During a few days in Poland earlier this week, I conducted an unscientific poll among several people that I met, asking their opinion of Janusz Marian Palikot, one of the more interesting characters to emerge on the Central European political scene in the last decade. In case you missed it, Palikot, a successful businessman, ran on an anti-clerical platform in heavily Catholic Poland and emerged with 10 percent of the vote. What I was trying to ascertain was whether this was an opportunistic individual who managed to take the pulse of the electorate and figure out that the best way to get into parliament was a theatrical campaign taking on the Church or whether this is a true liberal that feels that Poland needs a reassessment of the Church’s role in order to modernize and succeed.
Even in urbane Warsaw, among middle-class cosmopolitan Poles (the people I was meeting), you get a range of reactions. Everyone will tell you that Palikot’s a clever guy and point out how he made a lot of money as an entrepreneur. Some will say that he saw an opening between the liberal Civic Platform (which seems nowadays to excite few people, but also manages not to offend many) and the conservative Law and Justice (which, with its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski , scares off a large segment of voters). He picked up on the frustration of younger people, who didn’t want to vote for either of the two big parties, but I got the feeling that this was something more than a protest vote against the current political elite. Many of his supporters really do believe that the Catholic Church retains too strong an influence across Polish society. (To get a feel for the passion Palikot evoked among his supporters, see this Global Voices post).
The anti-clericalism makes some people nervous, even among those that I was meeting that I expected to welcome Palikot’s views. One person told me something along the lines of, “In these turbulent times, I find the solidness of Christian values important” and seemed to think of Palikot as a threat, as no doubt the hard-core Law and Justice followers do.
Others, who evidently didn’t even vote for him, welcomed him as a tool for shaking things up on the national stage, at least raising questions that haven’t been raised before. As someone said to me (I’m paraphrasing): “Poland is a modern country, shouldn’t we be having these discussions?” Even if he is an opportunist (I don’t know the man so I can’t say), and even if you don’t agree with his views, you would have a hard time convincing me that it isn’t a step forward for the country to be at least talking through these previously taboo issues.
I’d be curious to hear the opinion of any of our Polish readers of this blog.
Photo by Peterson c/o Wikicommons.