Here’s an abbreviated version on the real source of the current problems with judicial reform in Poland.
First two bits of background. A parting gift of the communists was an unwieldy electoral system with no practical electoral threshhold. This meant that there was a glut of “pocket parties” in early parliaments until the situation could be fixed and a 5 % threshhold was introduced. The other is that the early system, for a couple of different reasons not only had a Prime Minister and President but they were both more or less co-heads of state. At the time the balance of power was almost not spelled out at all which meant that getting a working relationship between the two was often a chore (this still remains a fault line in Polish politics as the line is more defined but still only partly so).
In December, just before Christmas of 1991, a guy named Jan Olszewski became the Prime Minister of Poland heading a minority government. It was a minority government because he lost too many parties on the way to becoming Prime Minister because he had to compromise on his two big issues – undoing the “Shock Therapy” economics of the Balcerowicz plan and decommunization of public life.
Right from the beginning it was a rocky road between Olszewski and Lech Wałęsa, by that time the first post-communist President, more on that in another post, for now, all you need to know is that Wałęsa, especially as president, tended to be confrontational and always spoiling for a fight, didn’t matter with who, he would get into an undignified wrangle with them.
Olszewski was an economic washout as any attempt to mess with the Balcerowicz plan made foreign investors and creditors very jittery. His de-communization efforts centered on the military where he essentially wanted a purge of the leadership while at the same time Wałęsa wanted to bring the military under Presidential control.
This all reached a crisis by lat eMay of 1992. Wałęsa started actively working against Olszewski. In this environment Antoni Macierewicz, the then Interior Minister, released a list of 64 names of supposed collaborators with the communist secret police to members of parliament which quickly found it to the press. The list included a member or two of the governing coalition and other prominent politicians and was followed by a second list including Wałęsa himself.
This was the last straw and a no-confidence vote was scheduled and held on June 4, 2992 preceded by an unscheduled TV address by Olszewski defending the release of the unverified lists.
The vote itself took place after midnight, an event that has come to be known as the nocna zmiana (night change or night shift, hence the title here). Olszewski lost and was replaced by a politician Wałęsa could (sort of) work with.
Essentially, Jarosław Kaczyński (who did his fair share of undermining the government) never got over the no-confidence vote it marked the beginning of his violent hatred of Wałęsa. He has since worked to turn the event into some kind of major conspiracy by communists to hold onto their privileges and power and talks of the event as a coup…. Ironically Macierewicz supposedly did try to talk the military into staging a coup…. against Wałęsa to keep the Olszewski government in power.
Whether he sincerely believes this or just is cyncially using it, the “night shift” has become one of the founding myths of Kaczyński’s electoral base – which is rock solid. Ironically, many of this same base are prone to be nostalgic for communist Poland and the relatively security they had. Kaczyńsnki’s goal then is essentially to take the entire country back to 1992 so that he can redo the night shift and get the result he wants this time. That’s one reason that so many PiS initiatives end up being voted on late at night – dress rehearsals for his final late night triumph over the communists…
The fact that majority of the country doesn’t want to play along is of no significance to him.