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East European Perspectives: April 19, 2000

19 April 2000, Volume 2, Number 8
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST CENTRAL EUROPE?????PART V: (Mis)placing in Boxes: Radicals Full Stop
B) Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Poland

East Central Europe's radicals who defy neat taxonomization (see "RFE/RL East European Perspectives," Vol. 2, no. 7, 5 April 2000) make up a rather large group. For example, Slovenia's Ivan Kramberger defies it even more than Hungary's Jozsef Torgyan does. As in most such cases, he was labeled a "populist" (Rizman, 1999, p. 153). Unlike others, however, Kramberger comes (or rather "came," since he was assassinated by an insane countryman in 1992) closest to the term, i.e., appealing to electorates in non- and anti-ideological terminology and promising each audience what it wants to hear, as well as building political capital out of a reputation earned "out of politics." Having spent 25 years in Germany, where he became known as an innovator in kidney-support medical machines, and where, as a result, he amassed considerable wealth, Kramberger used that fortune to promote his political ambitions (Rizman, 1999, p. 153). He thus belongs to that rather peculiar group of "anti-politics politicians" of the immediate post-communist period mentioned by Mudde (2000), whose main political asset was an alleged or genuine financial success in the West. That this would appeal to electorates at a time when the virtues of individual entrepreneurship were universally applauded is no wonder, and that this appeal would diminish as the realities of the system set in is no wonder either. Poland's Stanislaw Tyminski and Bulgaria's Georges Ganchev belong to the same category.

Unlike Tyminski and Ganchev, however, while in the West Kramberger had been a genuine philanthropist, aiding the sick and the impoverished, and winning several prizes for his humanitarian work, which only added to his appeal once he embarked on a political career upon his return. Besides, he was apparently a witty and entertaining orator who would attract attention by transforming his audiences into a circus gallery: at one of his gatherings he talked with a monkey on his shoulders (Rizman, 1999, p. 154). He intertwined classic "populist" attacks on politicians who had enriched themselves in office with appeals to xenophobia, "externalization of guilt," and anxieties triggered by the "presence of the Other." He attacked refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia for allegedly exploiting Slovenian magnanimity, hand-in-hand with calls for driving out of the country's pro-Milosevic Serbs, thus coming close, just as Torgyan does in Hungary, to advocating an ethnocratic state, though (once more like Torgyan) stopping one step short of it. One can only speculate on what role Kramberger would have played in Slovenian politics, were it not for his brutal elimination. Running as an independent candidate in the 1990 presidential elections on a platform of "bread and butter," he surprised many observers, finishing in third place after Milan Kucan and Joze Pucnik, with a respectable 19 percent (Henderson and Robinson, 1987, p. 153).

Ganchev's Bulgarian Business Bloc entered parliament in December 1994, having enlisted the support of 5 percent of the voters, which gave it 13 seats in the 240-seat legislature. In the April 1997 elections, the party roughly garnered the same support (4.9 percent), giving it 12 seats, though it was eventually deprived of two of these by defections (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 353; RFE/RL Newsline, 24 April 1997). On 2 March 2000 the Bulgarian Business Bloc was transformed into the Georges Ganchev Bloc, chaired by Dobri Dobrev. Ganchev stated on the occasion that he hopes the party will attract support from those who are "dissatisfied with [both] left- and right-wing parties" (BTA, 2 March 2000). The bloc's appeal to the electorate has been described as "right-wing populist" (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 153) but the "right wing" must be qualified: Ganchev himself is politically closer to the "traditional" rather than to the radical right. Yet, once more, he and his party defy easy "placing in boxes." The Business Bloc is, above all, a formation that "is primarily an anti-establishment party whose platform is anything but coherent" (Engelbrekt, 1997, p. 20). Ganchev shares with Kramberger the exploitation of the electorate's disenchantment with post-communist politics and above all with their outcome. With Tyminski he also shares the ability to display what Ray Taras has called a "trophy wife" (Taras, 1998, p. 20). But he does not share with either Kramberger or with Tyminski--not to speak of Zhirinovsky--their ultranationalism (Bell, 1997, p. 401n).

