Courtesy of SLD
Ewa Boniecka: The government was recently forced to change Polish law in order to increase the budget deficit by another zł.16 billion. What do you think the consequences of that move will be?
Leszek Miller: The situation of the state budget is very bad and it points to the total bankruptcy of the financial strategy of Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski. He made the wrong predictions for Poland’s economic growth and created an enormous budget deficit. I call it the “Rostowski hole” which is reminiscent of the so-called “Bauc hole” of 2001 under another center-right government.
Our party voted against the government’s move because we do not believe that the government will manage to develop a strategy of economic growth. Rather, it will only make fiscal moves aimed at fixing the “Rostowski hole.”
We are worried that after lifting the first cautionary threshold for public debt, which is a debt-to-GDP ratio of 50 percent, they will be tempted to do away with the second threshold of 55 percent. And that would be dangerous to the entire country’s economy in the coming years.
The only chance of avoiding such a bleak scenario is by changing the present neoliberal economic and fiscal strategy of the government and taking steps towards reviving economic growth.
In the face of the current crisis in the European Union, what alternative economic policy would you propose for Poland?
In times of financial crises, the government’s involvement in economic matters should be bigger. We have presented our proposals in four main points. Firstly, in order to bring GDP growth up to at least 3 percent, the government has to reduce the barriers limiting economic activity and introduce innovative government programs that would create new jobs. Second, it has to use public and EU funds to boost investments.
Mr Miller is working to regain the support his party once had
The third point is to undertake special protective measures to shield the people who will be hit hardest by the upcoming budget cuts. Our final proposal is to do an independent audit of the condition of the public budget, because Minister Rostowski has long been obscuring many of its elements with technical maneuvers.
We believe that parliament and the Polish people have the right to know what the budget really looks like. They need to get that information from an independent review rather than having to listen to the political explanations of the finance minister and the prime minister.
It seems that all left-wing parties in Europe are currently facing the dilemma of presenting an alternative political and economic strategy to that of right-wing and liberal parties. How is SLD responding to the social and economic changes during the financial crisis?
The whole European left is in trouble because some previously traditional leftist policies, mainly in the domain of social care, have already been implemented in Western countries. But the main problem is a change in the electorate of the left, due to changes in structure in the economy and industry.
There are fewer industrial workers these days and more jobs in trade and services. So the European left is in the process of transformation, searching for new answers to emerging problems. SLD is participating very actively in the ongoing discussions and meetings of left-wing parties and their leaders.
SLD has only 25 MPs [in the 460-member Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament]. It can put forward various proposals but it doesn’t have the power to push them through. How can you get any of your ideas implemented?
We probably can’t at the moment, but that could change. Over the past few years, nearly all EU governments have been adjusting their neoliberal strategies towards one with more state intervention in the economy.
I think that when the financial crisis starts having increasing economic and social consequences in Poland, our government will also look for some new remedies, especially while its political support is waning. The ruling Civic Platform [PO] is becoming internally split, not only on ethical, but also on economic matters.
Do you think that the worsening economic and political situation and growing difficulties in cooperation between PO and its junior coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party, could lead to PO opting for snap parliamentary elections?
I do not think there will be earlier parliamentary elections, because it is not in the interest of either of the parties [in the ruling coalition] to conduct them when their support is dropping in opinion polls. An earlier election could be forced on PO only in a situation of a huge economic and financial disaster in the country, which we do not have now and hopefully will not have in the future, either.
Nevertheless, the political consequences of the present worsening of the economic situation could occur if the crisis is not properly managed and if the majority of people lack money to spend on their basic needs. They might then begin demonstrating their anger and frustration on the streets.
So, along with the already-announced cuts in the amended budget for 2013, the government should design a new coherent and active economic strategy and it should make sure that the cuts do not affect social services and the poorest groups of people.
I want to stress that the neoliberal model of economics is in decline everywhere. Today there are no political parties in the EU, even among the most liberal ones, without some alternative economic programs.
Still, Poland is a country where the government’s economic strategy is focused on a monetary and fiscal approach and not on a pro-development strategy. I think that this is caused by our finance minister, who believed that his was the best strategy. This has led to a very rude awakening.
You are decisively rejecting participation in building a new center-left political entity called “Europe Plus,” which brings together Palikot’s Movement, the Democratic Alliance and some other leftist groups. Why?
First, my decision is based on principle, as there are ideological differences between SLD and the parties forming Europe Plus. They call themselves center-left, but in fact are not leftist at all, especially when approaching social issues. We do not consider Europe Plus a leftist political force because it is difficult to see it as such when it brings together such people as the leader of the Democratic Alliance – Paweł Piskorski – or Janusz Palikot, who are not and never were leftist politicians.
We do not intend to join Europe Plus because I see it as our rival whose goal is to swallow SLD and make us a part of that new party’s structure. We do not intend to join any political party, we do not intend to dissolve our party and we are not going to lose our leftist identity. But I want to point out that I have nothing against Europe Plus as a liberal-democratic formation. SLD meanwhile represents the left, so all the claims that there is going to be a battle on the left are groundless.
