Deep and intersecting crises confront us. Growth is anemic; wages and productivity are stagnant; inequality is stark; investment is low; consumer debt is high; and asset bubbles are frequent. Future trends, from the rise of the data oligarchs to the disruption of automation, threaten to deepen the inequalities and inefficiencies of neo-liberalism. Overarching everything, an extractive model of capitalism is driving escalating environmental collapse, threatening the conditions upon which all of human society ultimately depends.In the face of a failing economic model, tinkering won’t suffice. Our future will depend on our capacity for institutional reimagining, on our ability to rethink and reshape how we produce and distribute wealth in more democratic and sustainable ways than present. Fundamental to this must be a new architecture of ownership. Co-operatives Unleashed, our new report for the New Economics Foundation (NEF), not only looks at how to grow pure co-ops, but also how to transform patterns of business ownership across the economy.
Ownership matters. Who owns and controls the productive wealth of nations and communities is fundamental to how an economic system operates and in whose interests. The nature and distribution of ownership intimately shapes the distribution of power and reward within society, undergirding the present and shaping our economic futures.
For 40 years, the economy has been a one-way-street. Assets and equity have flowed upwards and outwards, and with them wealth. Margaret Thatcher promised a world ‘where owning shares is as common as having a car’. But the grand promise of a share-owning democracy, and with it broad-based economic power, has crumbled. Now, more than half of UK company equity is owned abroad and only just over 12% by individuals, while the richest 10% own more than 60% of the nation’s financial wealth. The interests of those who own Britain’s businesses, moreover, are often misaligned with those of other stakeholders, such as employees, customers, service users and local communities. And even where they are better aligned, a concentration of shareholding and the distant power of capital markets hollows out the agency of individual shareholders and workers.
Piecemeal reform that leaves current models of ownership and the distribution of economic assets untouched will leave the fundamental values, operations, and outcomes of our economic system unchallenged. In place of extractive, disconnected and short-termist forms of ownership, we have to build forms of ownership that are distributive by design, generative in purpose, democratic in orientation, and have a sense of connection to place.
There is no single step that can achieve this. What is required is a pluralistic and proactive strategy to scale alternative models of ownership that can reorient enterprise towards the common good, shape production toward democratic needs, stem financial leakage and build a future of shared economic plenty by sharing the rewards of our collective economic endeavours.
The co-operative advantage
Co-operatives – a tried and tested means of democratising and equitably sharing the benefits of enterprise – must be central to this agenda. At their heart, they are free and democratic enterprises. Indeed, in the countries in which they have thrived, they are often rooted in resistance to oppressive government or the march of a market economy that is prejudiced in favour of an extractive and financialised model. Co-ops are by nature organisations with a purpose, and are very often established to achieve a specific social or environmental goal by pooling the resources of a defined group of people.
Co-ops exist to share risk, power and reward. They are therefore more democratic and accountable forms of business that cannot sell equity on capital markets and so are beyond the influence of the shareholding conglomerates. Recent studies have also shown them to be more enduring and resilient in the face of market disruption, more profitable, more productive, happier and longer-lasting than non-co-operative forms of enterprise.
A hostile economic environment
Yet co-operatives – and indeed all alternative forms of ownership – operate in a hostile economic environment. From challenges in accessing finance to poorly tailored regulatory and legal systems to an underpowered supportive infrastructure, they face an uphill challenge. By contrast, the most successful co-operative economies such as Italy, France, and the USA, provide the legal, financial and operational arrangements for the sector to thrive. It is not surprising then that the co-op sector in those countries is much deeper than our own.
Given this, we should not expect significant co-operative expansion to happen in the current institutional context. Nor can or should we expect co-operativism to expand dramatically through the force of ethical example and exceptional effort, not least because co-operatives are currently subject to intense external pressures due to their operating in a wider, extractive and dysfunctional economy.
Instead, it should be because they are a form of purposeful, successful enterprise that most effectively brings together the ability and interests of ordinary people backed by a supportive institutional, financial and legal framework. Co-operatives should thrive, in other words, as a form of economic organisational ‘common sense’.
A winnable future
Public policy – and an ambitious politics for a new economy – are crucial to creating the conditions for this to occur. NEF’s new report, Co-operatives unleashed, sets out how this can be done.
First, a new legal framework for co-operatives should be established, including a statutory underpinning for the creation of co-operative indivisible reserves and an asset lock, and the introduction of a ‘Right to Own’ to support employee buyouts and the co-operatisation of existing businesses.
The second step is to develop a range of financial instruments and institutions tailored to the needs of the co-operative economy. This should include the creation of mutual guarantee societies, common across Europe, that help co-ops and SMEs pool risk and access funding, as well as the introduction of tax relief on profits reinvested in asset-locked indivisible reserves and on profits paid into a co-op development fund to incentivise common wealth creation.
Third, to develop and extend the capabilities of the co-operative movement, a new Co-operative Development Agency for England and for Northern Ireland should be established. These would seek to replicate and expand on the success of Cooperative Development Scotland and the Welsh Cooperative Center in developing the capacity of the co-op movement across the rest of the country. It should focus on facilitating knowledge exchange and sectoral co-ordination, supporting co-op business development, and help replicate, shelter and expand successful co-op models by providing an accessible co-op replication service.
Finally, cooperatives must be supported to thrive in their communities and localities as genuinely rooted businesses capable of retaining power and control within that place and returning value to communities. This requires creating real life contexts across the UK where people can come into contact with coop ideas and realise how they can be applied to their livelihood and community. Innovative place-based community wealth building and local industrial strategies are crucial to this and hence to co-operative development. This could include encouraging local procurement and commissioning strategies to support, where appropriate, co-operatives and social enterprises, and local authorities, in combination with the community, social oriented enterprises and unions, should work together to increase the capacity of co-ops and other local businesses to bid for anchor institution contracts.
