Poland’s tape scandal: What’s going on

By Jakub Krupa of European Forum Foundation.

The tapes are causing massive disruption to the work of Polish government both internally and externally, during one of the most difficult geopolitical situations in years (the Ukraine crisis). All depends on how PM Tusk and his aides will decide to play this situation out: either as ‘we must act together as it threatens our integrity and security’ or to sacrifice some ministers (Sienkiewicz? Sikorski?) for the sake of surviving. Surprisingly, the junior coalition partner, Polish Peasants Party, will play very important role now: if their votes swing in case of voting on a motion of no confidence. PSL’s leader, Piechocinski, said last week he would expect the government to step down should more controversial tapes come up – and now we know there are more tapes.

Quite shocking is also the scale of the scandal. Even though it remains unclear when it comes to ‘who recorded this and how did that get to the press’ (and therefore intentions of these people are unknown), scale of invigilation is shocking: among recorder we have Foreign Minister, Interior Minister, former Finance Minister and Deputy PM, Polish National Bank President, govt spox, deputy ministers, key figures of Polish business…

Worth-noting though is that there is not much explicitly shocking content on the tapes: it uncovers the ‘making of’ of political life, that we all suspected that works in such a way. There are no illegal actions there (except the tape with former Transport Minister Nowak, but Prosecutor’s Office has started investigating this case), it’s just dirty politics with nasty and other-than-public comments. A famous quote once associated with Bismarck (even though it’s not his originally, as far as I know), says: “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made”. As long as they are just personally nasty or even differ from official positions, the problem is not the comments, but the fact that somehow they were recorder and made available to public. As soon as we cross the thick line of “legal/illegal” a lot can change…

But well, we still don’t know the whole content and therefore it’s far too early to make final judgements on this, with tapes about economy, privatisations still to be published.

Is it good that someone recorded and published these conversations? No, it’s not. Does it mean that we should pretend they are not here and discard any discussions about them? No, we should not. We should do all we can – and it’s a great task for all politicians and journalists – to go beyond vulgar statements and personal attacks, and browse in search of real problems and real issues that should be discussed or investigated. We should not let this affair slip into the situation as with WikiLeaks, where most of the public remembered nothing more than talks about “Batman and Robin” in Moscow and “the Teflon Chancellor” Merkel. There are some important issues here, but too easily we let it be forgotten amid heated political fight between fans and haters of the government who either say “it’s illegal, let’s discard it, the most important thing is who has recorded this’ or ‘Tusk should be punished and imprisoned, it’s the final proof that everything in this country is scam and illegal etc’.

And there are some really important issues (from what we know now):

– Central Bank independence: what are the regulations at the moment, what happened here, how politicians can make political deals with the Central Bank?
– political influence on (partially) state-controlled companies (alleged manipulations with petrol prices before 2011 elections) – what are the checks and balances, how we can avoid this, should there be an investigation to clarify this?
– government investment programme: does it work, if not, why not, what should have been done differently
– cooperation fo different branches of the government and institutions: what works, what doesn’t, how this can be changed

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