SELF DEFENSE OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND - WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE STAND FOR
Since several years we can find in Polish and foreign media a lot of imprecise or even false opinions about the party, which tries to establish a new quality in the Polish political landscape: Self Defense of the Republic of Poland. Of course, everyone has the right to judge public life. Self Defense party has already made its opinion, and this is an opinion totally different from the one of other Polish political parties. This opinion has been based on critical view of Poland's social-economical transformation since 1989. However, that is not all: Self Defense party is the only party in Poland, which has presented a complete political program, which is now being widely propagated and - in some time - will be perhaps realized. That is why the question about one of the currently most significant parties in Poland is so valid at the moment.
The collapse of the so-called real socialism in 1989 had brought great hopes and expectations to the societies of Central and Eastern Europe, particularly to the Poles, whose protest against the system had been the strongest one. The joy springing from the revival of political sovereignty and democracy had lasted only a few months. According to the arrangements made between some representatives of former communist party and some members of anticommunist opposition, democratic authorities have begun the process of destruction of all elements of the former system, also the ones that had been appraised by the majority of society. After a few years it became obvious that a decision had been made also to disintegrate Polish economy and to abolish all social policy.
The history of Self Defense begins in the Summer of 1991, when the latter leader of the party Andrzej Lepper organized some mass protests of the farmers against tragic situation in agriculture and government's lack of interest in helping farmers ruined by drought disaster. It was already then, when Andrzej Lepper thought seriously about the necessity of changing the direction of transformation. In the Autumn 1991 he met with vice-Prime Minister and chief of the Ministry of Finance Leszek Balcerowicz, whose name through years has become a symbol of neoliberal, monetarist and antisocial policy in Poland. After this two hours long meeting Andrzej Lepper has decided to devote his activity for making Poles aware of the causes of economical and social disaster that Polish state and society have been facing. As he notes in his book, "everything what happened after that with me and Self Defense I owe in some way to this meeting". In 1992 a Trade Union of Farmers "Self Defense" has been registered and soon political party has been established (in its beginnings it was called "Self Defense" Alliance). Founder and leader of both structures Andrzej Lepper has then begun tremendously hard work to build a wide popular movement. Funds and media support were not at his disposal, controlled by the parties of the establishment. Despite unfavorable circumstances, the party and the trade union gathered more and more members and sympathizers. Undoubtedly, numerous protests organized by Self Defense have significantly helped to gather public attention and support. At first those protests were organized mainly in defense of rural areas and farmers, ruined by the policy of all governments after 1989. Eventually, the leader of Self Defense has become the last hope for all people harmed by injustice of transformation. Self Defense has strongly expressed the voice of people and all social classes, which - due to the reforms of the 90-ies - have been standing on the edge of poverty and hopelessness.
2001 parliamentary election appear to be the turning-point in the history of Self Defense. Several years of public activities of Andrzej Lepper and members of his movement resulted in public support of 10,2% of the voters (app. 1 million 320 thousands of votes). Therefore, Self Defense has won its parliamentary representation for the first time (53 mandates in Sejm and 2 in Senat). >From this time on, Self Defense has become able to present its point of view on social and economical issues for a much wider scale. This has also enabled the party to propose legislative acts and projects.
In May 2003 the IVth party Congress took place in Warsaw. It was very significant for the future of the party. Several basic policy documents have been approved, first and foremost the Social-Economical Program and diverse positions concerning various topics of social and political life. The Congress has also proven the outstanding support for Andrzej Lepper by all party members. In the election of party's chairman its founder and leader gathered 1700 against 14 votes of delegates.
Soon after the Congress an intense and hard work of party's experts has begun. The central board of Self Defense experts and advisers has been divided into several groups of professionals working on precise sector programs for various spheres of economy and policy. The experts, following the directions of the party authorities, have already worked out a project of a new constitution for Poland, which proposes a presidential political system. Several representatives of the academic and business circles have already declared their will to cooperate with Self Defense expert working groups.
The public opinion polls indicate stable growth of support for Andrzej Lepper and Self Defense. The party leader is placed among the most popular and trusted politicians in Poland. He is also mentioned as one of the most serious candidates in the coming presidential election. Self Defense party, despite the campaign against its leader and program organized by its political opponents, regularly occurs as the first or second strongest party in Poland, when it comes to the public support declared in various polls. Therefore, Poland has a great chance to break the chains of destructive social and economical policy. A chance to take an alternative course and realize different social and political concept becomes more and more real.
The program of Self Defense party suggests totally new quality in the world of Polish politics. Self Defense calls for a revaluation of the current hierarchy of public goals, so that - according to the party slogan - "Human being. Family. Job. Life in dignity" would become the most important goals to achieve. Whole social-economic system should serve to realize this principle. To do so, Poland has to overthrow the dogmas of the so-called Washington Consensus which has provided a doctrinal basis for the transformation of Central and East European countries after 1989. The Consensus forced those countries to take a policy of economical deregulation, hard monetary policy and privatization of their public sectors. Fulfilling those prescriptions has led in Poland to over 20% unemployment and millions of families living in extreme poverty.