A former basketball player and fencer, he was the coach of Romania's national fencing team and eventually emigrated to England. He later landed in Hollywood, and on his return to post-communist Bulgaria he claimed to have been both a successful actor in the West and (more importantly for the post-communist context) to have married the daughter of the president of the Woolworth chain (Bell, 1997, p. 401n; Taras, 1998). Ganchev is thus a "radical politician" only in the sense of posing a (thus far largely potential) challenge to the "not-yet established" Bulgarian democracy. Running in the 1996 presidential contest, he finished a respectable third (22 percent), only 5 percentage points away from Socialist Party candidate Ivan Marazov, who later lost the runoff to Petar Stoyanov (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 354). Like radicals of both continuity and return categories, he is attracting "a protest vote from people disillusioned by the performance of the more established political parties" (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 353). The same disenchantment in 1995 produced in Latvia a formation calling itself the Party of the Cheated, described as a "collection of disaffected and alienated persons hurt by the economic transformations" (Plankas, 1997, p. 278). And Stanislav Tyminsky's Party X, built on the same grounds and attracting the same categories of voters, was originally planned to be called the "Party of Pain" (Szayna, 1997, p. 118). One wonders, however, whether it really matters that much if spending one's fortune on attracting protest votes is done with money amassed abroad or in one's own country. In other words, are Kramberger or Ganchev really any different from, say, a Ross Perot or a Donald Trump? As for more or less successful actors, well, they are known to have made it to the presidency in more "established" democracies than Bulgaria, and to have seriously contributed to the eventual elimination of that wall whose crumbling in 1989 made possible Ganchev's return to his homeland.

Stanislaw (or "Stan," as he liked voters to call him in an obvious drive at showing that he was "one of them") Tyminski, however, is yet a "different cup of tea," were it only for his past links with the communist secret services and his appeal to anti-Semitism. Attempting to build on his unexpected success in the presidential contest of 1990 (see Shafir, 2000), Tyminski in March 1991 set up Party X (Szayna, 1997, p. 118), a formation whose "marvelously cryptic name" was designed, as Ost points out, to emphasize "the indecipherable nature of the organization and its hero" (Ost, 1999, p. 97). Party X took advantage of the lenient criteria of representation that applied to the October 1991 elections to the Sejm, though its performance in the ballot was a far cry from that of its leader 11 months earlier. It garnered 0.47 percent of the vote (Tyminski had scored 23 percent) and squeezed in three deputies, who eventually deserted to other formations (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 146; Szayna, 1997, p. 118). In the 1993 elections Party X did better at the polls for the parliament's lower house (2.7 percent), but due to the introduction of the 5 percent threshold, it was no longer represented in the parliament, and it eventually vanished from Poland's political map (Szayna, 1997, p. 118; Ost, 1999, p. 97).

Yet one more radical party that defies square taxonomization is the Confederation of Independent Poland (KPN). Analysts differ in the appraisal of the party and its leader, Leszek Moczulski. For Louisa Vinton, for instance, the "impression of extremism, which the KPN's militant rhetoric and Moczulski's flamboyant phraseology have at times seemed to confirm," as well as the "nationalist" and "rightist" labels placed on the party are "misleading" (Vinton, 1991, p. 23). This is primarily so because the KPN, though strongly nationalist and Catholic, is nonetheless against the Church's mixing into secular politics, and, moreover, is left rather than right in its economic outlook. But even Vinton concedes that the economic outlook of the KPN is basically "demagogical" (Vinton, 1993, p. 14). Moczulski's past is, once again, murky. Some strings invite his placement into the category of radical continuity, others in that of radical return. But he does not fit neatly into either. As a journalist specializing in military history, Moczulski participated in the anti-Semitic purges of 1968 and, what is more, in 1992 his name appeared on an unreliable list of former informants of the secret police drawn by the Interior Ministry (Ost, 1999, pp. 98, 338n). The party has since considerably toned down its former repeated campaigns for "decommunization," which previously targeted not only General Wojciech Jaruzelski and members of his martial law government, but also such figures as former Premier Tadeusz Mazowiecki. But that militant mantle was inherited by the Confederation of Independent Poland-Patriotic Wing (KPN-OP). A congress of the party in 1996 had replaced Moczulski as KPN leader with young (b. 1964) Adam Slomka, with Moczulski being elected the party's honorary chairman. According to some reports, Moczulski's alleged collaboration with the communist secret services had played a role in that move. Moczulski, however, declared the congress illegal and expelled Slomka's dissidents from the KPN (The Warsaw Voice, 24 March 1996, 30 May 1999).