Scaling democratic ownership
As the political sun sets on neoliberal economics, and demand grows for greater wealth-building and sharing of value with those that add it, there is a real need for policy that creates the kind of enterprises that can fulfil this demand.
What is needed – alongside an expansion of the co-operative sector – is a deep economic heartbeat that consistently and over time transfers the ownership and control of businesses to workers and other key stakeholders. Alongside the co-operative specific proposals, we therefore set out a new institution called an Inclusive Ownership Fund to do just that. Under this proposal, all shareholder or larger privately-owned businesses would transfer a small amount of profit each year in the form of equity into a worker or wider stakeholder-owned trust. Once there, these shares would not be available for further sale.
When the fund reached a controlling level of ownership of a firm (or, in the case of businesses succession, proposed takeover or crisis, a lower but significant level of ownership) the stakeholders controlling the fund could opt to assume control of the business. But prior to that, steps could be built into the fund that would see incremental improvements in worker or wider stakeholder participation when the fund reached certain levels. In other words, the Inclusive Ownership Fund would act as a mechanism for transforming ownership over time, putting power and control in the hands of people rooted in places that depend on the success of purposeful business rather than remaining the preserve of rootless capital.
Ownership matters. It is both a force and fulcrum; it is no coincidence that the two major transformations in the UK’s political economy were under-girded by changes in ownership models, with nationalization securing the post-war settlement, and privatization driving its undoing. As we urgently seek a third transformation, new models ownership – as today’s report sets out – must be at the heart of our economic re-imagining.
To my Republican friends: It’s time to let Trump go
Dahleen Glanton, Contact Reporter, Chicago Tribune July 19, 2018
When a friend is in trouble, our instinct is to try and steer them away from danger.
Sometimes that means putting the friendship on the line by saying things they don’t want to hear. You gently nudge them toward the light when their eyes are blind to the truth.
This message is for my Republican friends — those smart and compassionate people I argue with fiercely over political ideology but with whom I share an unfaltering respect for our democracy.
My friends, you are in an abusive relationship with Donald Trump. It is time to let him go.
It is clear that you have struggled with your victory in putting Trump into the White House. He wasn’t your first choice as a mate, but with the country’s changing demographics, you feared the glory days of conservative governing were over.
Then Trump extended his hand. And you accepted it, though tepidly.
Some of you fell for his cunning promise to go to Washington and drain the swamp. You were disappointed early on when he instead created a bigger swamp and filled it with crooks and bigots who have nothing in common with you.
Many of you, though, found him so deplorable from the start that you could not cast your ballot for him. But a year and a half into the relationship, you have decided to settle in and just see how things go.
Most of the time, you are miserable. You cried with the rest of us when you saw refugee children separated from their parents at the border. You detest his bigoted and misogynistic behavior. You still cringe when he mentions that ridiculous wall.
You hold your breath whenever he steps onto the world stage, fearing that he will at the very least embarrass you, or at worst, weaken the nation. You watched in horror as he stood beside Vladimir Putin and sided with Russia over America regarding meddling in the 2016 election.
You didn’t buy that pitiful forced apology, where he claimed his betrayal was not intentional but rather a simple misspoken word. But you held your tongue and accepted it, because that’s what people in abusive relationships tend to do.
You tell yourselves over and over that no relationship is perfect. When friends try to warn you that Trump is no good, you point out the way he has shown his love.
You explain that Trump turned out to be more politically conservative than most Republicans ever thought he could be. And that he’s has been awfully good to you. He’s given you a Supreme Court justice who thinks like you, and you are about to welcome a second.
He has flooded the federal courts with right-wing conservatives who agree with the direction you think the country should be headed. And look at the stock market, you say. Everybody who had money to begin with has gotten richer.
These things alone make up for any pain he has caused on the sidelines, you surmise. You have tried to convince yourselves that the benefits of having a Republican, any Republican, at the helm of the country far outweigh the bad.
Perhaps you are beginning to think that maybe a second presidential term might not be as tough as it might seem. There is a chance you could get a third Supreme Court pick who will push the high court to the right for generations to come.
Deep inside, however, you know how selfish that would be. It is clear that another four years under Trump could bring irreparable harm to America. You are flirting with calling it quits.
You have never trusted him, anyway. Now you suspect that the man who stands at the helm of the nation may not have its best interests at heart. You aren’t sure that he grasps the magnitude of his actions in the presence of adversaries. You cannot depend on him to stand with U.S. allies in a united front.
You suspect that the rumors are true, that he is in love with someone else on the other side of the world. But you are paralyzed to confront him.
So you continue to set yourselves up for disappointment, secretly hoping that his latest misstep will be the one that does him in. But he rises from the rubble unscathed, perhaps even stronger and more vicious than before.
When will it end, you wonder. Who can stop this nightmare, you ask?
Only you, my Republican friends, can stop him immediately.
The rest of us are pawns in Trump’s “Game of Thrones.” You are our Lord Snow and our Dragon Queen. With no political strength in Washington right now, we are like “smallfolk” with no real voice.
Republicans, you have to stop this abuser before it’s too late. If your party is to survive this tumultuous reign, you must find the courage to stand up to Trump in your own House — before the rest of us have to come to your rescue and kick him out.
A debate about the country’s past has revealed sharply divergent views of its future.
By Elisabeth Zerofsky, The July 30, 2018 Issue
On a rainy afternoon in March, Andrzej Nowak’s lanky frame loomed in the cramped, faux-Renaissance entryway of the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, in Warsaw’s Old Town Market Square. For the past twenty-five years, Nowak, a decorated historian of Poland and Russia, has been conducting regular interviews with Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice, the conservative political party that came to power in Poland in 2015. Since then, liberal leaders and intellectuals in Western Europe have begun to fear that the country, after two decades as the model student of European liberalism, is retreating from democracy. Critics point to the loyalists at the heads of public media, the increasing harassment of opposition politicians and judges, the country’s refusal to accept its European Union-mandated quota of refugees, and, especially, a series of dramatic reforms to the court system that may consolidate Law and Justice’s control. The Party says that these are necessary modernizations of Poland’s creaky institutions, which were mostly established after the country negotiated an end to Communist rule, in 1989. “You may disagree,” Nowak told me. “But Kaczyński perceived that the lack of revolutionary change after 1989 was something for which Poland paid very dearly.”
