Our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption. The same applies to our view of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one.
—Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History
In the 2005 movie La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz’s stinging vision of the plight of the Parisian suburbs, one of the characters tells a joke: “Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: ‘so far, so good … so far, so good … so far, so good.’ How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land.” In Warsaw, this joke has recently come back in style. We repeat it at numerous social occasions, though the majority of our friends do not find it funny. It is too accurate.
So far, so good. The axe has not fallen yet. A majority of art institutions remain active. New museums are planned. Some are already under construction. Grants and stipends are still distributed. Censorship is rare, and, as of now, only two state-run theaters have new directors imposed by the government. Gallery weekends are still organized. Nobody has yet been imprisoned or assassinated. Artists, curators, and intellectuals plan projects, produce artworks, write texts.
Yet, the hard landing is approaching. The fall began last May, when the hard-right Law and Justice Party upset the Civic Platform in parliamentary elections. Since then, the Polish constitutional court has been dismantled. The central courts have been staffed with judges approved by the ruling party, after the former judges were sent away. Publicly owned media outlets—now rebranded “the national media”—have been taken over by nationalists installed by the government. Racial hatred is on the rise and receives official blessing in the government’s tirades against refugees. When the Pope speaks against gender, he is applauded. When he speaks about refugees, he is corrected. There are laws debated in Parliament which, if enacted, would result in the penalization of women for any attempt to terminate pregnancies or even for accidental miscarriages. Fascist marches are organized to celebrate any occasion, most recently to commemorate the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, when 200,000 Poles lost their lives. It is hard to imagine what the father of the Kaczyński twins, a fighter in the Uprising, would feel seeing his own son, Jarosław, reinstalling fascism in the city he once defended against fascist Germany. Mr. Jarosław Kaczyński is now continuing the conservative model first imposed on Poland by his twin brother, Lech, who died in a famous plane crash in Russia in 2010. For legal inspiration the ruling party turns to Carl Schmitt, the major ideologue of Nazi Germany. Mr. Marek Cichocki, the conservative political philosopher, translator of Carl Schmitt into Polish, and active propagator of his thought, was among the deceased president’s main advisors. In Schmitt’s political doctrine the sovereign is beyond, or above, the law. There is no possibility of negotiation and no such thing as accountability for sovereign power. We see this very clearly in Poland today.
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