What a difference four years make. In 1997, a revamped Solidarity and a score of right-wing parties and groups formed the Electoral Action Solidarity (Polish acronym AWS). Their campaign surpassed those of the rival social democratic Left Alliance and Freedom Union; it was dynamic and largely free of the customary references to Nation and Polish Fatherland so unpalatable to many (primarily young) voters.
Instead of patriotic slogans, AWS proposed a new way of governing Poland. The flagships of the new coalition government with the Freedom Union were four big reforms: of health care, administration, the pension system and education. From them, the new government of the time assured us, a new and modern Poland was to rise like Phoenix from the ashes of the policies implemented by the previous coalition of social democrats and the Peasants' Party.
In 2001, the AWS has been undergoing another overhaul—but this time there is less hype about it. The first blow was dealt by the surprise runner-up in presidential elections, Andrzej Olechowski. Together with Sejm Speaker Maciej Plazynski and Senate Speaker Donald Tusk, Olechowski formed the Civic Platform last January.
Its political offer, aimed at centrist AWS voters, has proved successful so far—not only at the expense of AWS, but also of the Freedom Union: this favorite of Western publicists is now on the verge of political existence, hanging in at five per cent of the popular vote, the minimum needed in order to be represented in the Sejm.
The present is troubled...
March saw the Conservative People's Party (SKL)—one of the main parties in the conglomerate that constitutes the AWS—leaving the alliance in order to cooperate with Olechowski. "Betrayal," was the AWS reaction. "It's a change of means, not of objectives," replied Jan Maria Rokita of the SKL.
Strangely enough, even though the SKL left the AWS, its two ministers stayed in Jerzy Buzek's government. Then, last week, those politicians of SKL that decided to stick to the AWS and a number of dissidents from the Christian National Union (another part of the AWS—isn't it confusing?) formed a new entity, the Right-Wing Alliance.
The AWS itself is trying to appear intact. Also last week, it held its first program conference under the slogan "AWS in action again." "The most shocking word during the entire conference was the word 'first'," wrote Polityka weekly, amazed that the AWS organized such a meeting only at the end of its term.
With the departure of the rather centrist SKL and the appearance of Przymierze, however, the AWS is steering towards becoming a much less attractive option in the guise of a more nationalist and more clerical party, thus narrowing its electorate. Recent polls show that it can count on about nine to 12 per cent of the vote, whereas the Civic Platform enjoys as much as 17 per cent. Time will tell whether this support for the Civic Platform is the result of a "novelty effect" or not, but for the time being the AWS faces marginalization.
...and the future uncertain
As if Jerzy Buzek did not have enough to worry about, there is more outward movement in the AWS. Justice Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the most popular government figure, is said to have his own high political ambitions. Kaczynski's brother, Lech, may want to take advantage of Jaroslaw's successes and triumphally return to the political scene, speculated Polityka recently. Lech Kaczynski already established a group called Law and Justice which wants to join forces with the AWS and other, minor right-wing parties.
Cooperation will require some expiation from the AWS, however: "We will cooperate—if the people who are suspected of acting on the verge of business and politics leave the AWS," said Lech Kaczynski.
Another element in the game is former deputy Prime Minister Janusz Tomaszewski. In January this year, the Lustration Court acquitted Tomaszewski of cooperation with the Communist secret police. When he was charged a year and a half ago, his colleagues literally turned their backs on him, forcing him to resign.
At that time Tomaszewski was one of the leading figures in the AWS and seemed to be constantly growing in strength, which supposedly ran against the grain of the then AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski. After a prolonged trial, Tomaszewski returned and does not hide the fact that he would like to be in the top ranks again. His name is sometimes linked with the Kaczynskis—the question remains whether they will form a fraction inside the AWS or decide to steer clear of it, counting on the "novelty effect."