In 2016, Law and Justice lawmakers introduced a bill known as the “Polish-death-camps amendment,” an update to a 1998 law addressing the denial of war crimes. The amendment included a sentence of up to three years in prison for any false claim that “the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.” The amendment was meant, in part, to put an end to the phrase “Polish death camps,” which many Poles feel blames the country for the barbarism that took place on Polish soil. One popular Polish tale holds that the phrase was spread by a postwar West German intelligence unit, to exonerate the German recruits who had worked in the camps.
Nowak said that the Western European and American press, when referring to the perpetrators of the Holocaust, never use the word “German.” “There is always one word: ‘Nazi,’ ” he told me. There is concern that, over time, people might begin to assume that the Nazi death camps in Poland were, in fact, Polish.
The phrase has attained wide currency. President Barack Obama used it, in a 2012 ceremony honoring Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter who, in 1943, gave Franklin Roosevelt an eyewitness account of Jews being transported to Belzec. (Karski himself used the phrase, as the title of an article for Collier’s.)
In the two years after the law was proposed, it made its way through the legislative process, despite warnings from parliamentary committees that its wording was poor and it was essentially unenforceable. On January 26, 2018, the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the bill cleared the Polish parliament, and, in early February, President Andrzej Duda, of Law and Justice, signed it, though he sent it to the constitutional tribunal for review, knowing that parts of it would likely be rejected.
Israel’s Ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, said that the law could be seen as criminalizing Holocaust survivors, many of whom were betrayed to the Nazis by Poles, simply for speaking about their experience. In the furor that ensued, it became clear that the law had backfired: a Polish friend told me about a meme showing two aliens newly arrived on Earth in late January. “Now even we have heard of Polish death camps!” they exclaim.
Nowak opposed the bill—he felt that research, not legal regulation, should shape our judgments of history—but he said that it was “an awkward reaction to a real problem.” He cited a speech that James Comey, then the director of the F.B.I., gave in 2015, at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, in which he spoke of the Holocaust’s perpetrators and their accomplices: Nazis, Poles, and Hungarians. “He numbered just these three names: unnamed Nazis, and two other nations,” Nowak said.
Unlike most European states that were occupied by the Germans, Poland didn’t collaborate with Hitler in any official capacity. After Germany invaded Poland, in September, 1939, the government went into exile, directing the Home Army, the main organization of what was perhaps the largest resistance force in Europe, from London. In contrast to France or Belgium, the Polish state did not administer its occupation, nor did it oversee the extermination camps that the Germans established, largely for Polish Jews. There were no Polish units working under the Waffen S.S., as was the case with Dutch, Norwegian, and Estonian units.
In Warsaw, the Home Army ran information and education networks, provided Jews in hiding outside the ghetto with identity documents, and declared that accepting employment at a concentration camp would be considered treasonous. It executed Poles who betrayed Jews or tried to blackmail them. In the summer of 1942, the Polish government-in-exile relayed intelligence to the Americans and the British about the Nazis’ mass murder at Treblinka, urging the Allies to do something. They did nothing.
Warsaw suffered like no other European capital during the war. Ninety-five per cent of the structures in the Old Town, where the Manteuffel Institute is located, were destroyed by the Germans in the late summer of 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, a desperate bid for sovereignty by the city’s residents. Within nine weeks, more than a hundred and fifty thousand Poles were killed.
When the Soviets took Warsaw from the Nazis, in 1945, they set about shooting Home Army soldiers for participating in political actions that were not organized by Communists. “The Home Army was called Fascist,” Nowak said. “Even right after the war, Polish victims were identified as perpetrators.” This was a continuation of a historical tradition, he argued, dating at least to the eighteenth century, when Voltaire, influenced by his admiration of Catherine the Great, wrote that Poland was the home of “chaos,” “barbarity,” and “fanaticism.” For hundreds of years, Poland’s German and Russian neighbors had depicted Poland as backward and unenlightened, deserving of invasion.
In 2012, Nowak joined Reduta Dobrego Imienia, the Polish League Against Defamation, an organization of private citizens who wrote letters and helped launch lawsuits against media outlets, especially German ones, that perpetuated inaccurate characterizations of Polish history. But now, Nowak said, the group was not necessary; Kaczyński’s government was doing the work.
A few days after my meeting with Nowak, I looked up Comey’s speech. Nowak is a careful speaker, so I was surprised to find that what he’d told me wasn’t entirely true. In his address, Comey said that he asked every F.B.I. special agent he hired to visit the Holocaust Museum, in order to understand the human propensity for moral surrender. “In their minds,” Comey said, “the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places, didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do.”
Jan Pietrzak, an affable eighty-one-year-old with thick white hair and a white mustache, grinned at the crowd that had gathered before a large stage in front of the Royal Castle, in Warsaw, an immense papaya-colored manor at the edge of the Old Town. “I have the blessing of the President to be here!” he shouted into a microphone. “And that’s a big change for me.” That morning, President Duda had stood on the same stage to celebrate the anniversary of the May 3rd Constitution of 1791, the second national constitution in the world. In 1792, Poland was invaded by Russia. Each year, on Constitution Day, the Jan Pietrzak Patriotic Association hosts a performance of the polonaise, a traditional dance. “Kaczyński’s government is the first one that is really betting on the Polish interests,” Pietrzak told me.
