A Post-Election Analysis of Palikot's Movement - European Integration



A Post-Election Analysis of Palikot's Movement

Przemysław Sadura - Photo and ©: Joanna Erbel

Przemysław Sadura

The Genesis of Ruch Palikota

An analysis of Ruch Palikota (Palikot's Movement) has to start with a description of its founder, Janusz Palikot, because it was his individual initiative that brought the movement into existence. Palikot was born in Biłgoraj, a small town in south eastern Poland, where he spent his youth before studying philosophy in Lublin and Warsaw. He had started writing his PhD on Husserl's phenomenology when the transformations of 1989 led him away from his study. He took on a job in sales and in 1990 he established a company producing sparkling wine, the Jabłonna Company. With this company, he took over Polmos
Lublin, one of Poland's biggest producers of alcohol. After instating the company on the stock market, he got rid of its shares in 2006 and devoted himself to politics. His fortune is quite considerable - at the moment he officially declares his assets to equal 40 million Polish Zloty, but there is evidence that he has much more than that stored in ‘tax havens’. During his business years he established connections to neoliberal employer organisations: until 2005, he was vice-chairman of Polska Rada Biznesu (Polish Business Board) and Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych (Polish Confederation of Private Employers). Between 2005 and 2006 he had connections with the Ozon Media Company, which was responsible for publishing the conservative Catholic weekly Ozon, famous for its homophobic content. Today it is difficult to decide whether that was his last business or his first political activity. Some commentators accuse him of cynicism and interpret these actions as a search for a place in the public scene: among integrist Catholics, nationalists and the ‘generation JP2’[1]. According to this interpretation, when his entrepreneurship ended as a financial and political fiasco, he turned to the other side of the political spectrum after sensing an increasing social need for a liberal world-view.

In 2005, Palikot joined Tusk’s Civic Forum, Platforma Obywatelska (PO) and became a Member of Parliament. He repeated this success in 2007. As an MP he led a popular committee called Przyjazne Państwo (FriendlyState) with the goal of limiting bureaucracy. It was popular with the media, too. Palikot was the vice-chairman of PO's Parliamentary Club until August 2010. During that time, he became one of the better known people from PO: he became famous thanks to controversial attacks on the Kaczynski brothers’ Law and Justice Party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), and thanks to protecting a liberal world-view. When developing his career, he focused on PR (he is still advised by Piotr Tymochowicz, known for promoting Andrzej Lepper, the leader of  Samoobrona – an agrarian populist movement which entered Sejm in 2001 and was a PiS ally in the years 2005-2007)[2]. At the turn of 2010/11, Palikot decided to leave PO, resigned from being a MP and created a movement of his own. Already in October 2010 he organised the first congress for his supporters and in the middle of 2011, he registered Ruch Palikota as a political party and became its leader.

In this year's parliamentary elections, Ruch Palikota entered the Sejm as the third most popular party in Poland (10.2 %). It was a tremendous surprise, as even a few months ago there was no evidence that RP could even comply with the election threshold. The last time something similar had happened to newly established political parties was in 2001 - these parties were Samoobrona and LPR[3]. During the last ten years, publicists and analysts had been writing more and more about a blockade in the Polish political scene: after each election parties left parliament, but new groups could not enter. This year's weak results of parties with a post-communist heritage - SLD[4] and PSL[5] - turned out to be a similarly huge surprise. But RP is interesting not only because of its success. For the first time in Poland's political system, we have a party that openly declares a liberal approach both to matters of world-view and to free market solutions. RP exposes mainly its world-view aspect, focusing on a ‘moral revolution’. Up till now, no one in Poland would so openly oppose the Catholic Church's presence in public life; no one would question the validity of its financial claims and the right to influence the decisions of politicians and Polish citizens alike. Even the post-communist left of the 1990's did not have enough courage to openly confront the Church.

[1] The then youthful admirers of John Paul II who are adults now.

[2] Andrzej Lepper was found dead in his party's office in Warsaw on August 5, 2011. According to initial reports he committed suicide by hanging.

[3] The League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin) is a right-wing political party.

[4] The Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej) is a social-democratic political party.

[5] The Polish People's Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe) is a centrist, agrarian and Christian democratic political party.

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