Burying the Past

The feeling of national unity brought about after the Polish president's tragic death may allow Poles to begin focusing on the country's political future, not its divisive past

There is an oft-forgotten wisdom in the saying “be careful what you wish for”. It is all too painfully revealed in the tragic plane crash in which the Polish president and many of the country’s political and military elite died. That is not to say that anyone wished for this calamity to happen and for our political leadership to perish tragically. Yet there has recently been a rising murmur of young voices disillusioned with the nature of Polish politics which, 20 years after the fall of communism, still revolves around the issues and personalities of the transition to democracy. The crash is tantamount to a revolution, sweeping away the old guard and old ideas and presenting the post-Solidarity generation with opportunities and challenges.

President Lech Kaczynski was the embodiment of the old kind of politics — the “politics of history” as it is known in Poland. The entire rationale of his Law and Justice Party was based on redressing communist crimes and injustices. Instead of the reconciliation offered to former communists by the first free prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Kaczynski proposed a reassessment of the transition rules, thereby deeply polarising public opinion. 

Most controversial was his bid to purge academia of anyone who had any dealings with the communist secret services. This operation, morally and technically tricky due to the nature of totalitarian systems, quickly changed into a politically-driven witch-hunt, as the government used its archives to expose or threaten selected academics who spoke out against its policies. Thanks to such measures, Kaczynski was seen as championing those who felt deprived of the fruits of victory over communism.

All these historical quibbles are largely alien and boring to young voters, such as myself, who are more preoccupied with unemployment, interest rates or the housing market. We remain mindful of the lessons of communism but also feel it is time to bury those ghosts. We feel personally excluded from taking active an part in this “politics of history” where merit comes second to Solidarity credentials, which we are too young to have. Party youth organisations have so far been disappointing, either hanging on the coat-tails of successful politicians or providing the Right with anti-Semitic militias. The only promising initiative in recent years has been the liberal Krytyka Polityczna magazine but its young intellectuals have so far limited themselves to commenting on political reality rather than shaping it. 

The feeling of national unity brought about by this tragedy may allow Poles to focus on the future they share rather than the past that divides them. 

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