Pietrzak is a standup comedian and performer who became famous in the nineteen-sixties as the founder of the Kabaret pod Egidą, a troupe that satirized the Communist regime. In the late seventies, moved by the violent repression of workers’ demonstrations, Pietrzak wrote the song “Let Poland Be Poland,” which became an unofficial anthem of Solidarity, the trade union that started in 1980 in the Lenin Shipyard, in Gdańsk, seeking better pay, safer conditions, and free expression for workers. Pietrzak was an early supporter of Solidarity, and, as the movement grew, he performed his song at workers’ assemblies. In 1982, after the Polish regime declared martial law, the song’s title was swiped for an American television special, hosted by Charlton Heston, which tells the story of the Solidarity struggle through elegies from Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Kirk Douglas, and Henry Fonda. “The song you’re hearing,” Heston says, after dedicating a candle’s “light of freedom” to the people of Poland, “was written recently by a young Pole.” (Pietrzak was forty-four at the time.) Solidarity became a broad social movement, led by the electrician Lech Wałęsa, that pressured the regime to engage in talks to negotiate a bloodless end to Communist rule.
In front of the Royal Castle, Pietrzak bellowed, “The most recent act of regaining independence was the 2015 election!” He moved to the back of the stage as it flooded with young couples. Women in long chiffon dresses, their hair in thick braids laced over their heads, swirled and curtsied around their partners, who wore the double-breasted uniform of eighteenth-century cavalrymen. They descended into the crowd, drawing hundreds of spectators into a promenade around the cobblestoned square, as Chopin’s “Polonaise No. 3” played over loudspeakers and Pietrzak admonished those who declined to join in.
Pietrzak founded his patriotic association during the term of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was a member of the liberal party Civic Platform. Tusk, who was elected in 2007, presided over what was perhaps the most dramatic period of growth in Polish history. Since the nineties, both the economy and salaries have doubled. Peasants, historically Poland’s largest social class, all but disappeared. Among the hulking Stalinist blocks of Warsaw’s city center, skyscrapers—Axa, Deloitte, MetLife—shot up. Sushi shops and espresso bars proliferated. “In how many towns in this country did you have latte before 2005?” Dariusz Stola, who runs the polin Jewish-history museum, quipped. But growth has been uneven. While Warsaw saw the introduction of Uber Eats and Mercedes taxis, rural areas in the east lagged behind. “Every rich person in the country is rich in the first generation,” Stola said. “And that makes a lot of relative deprivation. ‘Why did he become rich? I remember his father being as poor as mine.’ ” After Poland joined the European Union, in 2004, around two million Poles, in a country of thirty-eight million, migrated to other European countries.
“We never got anything from the E.U. for free,” Pietrzak said. “It was part of a deal.” A German official had said recently that Germany received more of the E.U. money invested in Poland, in the form of contracts with German businesses, than it paid into the bloc’s budget. “After democracy started in Poland, most of the banks were German, most of the supermarkets were German, most of the industry was taken over by Germans,” Pietrzak said. “And the people who were involved in Solidarity, we are really sensitive about the independence of the country. We don’t want Poland to go from under Soviet rule to under capitalist rule.”
Tusk, who described his governing philosophy as putting “warm water in the taps,” was the first Polish Prime Minister since 1989 to be reëlected. But, by 2014, when he resigned to take an E.U. leadership position in Brussels, basic economics weren’t enough. “People had been made to feel ashamed of their history—to feel dirty, to feel undereducated, limp, lacking teeth or whatever,” Pietrzak said. “Europe, on the other hand, was portrayed as so beautiful.” Among other scandals, Tusk’s Minister of the Interior was recorded at a popular Warsaw restaurant as saying that the Polish state “exists only theoretically,” and calling one of Tusk’s investment projects “dick, ass, and a pile of stones.”
“Polishness, historical Polishness, was wyszydzić—treated as something laughable,” Nowak told me. This dynamic was enacted in a debate, on Polish-Russian relations, held at the University of Cambridge in January, 2017, between Nowak and Radosław Sikorski, the suave Oxford-educated former Foreign Minister under Civic Platform. Sikorski stood at a podium and opened his remarks with a jovial wisecrack at his rival institution, delivered in a posh accent. After Nowak took his turn, choosing to remain seated, Sikorski returned to the podium and warned him that personal attacks, misquotations, and mistranslations would not be considered persuasive at Cambridge. “Maybe there’s a reason why this university is in the first tenth of the world universities, and I’m afraid not all Polish are in that league yet,” he said, to uncomfortable laughter in the audience.
In the summer of 2017, the sociologist Maciej Gdula interviewed Law and Justice supporters from a provincial town not far from Warsaw, many of whom had benefitted greatly from the economic boom. Still, they felt despised by Polish élites. Kaczyński, they thought, offered a vision in which “you no longer have to go to university, get a mortgage and buy a flat, and declare that you have ‘European values,’ in order to be a fully-fledged member of the Polish nation,” as one reviewer of Gdula’s book, “The New Authoritarianism,” put it.
They were also wary of refugees, who were perceived as being not only costly to the state but cowardly, for having left their families behind. In 2016, when the E.U. asked Poland to accept sixty-five hundred refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, Law and Justice simply refused. In an interview with a Polish newspaper, Kaczyński said that accepting refugees would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country.” That year, however, Poland took in the second-highest number of immigrants in the E.U., mostly from Ukraine.
Kaczyński rarely speaks to foreign media. He made his first appearance in public life in 1962, at the age of thirteen, when he and his twin brother, Lech, starred as the puckish Jacek and Placek in the children’s adventure film “The Two Who Stole the Moon.” Both studied law and became involved in Solidarity, and Jarosław became Lech Wałęsa’s chief of staff in 1990, before turning against Wałęsa and joining a rival faction that argued that some of the liberal leaders of Solidarity had collaborated with the Communists. “Poland is a typical post-colonial state,” the far-right writer Rafał Ziemkiewicz told me. “People hate their élites because they think they don’t deserve it—rather, they collaborated with the occupiers.”
