On Saturday, 26 January, the Civic Platform (PO) and its remaining partner within the Civic Coalition, the small association Initiative Poland (Inicjatywa Polska, IP), held a congress. Its leitmotif: “Woman – Poland – Europe“. Now we know the main platform of the Polish leading opposition in the campaign ahead of 26 May: it’s the women’s rights.
First, a video on the importance of women’s rights. Among people on the video are recognisable faces from the European Parliament’s EPP, PO’s sister parties: Italian Lara Comi, Spaniards Esteban González Pons and Rosa Estaràs, Dutch Esther de Lange, Czech Michaela Šojdrova, Belgain Ivo Belet, Maltese Roberta Metsola, What is striking is a strong European message from the video: all the ladies and men speak about why and how women’s rights are important. The European MEPs are included in a video among the Polish MPs. Missing: the Polish MEPs and the Polish male MPs.
Second, a moment of silence for the late mayor Adamowicz of Gdańsk. Words about him, about the values he fought for. Values he died defending: freedom, solidarity, openness, equality. Values the opposition endorses as their own. There is just one question hanging unanswered: will PO consciously and tactically use the death of Paweł Adamowicz as a political weapon? There is a thin line that separates remembering a great man murdered from using his death and calling him a martyr.
One quote Adamowicz used during the 2017 gay pride in Gdańsk was re-quoted last Saturday: “when you hear that someone is a pervert, when you hear that someone is a deviant, then I say – a pervert, a deviant is a he who hates, someone who is hostile to others.” Adamowicz was Poland’s first mayor who had a deputy responsible for gender equality.
Can divided Poland be reunited?
Grzegorz Schetyna, the PO leader quoted his daughter: “Poles killed Paweł [Adamowicz], Poles killed the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. Can Poles still do something together?” And continued with his own words: “after what happened, can we live as one community?” and answered “yes”. But this community needs to be renewed. It has to be inclusive, open, better than the previous one. Not later, it has to happen now. So that values of trust, solidarity, truth, love, decency can be restored. Poland needs independent institutions: the courts, the Constitutional Tribunal, the prosecution, media. Schetyna: “Only thanks to independent institutions an argument does not become a conflict”.
The PO leader continues: after we win, “there is no room for wild revenge, but this does not mean there is room for impunity”. And until the day comes when PO can restore its vision of independent institutions, the party – oops, the coalition – will “name every lie a lie, every act of villainy a villainy, every crime a crime”.
The PO will continue to boycott the public TV. Schetyna said, “we cannot pretend that one political party television is public”. A basic decency does not allow members of the PO to come to a place that “promotes hatred”. On the PO’s agenda is also delegalisation of the far-right organisations like the All-Polish Youth and other, who promote aggressiveness.
Grzegorz Schetyna promises “a new Polish house” that will be inclusive. Full equality for women’s rights? One by one: protection from violence, support for rape victims, equality in remuneration, equality of chances. Schetyna’s inclusiveness includes a diverse society, where equality means tolerance for diversity and individualism, where there is no room for discrimination.
As a rare gesture, the PO’s leader included the sexual minorities in his “new Polish house”.
PO’s left flank
Barbara Nowacka is a left-wing activist, who has a long history campaigning for women’s issues. Her most successful action to date was probably the “black protest” against tightening of the already conservative abortion law in Poland. Nowacka was one of the protest leaders. In a rare occurrence, the PiS government has retreated from the move. She supports gay rights and has been included on the FP Top 100 Global Thinkers 2016 list as a “challenger”. Ms Nowacka’s mother, Barbara Jaruga-Nowacka, has died in the 2010 Smolensk plane crash.
On Saturday she remembered that exactly a 100 years before on the very day the first Polish female MPs were elected. Nowacka talked about the EU as a guarantor of citizen rights of equality and equal treatment. She spoke about women’s rights: the fight is on! “Those are our elections and our choices. Nobody will tell us how to live and how to be happy”, Nowacka said as a true feminist. She supported financing by the state of the in-vitro procedure for all those who have problems conceiving, sexual education in schools, the father leave (to complement the mother leave), among other issues.
The PO’s biggest problem is the party credibility. How to gain trust of people who still remember the government 2007-15? Among the comments to the PO’s Saturday event were those like: “during their rule my hospital was closed and we all got fired, including single moms” or the vulgar words of former foreign minister Radek Sikorski (from a recorded private conversation) and former vice-speaker of the Sejm Stefan Niesiołowski.
Can PO be trusted? What is probably missing is a serious undertone: 2019 is not 2009 or 2014. What seemed right then does not have to seem right today. We know better post-factum… and only then: this is the plan for what to do next.
Also, Schetyna’s previous Civic Coalition failed after he performed a hostile take-over of the .Modern’s (.N) MPs back in December. Is he going to do the same thing today? Can and will other opposition forces trust him?
In this context, Nowacka is the new voice and the added value. She represents a power that drives this EPP member, conservative force of PO, towards the political centre of tolerance and inclusiveness.
The dividing line the PO is drawing is this: between an open society and an inward-looking society, between the future-oriented and the past-oriented, between people of open hearts and people of closed minds, between the equality for all and equality for like-minded, between those who embrace diversity and those who oppose it, between those who are for today’s Europe and those, who want to change it.
Will it gain the support it needs, or will people remember this party as a representative of the wealthy businessmen? Can PO regain the support it once had among the underpaid teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants?
The fight is on.
All is good, people gathered in this Warsaw hall could see a big crowd, half female, half male. They heard a lot about the problems the country has. They talked about women’s rights and Poland’s issues. But there was supposed to be a third element in the leitmotif: “Europe”. Unfortunately the message Mr Schetyna and Ms Nowacka gave about what kind of Europe they want is thin. I can deduce they are happy to embrace the Europe of today. Bad news for the Civic Coalition, then: Europe is changing and is changing fast. The Europe we know today is facing a cementing and growing opposition. Keeping or defending the status quo is not enough.
I know, I know. First, they need to win. The message on Poland was credible. The message on women’s rights was asking for credibility. Yet the message on Europe was kind of – déjà vu.
Last, but not least, here’s the link to the January Declaration, as the adopted document is called.