Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

Michnik’s magnifying glass

29. 10. 2007
Adam Michnik, a former Polish dissident, famous intellectual and editor in chief of Poland’s daily Gazetta Wyborca, provided many Czech newspapers with interviews recently.

He had two primary reasons: elec-tions in Poland were approaching, and Michnik spent a week in Prague speaking at the conference Forum 2000, organized by former President Václav Havel and nongovernmental associations close to him.

Michnik’s descriptions of the situation in Poland are unflattering at best. It is a country where anyone can be considered suspicious and anyone can be detained—often in the lights of TV cameras—as early as six o’clock at the morning. He cited the case of former Polish Minister for Construction and Spatial Management Barbara Blida, who committed suicide during the issuance of a warrant for her arrest and a house search.

Michnik (pictures, left) complains that the Kaczyński twins politicized and influenced state attorneys and also points out how government politicians often threaten courts and the constitutional court. Fortunately judges and justices remain independent. The Kaczyński brothers’ conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party lost in the Oct. 21 early elections. Lech Kaczyński is currently serving as president, and Jarosław Kaczyński is outgoing prime minister.

How is one to read these dramatic sentences? It is easy to say that, of course, Michnik overstates. Michnik—even though quite a capitalist himself—supports the Polish liberal left, which happens to be in opposition. On the other hand Michnik is a smart and insightful intellectual who would be difficult to assign to any box, and by overstating, he wants to better disclose dangerous trends and developments in Polish politics and society.

Russian politics, and to an extent current Polish politics, often serve as a magnifying glass to help us understand and better see what is happening in this country. How does it magnify the situation here? Because everything that happens there is on a much larger and more visible scale in catastrophically negative proportions.

Ironically, we can also spot in this country many things and the trend about which Michnik speaks. For instance, detaining people in the lights of TV cameras and their subsequent releases is a terrifying sign that Poland is on the verge of dictatorship (Michnik compares Poland to the Spain under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco). However, rounding up people in the lights of TV cameras is absolutely normal in the Czech Republic. Almost by definition, television stations are informed beforehand about intended police actions. Many people—like the arrest last year of Jaroslav Starka, the supposed leader of Příbram’s underworld and the boss of the Marila Příbram football team—could speak about it. In Starka’s case, police even blocked the highway and sent helicopters for his spectacular detention. He was released a few weeks later.

Věra Jourová, a director at the Ministry for Regional Development, did not commit suicide during a house search, but she did spend a few months in custody without any formal police apology. While in custody, her apartment was cleaned out by thieves. Jourová’s spectacular arrest was supposed to demonstrate that she was close to former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek and it was supposed to prove that it was Paroubek who was giving her corrupt orders. But the question remains if there was any corruption at all connected to her case.

In another instance, Supreme State Attorney Renáta Vesecká deliberately changed the attorney in charge of investigation of Deputy Prime Minister Jiří Čunek—at the last moment, just before Čunek was scheduled to be charged. Lawyers and experts debated about whether or not it was legal or illegal (most of them think it was illegal), but the fact is that neither the supreme attorney nor any institution has ever done it before. Not in any single case. Is not this a case of attorneys being influenced by the government just as Michnik speaks about?

Before the last elections the minister of justice and the president tried to discharge Supreme Court chairwoman Iva Brožová. And current President Václav Klaus—from time to time, although some would say frequently—attacks the decisions of the Constitutional Court, despite having nominated most of the justices.

Everything is relative. Fortunately there are no other signs of the trends that Michnik mentions in, case of Poland. These days there is no stupid nationalism in Czech politics, no blaming of Germans for everything. As an aside, in this respect Czech politics is getting better. In 2003 when Miloš Zeman (Social Democrat, ČSSD) and Klaus (Civic Democrat, ODS) were vying for support before the elections, nationalistic tones of Czech politics and frequent verbal attacks of Sudeten Germans were quite commonplace. The ODS took the position of defending Czech national interests and the ČSSD positioned themselves as even bigger defenders of Czech interests. Ironically, this competition was in full swing without ever having defined what Czech national interests were. Luckily those days are gone and almost forgotten. Even though the ODS used to attack the European Union quite harshly, party ideology is quite far from that of the Poles, who are these days well recognized dissidents of the EU and oppose—expectedly—almost everything. Why is that? Are we becoming more civilized? To an extent the ODS, like a main government party, has a lot of regional bosses and mayors who discovered that membership in the EU means a lot of money going into the infrastructure.

And it should also be mentioned that Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, an experienced, civilized worldly man, might have a great influence on Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s attitudes toward the EU.

Some of the dangerous trends in Polish society mentioned by Michnik definitely exist also in this country, but they should be properly analyzed to determine to what extent these are isolated phenomenon and to what extent these are real trends that have the potential to spread. However, regardless of whether they indicate the thread toward a trend or are isolated, sporadic scandals, these incidents would not normally occur in Western societies with a proper rule of law.

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