In 2001, that faction, led by Jarosław and Lech, founded Law and Justice. Jarosław served as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007, and Lech served as President from 2005 until his death, in a plane crash, in 2010. Lech was the milder of the two, the softer tone in their duet. Jarosław has never married, and lived with his mother until her death, in 2013. Now he lives with his cats. He opened a bank account for the first time in 2009, does not have a driver’s license, and prefers to eat alone. A person who knows Kaczyński told me that, since the death of his brother, he has acted without the check on his decisions that Lech used to provide. Today, though Kaczyński is merely a member of parliament, he remains the indisputable decision-maker of the nation.
Kaczyński’s defenders say that he hates ethnic nationalism and adheres to a political tradition that is open to anyone who loves Poland. As proof, they point to the fact that Law and Justice negotiated a number of the more extreme clauses out of the final version of the Polish Death Camps bill; these provisions had been inserted by a far-right party. The government is building a museum dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto, and renovating a large Jewish cemetery in the center of Warsaw.
But Kaczyński is also a well-known ally of Tadeusz Rydzyk, a powerful Catholic priest who founded a media empire that includes Radio Maryja, which a 2008 U.S. State Department report called “one of Europe’s most blatantly anti-Semitic media venues.” Law and Justice has given Rydzyk partial control of a planned museum that will focus on the past thousand years of Polish history, including the role played by Poland and Poles in the Second World War. Nowak argues that Kaczyński’s relationship with Rydzyk is strategic. “He doesn’t want to have any opposition on the right,” Nowak said. According to Polish press accounts, institutions affiliated with Rydzyk have received around twenty million dollars in government subsidies. In April, Polish media reported on a meeting between Kaczyński and Rydzyk during which Kaczyński promised to continue “favorable” treatment in exchange for a commitment not to support the creation of a new political party. Adam Michnik, the dissident intellectual who edits Poland’s most influential liberal newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, told me that he worried about a “creeping coup d’état that is transforming Poland into a Putinist-type state.”
After 1945, Stalin controlled Poland’s historical narrative as tightly as he did its economics. Polish war heroes were labelled traitors or Fascists. Because Poland was behind the Iron Curtain, the suffering of ordinary Poles, whom Hitler considered a Slavic sub-race and intended to enslave or annihilate, was underestimated in the West. In Poland, anti-Semitism and Communist paranoia impeded, for nearly fifty years, a full reckoning of what had happened to Eastern European Jews.
In 2000, while living in Princeton, New Jersey, the Polish historian Jan Gross published “Neighbors,” which follows the events of July 10, 1941, in the town of Jedwabne, in eastern Poland. In 1939, after Hitler and Stalin divided Poland, Jedwabne was taken by the Soviet Army, which seized property and sent Poles to the Gulag. Two years later, when the Germans took eastern Poland from the Soviets, they encouraged villagers to believe that the evils of Communism were a Jewish conspiracy that demanded retribution. Still, there can be no explanation for that July day, when, according to Gross, roughly half of the non-Jewish male inhabitants of Jedwabne, led by the mayor, summoned all the Jews, with whom they had lived for generations, to the town’s central square. There the men clubbed and stoned Jews to death, beheaded others, and drowned some in a pond. The survivors were ushered into a barn, which the men doused with kerosene and set on fire. By Gross’s estimate, some fifteen hundred people were burned alive. (Official Polish estimates are lower.)
In Poland, the response to “Neighbors” was a torrent of shame, guilt, anger, contrition, and denial. Essays and debates filled the newspapers. The President publicly asked for forgiveness. A memorial in Jedwabne, claiming that the Gestapo had committed the crime, was removed. But some residents of Jedwabne and their defenders maintained that the murders had been carried out—or, at least, organized—by the Germans. There were calls for Gross, who had received an Order of Merit for previous work, to be stripped of his honor. Eighteen years later, mention of Jan Gross frequently evokes in Poles a sense of gratitude to him for revealing the truth of their history, coupled with vexation at the manner in which his work fosters the perception of Poland as inherently anti-Semitic. “For me, 2001 was the high moment of democratic Poland,” Dariusz Stola, of the polin Jewish museum, told me. “It was so searching, so sincere, so fraught for so many people who read ‘Neighbors’ to talk about something really painful.”
Other scholars followed Gross’s path, using recently opened archives to chronicle similar events that occurred in other towns. “You know, Poland just went through twenty-five years of the best in its history,” Gross told me when I met him in Warsaw. “And, actually, thanks to the work of these historians there was just this sense of genuine response from audiences, that this is finally a society that can confront its own misdeeds.”
Yet, according to surveys, the percentage of people who think that Poles suffered as much as Jews during the war rose from thirty-nine in 1992 to sixty-two in 2012. When high-school students were asked recently in a nationwide poll what happened at Jedwabne, forty-six per cent said that the Germans murdered Poles who were hiding Jews. “After the fall of Communism, there was a tendency to conform to the Western interpretation,” Omer Bartov, a professor of modern European and Jewish history at Brown, told me. Now that Poland is coming into its own, there is a sense that “we don’t need these norms forced on us by the West.”
It is hard to say whether Law and Justice has led or merely followed the trend. In Poland, the ruling party appoints the heads of public media channels; a senior Law and Justice member acknowledged that public-television stations have been turned into official propaganda outlets, which continue to endorse the notion that the Germans were responsible for the massacre in Jedwabne. In 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a long list of “wrong memory codes,” expressions that “falsify the role of Poland during World War II.”
“Memory laws are always about what you should remember and what you should forget,” Bartov told me. Piotr Gliński, the Minister of Culture, argued that taking a position in historical debates is a government prerogative. “Look at other countries!” he said. “Aren’t the governments involved in pushing their version of history—or, not version, just the truth! So there are accusations that we want to rewrite history. No. We didn’t have a part in writing history before. So we want to be a participant.”