Has Moczulski really collaborated with the Polish secret services? Against placing the KPN in the radical continuity category pleads the fact that the party was set up underground in 1979, Moczulski's numerous confrontations with the communist regime, as well as the fact that with the communists in power, he publicly announced the launching of the new formation, its main declared goals being the restoration of Poland's independence and the peaceful overthrow of the regime. By his own account, Moczulski was detained some 200 times for 48 hours (the maximum period that a person could be detained without charges being filed). Although he opposed Solidarity's tactics, he did so on grounds of its not being radical enough and of pursuing "gradualist," or "pragmatic" tactics instead of a "fundamentalist" approach. That did not hinder his being arrested immediately upon the emergence of Solidarity in 1980. He remained in prison until an amnesty granted to political prisoners in 1984. Out of prison, he still opposed Solidarity and regarded it as "betraying" national interests when it entered into the "round-table" negotiations with the communists, in which Moczulski would have no part (Vinton, 1991, p. 21).

Moczulski's avowed nationalism and his adoption of the "Pilsudski" model notwithstanding, the KPN seems committed to democracy, though it would like to see a stronger presidency. The party has shunned close association with other nationalist parties, which hoped to ride on its apparent popularity by urging an alliance of nationalist formations in the 1991 and the 1993 elections. Moczulski's distant past includes anti-Semitic vitriolics, but the party has tended to leave out xenophobic undertones from its political discourse, except for occasional outbursts against German capital and particularly (in a Torgyan-like manner) against their purchasing of land in Poland (Vinton, 1991, p. 23; Szayna, 1997, p. 117). Yet it would be wrong to count the KPN out of the "radical full stop" category.

Before its 1996 split, the party was organized in a strict hierarchy subordinated to Moczulski. Not only were military discipline and paramilitary rhetoric widely imposed or used (activities of the party were dubbed "code actions" and preparations for elections "state of combat alert"), but military-like organization did not stop at the door of idiom. One of the means through which the KPN recruited members and enlarged popularity among the youth were the amateur shooting clubs reminiscent of similar clubs in pre-Nazi Germany. These clubs were said to be necessary in preparation against an eventual communist comeback. Nor did that stop to "declarations of intent." Street clashes did indeed take place between KPN supporters and the no less militant supporters of Andrzej Lepper's radical continuity Peasant National Bloc Self-Defense (Samoobrona), each side having a penchant for blocking roads and attacking the headquarters of rival movements or of own leadership rivals. In the case of the KPN, one analyst drew a parallel with Pilsudski's legionnaires of the 1920s (Vinton, 1994 , p. 18; Prazmowska, 1995, p. 207; Ost, 1999, p. 98).

As long as it survived fratricidal wars, the KPN did make an electoral impact and influenced political developments, though not as strongly as Moczulski had hoped for. He himself ran in the presidential elections of 1990, but garnered only 2.5 percent of the vote (Vinton, 1990, p. 11). In 1991, the KPN garnered 7.5 percent of the votes, which gave it a representation of 46 seats in the 460-seat Sejm. Given the absence of any electoral hurdle, this was enough to make the party the sixth strongest in the parliament, and, later using obscure election regulations (the so-called "blocking" system), it managed to raise its parliamentary representation to 51 deputies, thus becoming the third-strongest faction (Vinton, 1991, p. 22; Bugajski, 1995, p. 375; Szayna, 1997, p. 117). It was, as a result, a potential coalition partner but parleys failed to materialize twice, largely due to the unrealistic demand that Moczulski be given the defense portfolio (Vinton, 1994, p. 18). The party was a partner of the Democratic Left Alliance (the former communists) in engineering the ousting from power of the Hanna Suchocka cabinet in September 1993 (Bugajski, 1995, p. 375; Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 254). In the 1993 elections the KPN managed only a 5.7 share of the vote, giving it 22 seats in the lower house. Neither in 1991, nor in 1993, however, did the party manage to get a foothold in the 100-seat Senate.

In the September 1997 elections, the KPN did not participate in the ballot and the Sejm for the first time did not include its representatives. After the 1996 split, both the KPN and the KPN-OP became members in the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) umbrella block of center-right parties formed prior to the split in the KPN. But dissatisfied with the slots offered to his party by the AWS on the electoral lists for the Sejm, the KPN left the alliance, claiming "discrimination" (The Warsaw Voice, 21 September 1997). The move seemed to confirm the portrait once drawn of Moczulski by a Warsaw journalist, who wrote that he might have been "an excellent strategy planner," were it not for his needing "at least half an hour and one thousand words to verbalize even the simplest thoughts" (Igor Zalewski in Zycie Warszawy, 6-8 April 1996, cited in "The Warsaw Voice," 14 April 1996). Moczulski then explained that he expected his absence from the legislature to be personally beneficial. "Communist prisons," he said, had provided him "with greater psychological comfort than the Sejm has" (The Warsaw Voice, 5 October 1997).

