Best columns: Europe
Taking revenge on former Communists
Our right-wing government is only interested in “revenge and populism,” said Wojciech Czuchnowski. The ruling Law and Justice party last week announced a plan to cut the pensions of about 32,000 people who served in Poland’s feared Communist-era security services. Some former members of the secret police receive monthly pension payments in excess of $4,000 a month. Under the new regulations, they’d get just $500 a month—the same as the average pensioner. “We are restoring social justice,” said Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who argued that ex-Communists shouldn’t receive more than the people they repressed. But there is nothing just about this cut. When Communism collapsed in 1989, security officers who were found to have persecuted pro-democracy activists were barred from public office. Those who were assessed positively were given the chance to work for democratic Poland—and most did so brilliantly. A police officer who worked briefly for the Communists, and then served 20 or more years in free Poland, will now see his pension slashed. The government claims that such cuts will help those jailed and tortured by the secret police, but not a penny of the $120 million in expected annual savings is being set aside for those victims. This is nothing more than a cynical cash grab wrapped up in anti-Communist hysteria.
Merkel can’t save the free world
Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)
Many politicians have made the mistake of underestimating Angela Merkel, said Gunnar Jonsson. They were fooled by the chancellor’s quiet, competent approach, only to discover at the last minute that she had outmaneuvered them. But there is now a real danger in overestimating Merkel, who announced last week that she would run for a fourth term as chancellor in 2017. After the U.K. voted for Brexit and the U.S. elected a “wild man named Donald Trump,” liberals around the world have looked expectantly to Berlin, hoping Merkel “will take care of the entire free world.” She can’t. Her political power is diminishing at home, in part because of her decision last year to let some 1 million refugees settle in Germany. Her role as the unchallenged leader of the EU is being undermined by the rise of populist, nationalist parties across the Continent—reactionary movements fed by Merkel’s insistence that austerity, not public spending, is the cure for Europe’s economic ills. And if Trump continues cozying up to Russia and pulls back from the Atlantic alliance, Germany cannot “replace the Americans as NATO’s spine.” Its military is too small and its pacifist instincts too strong. “Germany needs a peaceful world order to export its cars.” But Merkel cannot shape that world.