On an exceptionally cold afternoon in March, a writer and biographer named Klementyna Suchanow gathered with a group of friends in the parking lot of the Institute of National Remembrance, the agency responsible for managing Poland’s archives and for investigating crimes that took place in the country between 1939 and 1989. In 2016, after the government announced a plan for a near-total ban on abortion, Suchanow took part in a women’s demonstration that was credited with thwarting the legislation. Since then, she has often found herself in the streets, protesting the raucous gatherings of flag-waving, torch-bearing nationalists.
Suchanow and her friends walked up Wołoska Street, a broad avenue lined with glassy office parks, and down a residential lane to the former Mokotów Prison building, its grimy concrete façade still crowned with a spiral of barbed wire. For the past few years, the prison has been the site of an annual march in honor of the Cursed Soldiers, underground fighters who continued in armed combat against the Communists from 1944 to 1956. Law and Justice, whose party program includes a chapter on “identity and historical policy,” has devoted a campaign, which it calls “regaining of memory,” in part to reviving the memory of the Cursed Soldiers. Not surprisingly, that memory has not formed a historical consensus. Some factions were aligned with underground organizations that were not recognized by the government-in-exile, and they were often right-wing anti-Semites who favored a Poland free of Jews. If Poland had become independent after 1945, the government would probably have put many of them on trial, some for murdering civilians, among them ethnic Belarussians and Jews returning after the war. Instead, many Cursed Soldiers ended up at the Mokotów Prison, where the Communists tortured and executed them. Today, Law and Justice is turning the prison into a museum. “They are projecting their own genealogy, a kind of foundation myth of who they are,” Jan Gross said. In 2011, the parliament passed a bill establishing March 1st as an official holiday in honor of the Cursed Soldiers. “We have a new national day, which is celebrated by Fascist movements,” Suchanow told me.
Typically, the police keep opposing protests separated, but Suchanow, a slight, elegant woman with a pixie cut, was allowed to approach the head of the march. It was getting dark, but she could see that the participants were nearly all young men, dressed in a way that suggested that they were from middle-class families. Suchanow noticed that a friend, Rafał Suszek, a physics professor at the University of Warsaw, had gone missing. She phoned her lawyer and headed to the nearest police station, where she found Suszek, who had been beaten by the police. Suchanow was supposed to attend an awards gala that evening, and she called her publisher to say that she probably wouldn’t make it. A few hours later, the publisher called back to tell her that her biography of the novelist Witold Gombrowicz had won the award for Poland’s most important literary work of 2017. He went down to the Mokotów police station with the winner’s basket of Goplana chocolate, which Suchanow and her lawyer ate as they waited for Suszek to be released.
“Hate speech is more and more accepted by this government,” Suchanow told me. A few weeks after the Cursed Soldiers demonstration, neo-Nazis marched through Warsaw, some wearing the S.S. insignia, which is illegal in Poland; the police protected them against far-left counterprotesters.
One evening last December, Suchanow attended a protest after the parliament had passed its most controversial measure to date, which expands the number of seats on the Supreme Court, lowers the retirement age for current judges, and gives the government control over their replacements. The reforms are expected to allow Law and Justice to reshape up to two-thirds of the court. “We were so angry that we could do nothing about it,” Suchanow said. A group of protesters arrived at the Presidential Palace just as a line of black Audis carrying Law and Justice M.P.s pulled up to celebrate the bill’s signing. Suchanow and Suszek began throwing eggs at the legislators’ cars. As the police surrounded them, a photographer took a picture of Suchanow doubled over, an officer grabbing her by the collar of her jacket, and another one of her lying on the pavement, her cheek turned to one side, black police boots straddling her face.
I met Suchanow at a police station, where she was scheduled to give a statement. She pulled out a folder containing a thick stack of white envelopes, summonses that arrived in a constant stream in the mail. She couldn’t remember which infraction she was addressing today—maybe the one for jumping over a barrier at a demonstration, or for protesting earlier changes to the judiciary.
She had gone on trial the previous week for blocking the Independence Day parade, during which marchers chanted, “Pure Poland, White Poland,” and told reporters that they wanted to “remove Jewry from power.” The police had held Suchanow for three hours, supposedly for an I.D. check, a detention that a judge ruled to be illegal. “Over all, the judges are trying to be independent,” Suchanow said. “The change is happening on top, coming from the Ministry, from the government. The people on the bottom are still O.K., not crushed by the system. So that’s good. But we don’t know for how long.”
In late June, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, of Law and Justice, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a joint statement that their dispute had been resolved. Morawiecki said that the offenses described in the Polish Death Camps amendment had been modified from criminal to civil. “Those who say that Poland may be responsible for the crimes of World War Two deserve jail terms,” Morawiecki had said earlier. “But we operate in an international context and we take that into account.” (A former Polish diplomat said that the U.S. had used “brutal political blackmail” to get the Poles to do what the Israelis wanted.)
The Law and Justice government’s treatment of the past, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder told me, was indicative of the way it encouraged Poles to think about themselves. “That we were the greatest victims and nobody will understand us,” Snyder said, “so it doesn’t make sense to talk to others about it.” This is the kind of thinking that makes it difficult for Poland to operate within the European Union. A few days after the changes to the Holocaust bill were made, the European Commission began infringement proceedings against Poland over its judicial reforms. On July 3rd, the reforms went into effect. As the head justice arrived for work, in defiance of the government’s directive that she retire, Warsovians massed in front of the court building, singing the national anthem, “Poland Is Not Yet Lost.”
