Poland and Hungary: the Kaczynskis and the Fidesz

It seems that the Polish saying, "Polak wenger dwa bratinski" (Poles and Hungarians are brothers), has some relevance even today. Historically Polish-Hungarian ties were strong and the two societies resembled each other a great deal. Unfortunately the resemblance is still too close for comfort.

Sándor Friderikusz, whose "Friderikusz Today" is a popular and always interesting television program on ATV, is devoting a whole week to Poland. The impetus, of course, was the recent fall of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s government and the spectacular loss his party suffered at the last election. The party’s name is Prawo i Sprawidedliwosc–or PiS, an unfortunate acronym in English perhaps befitting the party’s name of Law and Justice. Jaroslaw Kaczynski became prime minister two years ago while his twin brother Lech became the president of Poland. They are identical twins (sometimes referred to by critics as Tweedledum and Tweedledee), both trained as lawyers. Lech also received a Ph.D. and was teaching at the University of Gdansk before he entered politics. Both of them took an active part in the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa before the arrival of the democratic transformation of the country. The twins were born to a linguist mother who worked in the Academy of Sciences and and an engineering father who took part in the Warsaw uprising. And yet (or perhaps, and so) the brothers know no foreign languages and look down on intellectuals, whom they consider muddled-minded eggheads.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s premiership is described by liberal, democratic Poles as a nightmare. They think that Poland’s reputation suffered greatly because of his foreign policy. At home the nationalistic, populist ideology they introduced became repugnant to the majority of the Poles.

The Kaczynski regime in Poland bears a striking resemblance to the Orbán government’s four years in Hungary. Kaczynski put pressure on the media, managed to make the prosecutor’s office the government’s instrument, and deeply divided the nation. On their side were the good people, the other side was evil, the liberals were actually communist, while the anticommunist people were on their side. Kaczynski had close ties with Radio Maryja, an antisemitic Catholic radio station that the Vatican censured. According to Jaroslaw Kurski, one of the editors of Gazeta Wyborcza, the Kaczynski’s initial popularity was based on a combination of socialist and nationalist ideologies.  They emphasized patriotism, national pride, and apparently they even tried to force their own ideology on the whole of Europe. And of course, they dislike the idea of the European Union.

They talked a lot about "a moral revolution" and of course, they and their followers were moral people. How familiar this sounds to Hungarian ears. They filled the boards of the Polish public television and radio with their own people and completely transformed both the television and the radio into mouthpieces of the government. How familiar! Apparently, most of the media, even ones in private hands, crumbled rather easily and served Kacznynski’s purposes. The right-wing media dominated the Polish scene. (This is, by the way, becoming the situation in Hungary as well.) They set up an anti-corruption center which again served as an instrument of ideology. They attacked people whose ideology they disliked. Often on trumped up charges, they arrested people in full view of the public and led them away in handcuffs. (A similar situation occurred in Hungary with a politician of the Smallholders party.)

Polish society is hopelessly divided after two years of the Kaczynskis and I suspect will remain so, just as in Hungary. The division of the Hungarian population into patriots and traitors, good and evil people didn’t stop with the lost elections in 2002. Polish observers are certain that the PiS will be a brutal, merciless opposition, just as the Fidesz has been in Hungary ever since 2002. There are other similarities. Jaroslaw is no longer prime minister but Lech remains president. The elections took place on October 21, yet President Kaczynski to this day hasn’t congratulated Donald Tusk, the winner of the election and the next prime minister of Poland. (One must not forget that László Sólyom, president of Hungary, refused to shake hands with a man whose decoration he didn’t approve. Or that he refused on occasions to appear on the same platform with the prime minister.) After 2002 the stunned Fidesz talked about electoral fraud and the extreme right, emboldened, blockaded one of the Budapest bridges. In Poland Radio Maryja also talks about electoral fraud, adding that Satan made his way to Poland because Poland is the strongest and biggest Catholic country in Europe. Needless to say, for good measure they also mention that the media was the cause of their defeat. The media, which according to the editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, were on the whole subservient to the government.

The similarities are frightening. However, there are some hopeful signs. The Kaczynskis’ PiS was supported by the Polish peasantry and the people of the countryside in general. They were the ones who were the greatest opponents of the European Union because they believed that joining the EU would be catastrophic for their economic situation. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case. On the contrary, quite a bit of money came from the EU. And hence their support for the euroskeptic PiS waned. Still, about five million people voted for the PiS and these people will become vocal again if the new government is not able to produce miracles. That’s also familiar to the Hungarians.

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Correction: where you wrote 1998 it should read 2002 (the year when Fidesz lost the elections to the MSZP)

Lech Bajan
Please stay away from Radio Maryja. Lech Alex Bajan Polish American from Washington DC USA. We are 4 Million strong and we love our country Poland our history and our roots and we will not let Liberal Atheists try to divide our people. Radio Maryja with community for over 4 million people in Poland and all over the world. 15 years ago you began your work in humble conditions. Today Radio Maryja and your other enterprises have assumed large dimensions and are very important to the Church in Poland. The Radio is a sign of opposition. The media you have created proclaim the message, which is today important to the lives of millions. But there are also opponents. Where do they come from? – I think that they do not agree with what they hear. At the same time, they feel some threat to the present day monopoly to form public opinion according to their directions. We have played a different tune, different from the orchestras in which all people speak the same. Media were restricted to promote certain system of values in order to control people and to rule more easily. That was the case under the communist regime… Read more »