Monday, April 15, 2024
European Union

Why it’s easier to keep a Pole on a tight leash than a Frenchman or Dutchman

Donald Tusk with Ursula von der Leyen (source: https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1531902533588983808/photo/1)

Wednesday’s farmers’ protest in the capital seemingly has little in common with demonstrations during the period of Covid despotism. But only seemingly. For they are united by one significant, and unfortunately perverse, feature.

 

Łukasz Warzecha

First of all, recall what protests against the PiS government’s Covid policy looked like in Poland. To start, there were very few of them, and if they did occur, they attracted minimal numbers of people. These were recruited sometimes from questionable and decidedly extreme backgrounds. And yet, there were all too many reasons to protest: unlawful restrictions on basic civil rights, unlawful vaccine-related pressure on workers in many industries, forced closures of companies in numerous industries, often resulting in the termination of operations, horrendous fines imposed by the State Sanitation Inspectorate. (To this day, I remember the story of an elderly lady who followed her escaping dog into a closed park – it remains a mystery why parks were sometimes closed because of the pandemic – and was fined 10,000 złotys.)

Now recall the equivalent scenes from Paris, Brussels, London, Amsterdam or Sydney in 2020-2022. Anti-lockdown and anti-Covid demonstrations there were many times larger, attracted many completely average people, in no way related to any extremism, and were suppressed very violently. Didn’t this make you wonder?

Now look at the farmers’ protest in Warsaw. For a long time, the lighting of a bonfire of branches on a roadway was the most extreme behavior that TV stations were able to show. Farmers were refused permission to enter Warsaw on tractors under the absurd pretext that there was “critical infrastructure” in the city (it’s hard to comprehend what connection this could have, when it didn’t interfere with either large demonstrations or mass events, or the parade on August 15, when tens of thousands of tons of military equipment passed through the city) – and the farmers obeyed. It was only later that clashes with the police began, but anyone who remembers what methods the police used during Donald Tusk’s previous governments (which were not much changed under the Law and Justice government, to tell the truth) knows the question of who actually caused the aggression should provoke the utmost skepticism. Notably, everything was still done “on foot,” without the use of any heavy equipment.

Farmers on the Watch List

Now consider the farmers’ protests in Western Europe: plowing asphalt with heavy agricultural equipment, spraying buildings and police officers with manure, punching through blockades with farm tractors. Compared to their Belgian, German or French counterparts, Polish farmers portray the epitome of calm and discipline, even in the instances when a bottle, firecracker or stone flies in the direction of the officers. They are downright too polite.

For years, many have asked why Poland demonstrates so little protest potential compared to the West, where one finds, for example, the “Yellow Vest” movement. One might think this is a reason for praise. But is it?

The European Commission is signaling that it is prepared to withdraw – we don’t know for how long, of course – from some of the Green Deal’s most onerous provisions for farmers. Perhaps we can overlook the obvious fact that this is an attempt to weaken protests by the group that has the greatest potential for resisting EU climate policy – and, after all, the Green Deal will impact us all. On the other hand, would the EC have announced such a move if refuse weren’t leaking through the windows of its building in the European quarter of Brussels? I doubt it. If European farmers had protested as tamely as Polish farmers, the EC wouldn’t have moved a finger. The European Commission’s eurocrats are moved, it seems, only by a sense of genuine physical danger.

Time for Poland to leave the EU as rising costs now exceed benefits

Poland’s last major protests related to personal freedom involved ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and took place 12 years ago. While countless regulations have come into force since then, assaulting our free will and our wallets, nothing similar has happened since then. This bodes badly.

Why is this happening?

First, because Poles are used to conspiring. This is what the partitions and the PRL taught us, and the Third Republic has not unlearned it. Hence the conviction that open social resistance is pointless, because it is always possible somehow to escape further regulations, find some crevices in them, and live peacefully without endangering ourselves. We conspired under the partitions, we conspired under the communism, and so now we can also manage to conspire. Except this is no longer true, especially in the case of EU climate regulations.

Second, because people’s differences outweigh uniting factors in times of protest. For example, it’s long overdue for drivers to protest the extreme anti-car policies that politicians at the central and local levels are pursuing, but far more divides drivers than unites them. Mere opposition to anti-car regulations, coupled with the belief that “it has never been like this before,” is not enough to unite the voters of Kaczyński’s Law and Justice, right-wing Confederation, and Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition.

Third, because views are sold in packages. After all, the Green Deal will be as much of a disaster for the voters of the current coalition as for the voters of the current opposition. We will all pay for this insane policy with pauperization and degradation of our way of life. But support for climate policy belongs to government supporters’ collection of views, and this creates a psychological barrier they are unable to cross.

Whereas people in the West rally, organize, and take to the streets, Poles at most click Facebook likes. We love to boast about our supposed commitment to freedom, when in fact it may be easier to take us by the leash than the French, Germans or Dutch.

 

This article was first published in Polish in the Do Rzeczy weekly in March 2024.