Meanwhile, the Polish narrative has been appropriated by conservatives across Europe, who applaud a country that has asserted its independence from Brussels and has refused to accept Muslim refugees. In March, after the Italian elections, which were won by outsider parties, Éric Zemmour, one of the most widely read columnists in France, wrote that the media had lectured the public about a divide in Europe between “East and West, between societies that don’t have a long democratic tradition, and ours—old, admirable democracies, multicultural societies distanced from their Christian roots and marked by an impeccable rule of law.” Voters in Britain, Austria, Germany, and now Italy were proving this theory wrong. “Elections in Western Europe show that the people are in agreement with the leaders of the East,” Zemmour wrote.
Some Poles are happy to be cast in the role of saviors of European civilization. Gdula, the sociologist, found that representations of Poland as the “bulwark” protecting Europe from the “flood” of refugees gave many Law and Justice supporters a sense of pride and purpose.
A revolution seemed to be under way, although Warsovians disagreed on whether it was a conservative one or a nationalist one: whether the contempt I encountered among those who opposed Law and Justice was actually a rejection of a government whose values and comportment offended their liberal European sensibilities; or whether their fears were justified, and what was happening represented a tightening of the grip over institutions and civil society that threatened to make Poland an authoritarian state.
In May, Kaczyński was hospitalized, ostensibly for a knee injury, though he ended up staying for a month. He was released, then readmitted a few weeks later, and the health minister acknowledged that this time it was under “life-threatening” circumstances. Most Poles I spoke with agreed that Law and Justice was a coalition that only Kaczyński was capable of holding together. It was reported that it had been Kaczyński who instructed M.P.s to vote for the latest change to the Holocaust amendment, for fear that they wouldn’t follow a directive from the Prime Minister. One might wonder how Kaczyński’s legacy will play out, but Kaczyński, it seemed, was looking behind him. “Kaczyński waited so long, he withstood the pressure,” Andrzej Nowak told me. “He was proven to be right.” ♦
What Brett Kavanaugh Must Be Asked About Torture, Guantánamo, and Mass Surveillance
By Amy Davidson Sorkin July 24, 2018
If Donald Trump were, at some point in his Presidency, to turn to or even, in some wild way, to expand on some of the more dubious practices of the immediate post-9/11 years—mass surveillance, indefinite detention, torture—how might a Supreme Court that included Brett Kavanaugh react? One way to answer that is to ask how Kavanaugh acted back when he was close to what might be called the scene of the crime: he was an associate White House counsel, from 2001 to 2003, when some of his colleagues were turning out memos effectively allowing torture and throwing together plans for Guantánamo and military commissions that lacked crucial constitutional underpinnings. Some of the most notorious of the “torture memos,” as they became known, had been addressed to his boss, Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel. Later, Kavanaugh was a staff secretary for President George W. Bush.
In 2006, Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee, during his confirmation hearings for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, that he’d known nothing about any discussions of those issues until the general public did—for example, after the torture memos became public, in 2004. (The memos were recognized as a source of disgrace, in part because of their efforts to come up with an absurdly narrow definition of torture in order to get around laws banning it, and were eventually withdrawn.) His denials are worth quoting at some length, because they raise yet more questions: whether he told senators the truth twelve years ago—and whether, as a result, they can trust him now. Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, wrote in a Times Op-Ed, posted on Monday, that he believes Kavanaugh provided “a misleading account of his work in the White House,” making a full examination of his paper trail “all the more urgent.”
Kavanaugh was unequivocal at his confirmation hearings. He gave an unqualified “No” when the Judiciary Committee chairman, Arlen Specter, then a Republican, asked if he had had anything to do with issues related to the memos and “allegations of torture,” or to rendition, or, more generally, to “questions relating to detention of inmates at Guantánamo.” (Kavanaugh also said no when Specter asked if he would personally sanction “or participate in” torture.) He told Chuck Schumer that he had not been involved in any discussions about torture, in the context of the memos or otherwise. He then told Dick Durbin, “Senator, I did not—I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants or—and so I do not have the involvement with that.”
Kavanaugh told Senator Leahy that he didn’t even see any documents related to torture or to a Bush-era National Security Agency warrantless-wiretapping program “until they had been “publicly released,” even though, when he was the President’s staff secretary, all manner of documents passed through his hands. “I think with respect to the legal justifications or the policies relating to the treatment of detainees, I was not aware of any issues on that or the legal memos that subsequently came out,” he told Leahy. “This was not part of my docket, either in the counsel’s office or as staff secretary.”
In 2007, though, a year after that hearing, the Washington Post reported on a heated meeting that had taken place at the White House in 2002, which addressed whether the Supreme Court might possibly have a problem with an assertion that the President had absolute discretion to label an American citizen, or anyone else, as an “enemy combatant,” and to detain him or her without any access to counsel. An associate White House counsel named Bradford Berenson made what ought to have been the obvious argument that there were at least five Justices on the Court who wouldn’t like that, at least with regard to citizens. In particular, he thought that Justice Anthony Kennedy wouldn’t go for it. The Post also reported that Berenson had backup from Kavanaugh, who had been a clerk for Kennedy, and “had made the same argument earlier.” In an article published last week, the Postfurther reportedthat Berenson, frustrated with the opposition from David Addington, a lawyer who had worked with Vice-President Dick Cheney, “asked for Kavanaugh to join the conversation. Kavanaugh said he agreed with Berenson that Kennedy would favor a hearing and legal representation for detainees, according to the two former White House officials.” According to the Post’s sources, the meeting devolved into a shouting match that included a table being pounded so strenuously that it sent a tray of nuts flying: “A White House secretary knocked on the door to ask whether everything was all right,” a participant said.
A couple of points are worth noting. First, attending this meeting or even just contributing a reading of Justice Kennedy’s likely view would seem to constitute taking part in a discussion on detention policies, and thus to contradict Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony. (Kavanaugh didn’t respond to the Post’s request for comment on the new story. Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, told the paper that “Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony accurately reflected the facts.”) When the 2007 report came out, Durbin told National Public Radio that he felt “perilously close to being lied to”; he also sent Kavanaugh a letter saying, “it appears that you misled me, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the nation.” He asked Kavanaugh for “an explanation for this apparent contradiction.”According to Durbin, he never really got one. The day after President Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination, Durbin tweeted out an image of the letter with the comment, “I’m still waiting for an answer.”