To break down the current antisocial social-economic system Self Defense calls for the following crucial reforms:
restoration of democratic control over the National Bank of Poland and making it co-responsible for the economic development and fighting the unemployment (as, for instance, the American Federal Reserve);
creation of a wide front of public works, through additional investments in infrastructure;
revision of the past privatization processes and state control over strategic branches of economy;
financial support of the state in the areas principal for economic growth, e.g. agriculture, building industry;
implementation of a wide range of preferences (e.g. fiscal) for small and medium enterprises;
abolition of income-tax in trade enterprises and establishing a one level turn-over tax instead;
reduction of income-tax for production and service enterprises from 19% to 10%;
financial support for high technology and IT sector.
The above mentioned reforms are aimed at significantly reducing unemployment. At the same time, people who are jobless without their fault will receive social grants at the level guaranteeing minimum live standards. To finance the ambitious investments Self Defense calls for using part of the revaluation- and foreign currency reserves from the National Bank of Poland.
From the doctrinal point of view, the program of Washington Consensus which effects are criticized by Self Defense, is based on the principle ideas of dogmatic neoliberalism and monetarism. On the contrary, the Social-Economical program of Self Defense can be doctrinally associated with social market economy in the vein of Western European countries. The party has been continuously repeating that the notion of "social market economy" is present as one of the basic principles in the current Constitution of the Republic of Poland. Also the social teachings of the Catholic Church and particularly of Pope John Paul II are a deep inspiration for the ideas found in the program of Self Defense. It is the present Pope who stated decisively that "the point that capitalism is the only way after the collapse of communism cannot be accepted". Considering this statement, Self Defense calls for implementation of the Third Way principles, that is to create a social-economic system that would effectively combine freedom of enterprise with social responsibilities of the state. At the roots of Self Defense economic concepts, one can also find the welfare-state doctrine of John Kenneth Galbraith, as well as thoughts of the most renown contemporary economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics.
The issues related to ecology are one of the focal points of Self Defense's political program. The Party MPs have arranged several protest actions against food producing corporations which violate natural enviroment protection rules. Self Defense has also closely cooperated with non governmental ecologist organizations, e.g. Federation of Greens. All economical goals which have to be achieved in Poland - according to the Party's program - should be implemented with respect to the principles of sustainable development, as described by the United Nations and its agencies. Self Defense is particularly concerned with the future of Common Agricultural Policy. This policy should be based on the recognition of dangers coming from the expansion of Genetically Modified products on the European market. Self Defense has also strongly supported the idea of ecological reform of the present transport policy in Poland and Europe. By all means, the Party acknowledges the necessity of reducing heavy road truck transport by planned development of railways. Self Defense propagates the idea of the significant growth of investments in the public transport sector, as well.
The concept of foreign relations and international order constitutes one of the most significant elements of Self Defense's program. This concept comes from a fundamental principle of international cooperation based on partnership. European integration should be a subject of this principle too. Self Defense has actually never been opposed to the idea of Poland's membership in the European Union. However, the Accession Treaty, as negotiated by the representatives of the hitherto existing Polish governments, brings unequal conditions for Poland's participation in European integration. Self Defense has stated several times that Poland should not have accepted the lack of full participation in the benefits of Common Agricultural Policy and tremendously low limits of production admitted to Polish farmers and industry. Anyway, Polish people have already made their decision in the popular referendum, when they voted for Poland joining the EU. With the highest respect for people's choice, Self Defense declares that it will take any possible means to renegotiate the Accession Treaty.
In the speech given in the European Parliament on 4 May 2004, the party's leader Andrzej Lepper explained what kind of united Europe would be acceptable for Self Defense: "we need a different point of view - we must end the neoliberal policies and globalization in its worst manner. We need not the free market economy, but the social market economy, as propagated by various European Churches". He has also stressed that only the Europe following the principles of social solidarism and sustainable development can successfully face the competition with USA and China. Integrating Europe should also pay more attention to the idea of cooperation with its natural allies in the East - particularly Russia and Ukraine. It should also develop partner relations with non-European countries and organizations.
The international order, according to Self Defense, should be based on mutual respect of sovereignty and acceptation of the existing borders. Andrzej Lepper has been the only politician in Poland to propose a peaceful solution of the Iraqi conflict. Unfortunately, his voice has been drowned by the "war party" consisting of politicians from various genres - from the social-democratic left to the far right.
Poland is now standing in front of a crucial choice. It will either choose to continue the well known neoliberal, antisocial policy, or turn its social and economical development into a new direction, where the dignity and rights of human and citizen will be the most important values. Self Defense party presents even something more; a new concept for Europe. Polish participation in the European structures will hopefully create an opportunity to present this concept to other European societies.
Text and translation by:
(-) Mateusz Piskorski