But SLD doesn’t have a lot of support from voters on its own. Many political observers believe though that if you joined Europe Plus, the new political entity could win substantial support from leftist voters and become a serious alternative for PO and the biggest opposition party Law and Justice (PiS). Don’t you agree?
Europe Plus is still only in the early planning stages and even when it is established as a party, it will not become a left-wing alternative to right-wing parties. The Democratic Left Alliance is the only left-wing alternative.
Our party has been active on the political scene for 14 years, we have our history of successes, but also of some failures, from which we have learned a lot. Our biggest failure was the poor result in the last parliamentary election, when we gained only eight percent of the vote, but I think that we can slowly win our electorate back over.
Now we are in third place in the political scene. We will fight PO for second place, and maybe for first place in the future.
SLD spent eight years being part of various governments in Poland and so has proven that it has competent people, able to undertake even the most difficult reforms. We put a lot of effort into helping Poland join the European Union.
According to sociologists, most Poles have conservative views. Professor Zygmunt Bauman (a renowned Polish sociologist) recently wrote that the “cultural war” in Poland was won by the right. How do you see it?
The right is dominant in Poland because our society is mostly conservative. According to some findings, 12-15 percent of Poles have clearly defined leftist views. So conservative attitudes towards many matters prevail.
The right is indeed running a “cultural war” against the left. It creates its own language, its own vision of history and of our nation, its own heroes, and it is a problem which our party must face.
But political and social views in a society constantly evolve; nothing is set in stone forever and in the longer perspective these views may change. Let’s remember that in 2001 SLD won 40 percent of the vote and created a government, but society was different back then, much more leftist than it is today.
There is a political theory which posits that social views are like a pendulum swing: there is constant flow between the right and the left. I see a chance for the left, because our society’s priorities are changing. It has to respond to the growing economic inequalities in our society, the lack of opportunities for poorer groups of people, the high unemployment among young people. There is a call for social justice. Our party has to answer it and we are ready to do so.
There are nationalist organizations whose young aggressive activists are demonstrating their views on the streets and even at universities, while the young left is hardly visible these days. What are you planning to do about that?
Those young nationalist activists are nurtured by general right-wing ideologies and by PiS’s policies. We also have active young people, though. There is a dynamic leftist youth organization known as the Federation of Young Democrats.
This summer – just as in previous years – SLD has been training young leftist leaders. But these young people are not visible in the media because they don’t carry baseball bats or masks and are not organizing riots on the streets.
We are approaching the 2014 elections for the European Parliament. Then there will be local government elections and a parliamentary vote in 2015. What outcome do you expect?
It will be a difficult period and one of many political confrontations. The weakened PO will fight for its future and try to come out victorious for the third time in a row. It will not be easy with all the internal splits in the party and with many of its voters turning away from it. One of the most important elements of that battle will be exploiting the fear Poles feel towards PiS.
I think that the Smolensk catastrophe will be a card used often by PiS. It could increase its support, because polls show that a growing number of Poles believe that the Smolensk catastrophe was actually an assassination.
However, I do not believe that PiS and Jarosław Kaczyński will win the parliamentary elections. And even if they do – they will not be able to form a government as they have no real possibilities of establishing a coalition.
SLD will fight using its alternative economic and social program, stressing the need for a secular state and for equal rights and opportunities for all Poles. I hope that we will increase our support in all the three upcoming elections and that SLD will be seen as the only alternative to the right.
We will also stress our support for deeper integration within the EU and Poland’s role and responsibility in shaping the future of the European Union and opening up towards its eastern neighbors.
I hope that the campaigns will concentrate on real issues such as dealing with the financial and economic crisis, but I am afraid that they will be dominated by personal fights and meaningless details. One thing is certain for me: the result of the parliamentary election will change the present balance on our political scene, but in what direction – that is for the voters to decide.
If the winning party cannot establish a parliamentary majority and SLD wins a substantial number of votes, what moves would you consider?
Any SLD coalition with PiS is, for us, out of the question because PiS is a party whose program is based on a policy of oppression, anti-European views, and the search for conflict between Poland and its neighbors.
Would you consider a coalition with PO then?
That is a scenario which I always find purely speculative and currently entirely unsubstantiated. My party is fighting for the best possible result in the parliamentary election and that is all I want. SLD has its program, PO has its program, and they are different, with only one common factor – both parties are strongly pro-European.
Any coalition should be based on establishing a certain minimum program base. SLD can form an agreement only on the basis of a common program, because that is necessary for a coalition to make any sense. And in order to formulate such a minimum base both parties have to be willing to work together and have a lot of patience. Such negotiations are never easy.
From Warsaw Business Journal
PO-SLD coalition looks increasingly likely
Dismantling of the Senate proposed by SLD
Civic Platform threatened by Europe Plus
Former presidents to attend SLD's congress
Will cabinet reshuffle save PO?
BY Remi Adekoya
What’s next for Jarosław Gowin?
BY Remi Adekoya