Durbin, like Leahy and other Senate Democrats, argues that the conflict means that today’s Judiciary Committee can’t take Kavanaugh’s other denials at face value, either—that they need to see all the documents that he handled in the White House, and also maybe from when he was working for Ken Starr, the independent counsel, during the Clinton years. Even if the documents were, on the face of it, “innocent,” Durbin suggested last week, they might catch Kavanaugh in some sort of an untruth. Would it matter, in this political environment, if they did? The Democrats got some encouragement last week, when the Trump Administration withdrew its nominee for a seat on the Ninth Circuit, Ryan Bounds, after articles that he’d written as a undergraduate at Stanford, in which, among other things, he compared members of campus minority-activist groups to Nazis, proved too much for Republican senators Tim Scott, of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio, of Florida. They said that they would not support him; with a Republican majority of only 51–49 (and really one vote less, given Senator John McCain’s illness), that was enough to kill it. But the stakes in that case, and the pressure on senators to stay in line, were not as high as with a Supreme Court nomination. The Republicans have argued that the Democrats don’t really care what’s in the Kavanaugh documents—many have already said that they will oppose him, after all—and that they are just trying to stall until after the midterms, hoping that they will win a majority and be able to reject the nomination without any Republican votes. The corollary to that complaint is that the Republicans don’t care what’s in them, either. They just want Kavanaugh’s seat on the Court secured before November.
But another question has to do with that argument in the White House in 2002. The Bush White House ignored the warnings about its policies not standing up to the Supreme Court’s scrutiny and went ahead and adopted a startlingly expansive view of its own powers over “enemy combatants.” Presidents tend to think like that, and yet the President we have now might come to make his predecessors seem modest on this score. The Supreme Court, with Kennedy’s vote, did eventually push back against and restrain the Bush Administration. Kavanaugh needs to be asked not only whether he did, indeed, contribute to the earlier discussions regarding what Kennedy might do, but whether he thought that what Kennedy did do was right. How would Kavanaugh have voted, and how might he vote if Trump did half the things that he threatens to do in his tweets, such as stripping those he considers disloyal of their citizenship? What does Kavanaugh think of the ahistorical rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of birthright citizenship, outlined in a recent Washington Post piece by Michael Anton, a former Trump official, that the President has suggested he shares? Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings could become a forum for discussions that Americans never fully had, not only about accountability for torture but about challenges to our ideals that we are only beginning to glimpse.
What did Kavanaugh himself mean, for that matter, when, as a judge and not a staff lawyer, he wrote that he regarded the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of the telephone metadata of almost every American as “entirely consistent” with the Constitution? He added that, even if the bulk collection counted as a search limited by the Fourth Amendment—and he felt that it didn’t—it would be allowed because of the “special need” that the government has to prevent terrorism. “In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this program,” he wrote. That challenge was eventually rendered moot, because the Obama Administration and Congress acted to change the N.S.A.’s practices; those moves could, though, be reversed, and a new program brought to court again. The pretense that such discussions are taking place in some distant room is not one that can still be honestly maintained, if it ever could be. They are part of Brett Kavanaugh’s docket now.
2017 was deadly for environmental activists across the world
More than 200 were killed worldwide — more than half of them in Latin America.
By Luke Barnes July 25, 2018
Environmental, land, and indigenous activists are being killed at a record rate and governments are turning a blind eye, according to a new report by the watchdog group Global Witness.
According to the report, at least 207 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2017. More than half (60 percent) of the murders took place in Latin America, with Brazil recording 57 killings, Colombia 24 and Mexico 15. The report also stressed that documenting and verifying these murders — particularly in Africa — was extremely difficult, so the real figure might be even higher.
“[Government and business’] willingness to turn a blind eye has permitted the systematic impunity that lets perpetrators know they will almost certainly never be brought to justice,” the report reads. “In fact, governments are often complicit in the attacks.”
The report singled out the threat that indigenous communities face. While the number of indigenous victims fell from 40 percent in 2016 to 25 percent in 2017, they still are a massively over-represented group of victims.
In 2016 one of those victims was Berta Cáceres, an indigenous activist who was fighting against the construction of the Agua Zarca Dam in Honduras. In March 2018 police arrested nine individuals in connections with Cáceres’ death — four with ties to the Honduran military. One of the suspects, Castillo Mejía, was also the executive president of the company charged with building the dam.
The Cáceres case highlights a consistent pattern that continued through 2017; activist and protesters falling foul of big business interests and paying a deadly price. Of the 207 documented victims last year, 46 were killed protesting against large-scale agriculture, another 40 against mining and oil, and 23 against logging and poaching each. Many of the murders were linked to government security services.
“Global Witness data shows that it is often government security forces committing the crimes,” the report reads. “They were linked to around a quarter of the murders last year — 30 linked to the army and 23 to the police.”
While activists in Latin America bore the brunt of the violence, one of the most alarming developments took place in the Philippines, which saw a 71 percent increase in killing to make it the second deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders, after Brazil. At least 48 were killed in the Philippines in 2017, fueled by President Rodrigo Duterte’s militarism and lack of respect for human rights.
One such incident occurred in late December 2017, when the Filipino military attacked the town of Lake Sebu, in the far south of the country, where the local Tabloi-manubo community had opposed a 300-hectare expansion of a coffee plantation over their ancestral land. According to Global Witness, at least eight members of the community where killed, 10 were missing and more than 200 were forced to flee the area.
“When I got there, the place was covered in empty bullet shells,” environmental defender Rene Pamplona said. “It made me think: all these indigenous people ever wanted was to be able to reclaim their ancestral lands and live in peace.”