The KPN-OP secured representation in the Sejm as part of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), which was now the largest parliamentary group, with 201 seats in the Sejm (Ochmann, 1999, p. 232n). Only a few months later, in July 1998, Slomka was, however, back in the opposition. On 17 July he resigned as deputy leader of AWS and the AWS National Council expelled the KPN-OP from its ranks after Slomka refused to support in the parliament a bill on a new administrative division of the country (RFE/RL Newsline, 17 and 30 July 1998). Thereafter Slomka (whose party had meanwhile changed denomination into Confederation of Independent Poland-Fatherland, or KPN-O) set up a new alliance with the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland, fielding joint candidates in the October local elections.

The KPN-O soon re-embarked on the old KPN crusades, demanding the lustration of, among others, Premier Jerzy Buzek and Democratic Left Alliance leader Leszek Miller, as well as of other prominent former recent allies (Jacek Piechota of the Freedom Union) and of leftist adversaries, among whom one counted former Prime Minister Wlodziemierz Cimiszewicz and former Justice Minister Jerzy Jaskiernia. All these politicians, and others, were alleged to have been collaborators of the communist secret police, but lustration prosecutor Boguslaw Nieznski found no evidence to support the allegations. This did not stop Slomka and his friends from insisting that the inquest be re-opened and from dubbing the decision "scandalous" (RFE/RL Newsline, 21 and 30 April 1998, 6, 12, and 20 May 1998, and 10 August 1998).

Under Slomka, the party also reverted to the anti-Western, particularly anti-globalization postures that had characterized the KPN in its earlier, post-communist period. In February 2000, for example, it was protesting against the "economic assault on Poland," following a takeover bid of the Polish BIG Bank Gdanski by the Deutsche Bank. The German bank, Slomka was telling journalists," had not yet settled accounts for its criminal activity during the Holocaust [when] it financed the building of concentration camps, among other things." KPN-O protesters in front of the Deutsche Bank headquarters in Warsaw were shouting "You are the heirs of Nazi Germany--you have just changed shape. Down with the European Union" (PAP, 9 February 2000), in a perfect illustration of "history tunneling" that "radicals full stop" are masters in supplying. For the KPN-O is not exactly famous for its "anti-anti-Semitic" postures, and the Holocaust was (as in many other countries in the region) "extended" to both the past (from Jews, Roma and homosexuals, to Poles as a nation) and the future (the European Union as an instrument of "Nazi" Germany).

And then, of course, there is Zhirinovsky.

Bell, J. D., 1997, "Democratization and Political Participation in 'Postcommunist' Bulgaria," in Dawisha, K., Parrott, B. (eds.), Politics, Power and the Struggle for Democracy in South-East Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 353-402.

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PAP (Warsaw), 2000.

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RFE/RL Newsline, 1997, 1998.

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Szayna, T. S., 1997, "The Extreme-Right Political Movements in Post-Communist Central Europe," in Merkl, P. H., Weinberg, L. (eds.), The Revival of Right-Wing Extremism in the Nineties (London: Frank Cass), pp. 111-48.

Taras, R., 1998, "The Politics of Leadership" in White, S., Batt, J., Lewis, P. G. (eds.), Developments in Central and East European Politics 2 (Durham: Duke University Press), pp. 103-25.

Vinton, L. , 1990, " "The Presidential Elections: Walesa and Tyminski into the Second Round," Report on Eastern Europe, Vol. 1, no. 51, pp. 10-13.

Vinton, L., 1991, "From the Margins to the Mainstream: The Confederation for an Independent Poland, Report on Eastern Europe, Vol. 2, no. 46, 20-24.

Vinton, L., 1993, "Poland's Political Spectrum on the Eve of the Elections," RFE/RL Research Report, Vol. 2, no. 36, pp. 1-16.

Vinton, L., 1994, "'Outsider' Parties and the Political Process in Poland," RFE/RL Research Report, Vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 13-22.

The Warsaw Voice, (Warsaw), 1996-1998.