follows from the growing subjectivity of supporters. Long-lasting relationships between a leader and his supporters bring mutual impact. Consequently, a number of leader’s actions result not from theoretical calculations but also real aspirations and needs articulated by his supporters. It seems that a leader proves one’s political maturity as late as at the processual stage. In this case the leadership encompasses events appearing in time – predominantly, a sequence of welcome changes. Any interaction between a political leader and his supporters is substantially more permanent and not limited to acceptance but accreditation as it is innovativeness that builds its foundations. According to the definition offered by Przemyslaw Zukiewicz, an expert from Wroclaw, this is a “reflection of the ideals encoded in the voters’ cognitive schemes.” Apart from freedom and advisability, this is a constitutive feature of the most crucial variant of political leadership. Thus it is impossible to take processual leadership seriously without this exceptional identity bond uniting an individual with supporters considerably stronger than economic interests or esthetic-related reasons. A scale of opposition expressed in the May presidential elections shows that the capital accumulated by Andrzej Duda is considerably bigger than purely a negative manifestation of political preferences or a temporary drop in popularity. This is not just the initiation of the generational change or an endeavor to redefine the functioning of state organs that are at stake but a struggle for original and indispensable authenticity of political leadership.

Stabilization or redefinition

            Authenticity of political leadership that has bigger chances for fruition within the processual paradigm of success is based not only on the real identity bond and recognition of subjectivity of voters in the offered projects of reforms. Yet the leader’s faculty to offer new ideas, adopt a set of theoretical and system ideas developed by the young left, center, and right-wing intellectuals is of crucial importance. This is a difficult task because of the partisan and intellectual differences hindering any dialogue but sometimes it seems that much deeper cracks exist inside one ideological group than between left and right-wing parties, which seem to be condemned to the never-ending antagonism. Moreover, the problem is quality and interests of partisan activists determined to retain the status quo bringing them specific profits and benefits. On the other hand, the right demands to increase the influence of the generation of 30-year old political scientists and contributors from the periodicals such as Nowy Obywatel, Kultura Liberalna, Pressje or Nowa Konfederacja are not accompanied by effectiveness of political activities of these milieus or a bigger, coherent, and complete package of system modifications. Young people are right to bear grudges against young politicians but so far have rarely decided to set up think-tanks – professional expert centers – and rather focused on the promotion of modern culture, publishing metapolitical periodicals, patriotic education of university students and high-school pupils or just making and filing applications for grants to survive. So far any endeavors made to become a serious political player have failed, with few exceptions such as the Poland Together party (a small ally of Law and Justice) and rather a limited impact on the law enactment. These milieus offer a more or less correct diagnosis of contemporary political community situation, develop new and intellectually inspiring ideas but they have been stuck in the concept of “situational republicanism,” which, as Rafał Matyja put it, was limited to idle endeavors of the civic mobilization at the expense of political mobilization: “The problem with such republicanism was that its goals were limited to the extension of political participation. Such views were not confronted with the experience of young politicians or officials speaking about the tools and resources political institutions have. Seeking solutions at the level of social mobilization or the reform of electoral law only sustained political neutrality or sometimes even institutional illiteracy, as it created the illusion of having a political program.” Attracting at least a number of republican milieus is also a challenge for Andrzej Duda and a variant of leadership he is going to choose. The question is whether president elect will strive for the stabilization of the system isolated from natural social leaders or he will redefine his relations with young milieus. Given the current sources of Andrzej Duda’s presidency, the latter one will be difficult – a growing aversion toward the governing parties, personification of superficial freshness in politics and a just begun endeavor to develop long-lasting identity bonds with a larger number of voters. Given a wide range of challenges and aroused hopes of a number of voters, the new president will rather adopt more predictable and proved manners of running his office. Yet restoration of the authentic political leadership will require closer relations with a large number of Polish public life subjects including – apart from trade union members or businessmen – milieus of young intellectuals.


About Author

Bartosz Światłowski

PhD student of political science at the Jagiellonian University. Master’s degree in international relations (Jagiellonian University) bachelor in social policy (Jagiellonian University) and international relations (Tischner European University). Analysts in Diplomacy and Politics Foundation. Speaks Polish, English and Spanish.