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Submitted by admin on Sat, 11/17/2018 - 15:05
It's better to cooperate

Or a Kikuz'15 mayor

A Sejm deputy, IT technician and a person who won a fight with cancer. Wojciech Bakun, from the Kikuz'15 movement has just become the new mayor of Przemyśl. His success speaks volumes about problems faced by smaller towns in Poland.

Przemyśl. A former voivodeship city. Population: 62 thousand. And only one public swimming pool, the other, located in a hotel, is a commercial venture. During the week, it seems to be permanently booked up. Mainly by schools. Only a few time slots are left for others, like around 11:00 or after 8:00 pm.

- We did not promise miracles, just hard work. Building of an aqua park was the only major investment in our programme. 99 per cent of the residents support this idea - says Wojciech Bakun in an interview for "Do Rzeczy". He just won a landslide victory in the second round of voting for the town's mayor. I am sceptical whether winning or losing elections can hinge on a promise to build a larger swimming pool. Well, it’s not only about the swimming pool. - There is no sports centre, a real stadium, not to mention a concert hall. The city doesn't have much to offer by way of leisure activities - explains the politician.

And that is why more people are leaving than coming to the town.

To stay alive until the New Year

Bakun is one of the few Przemyśl residents who've retuned. In 2006, as a 37 year old he went to Ireland, and stayed away for 7 years. University educated (albeit without a Master's degree), an IT technician, he tried his hand at a number of jobs - from the construction industry to mowing lawns on golf courses. For him, returning to Przemyśl was easier than for others - he has his own flat there and another one in Lublin.

- And anyway, as an IT technician I was able to work from anywhere. I was also mulling over a number of business ideas - he says. Nevertheless, his return had nothing to do with the desire to set up his own business, but to sort out his life. In 2012 he was given a diagnosis, which sounded like a death sentence: cancer, resulting from chronic large intestine and bile duct diseases. - In April a doctor told me: you'll be lucky to last until the New Year. I was thirty years old and married with two children: a seven year old and a new-born baby. I had to alter my way of thinking: in the past I led a hectic life which mostly revolved around money. Now the proportions have changed: yes, I still work a lot, but I could be doing more, I could be making more money.

But what for? - asks the politician. - Luckily, because it was diagnosed early, the treatment was successful. Well, doctors don't have an explanation for everything. I was able to beat back the disease without chemotherapy. For me, getting better was a minor miracle - he adds. Returning to Poland and Przemyśl, he was able to see our problems from a different perspective. - I was truly moved after watching a documentary about shredding constitutional referendum proposal signatures. I had no idea citizens and their rights could be treated in such way - says Bakun, who initially became involved with the Zmieleni (Shredded) association before joining Paweł Kukiz's presidential campaign. 

He became a Sejm Deputy - perhaps not the most recognisable in the media, albeit an active one: he is amongst the leading Polish Deputies in terms of the number of submitted parliamentary questions. Ideologically he stands shoulder to shoulder with those Kukiz'15 politicians who have been drawn to politics by postulates of changing the constitution and empowering citizens.

Why did he decide to abandon parliamentary work after three years? - I was disillusioned. Even though I consider myself to be an active person, I made little impact on the world around us. Too many decisions have to follow the party whip. It annoys me, when, in the corridors one Deputy is scolding another for supporting building of a road in a commune where a different party won a majority. And the reason? "Why make it easy for them?" - he explains. As mayor, I will be able to do much more.

Time for changes

Przemyśl, just as many other small and medium size town, suffers from stagnation. In his report, dr Przemysław Śleszyński from the Polish Academy of Sciences identified the symptoms: major loss of functions, highly unfavourable social and economic situation. Unless something changes, only 39 thousand residents will be left in Przemyśl by 2050. Data confirms statements such as these. Since 2002 the town has shed almost 10 per cent of its registered residents. And in reality this figure is probably even higher. The town is ageing rapidly - in 2010, 28 per cent of the population was classified as elderly, whereas by 2016 this figure grew to 37 per cent, significantly exceeding the youth population (26 per cent). The town is facing an 11 per cent unemployment rate - high for Poland. It is also the home to a subzone of the Tarnobrzeg Special Economic Zone. However, it is far from being used to full capacity. There are only a few medium sized businesses in Przemyśl. Inglot, a cosmetics manufacturer is perhaps the best known out of those which operate out of the town.

If local elections were all about power politics, then Janusz Hamryszczak the current Law and Justice (PiS) deputy mayor should have won. Przemyśl is the home town of Marek Kuchciński, Speaker of the Sejm. Local government assembly elections gave PiS 50 per cent of the vote in the district which Przemyśl is a part of - with Hamryszczak managing only just over half as much in the first round of voting. It has to be said that Jarosław Kaczyński's party did not field candidates in half of the electoral districts. Talking to the residents, this was seen as the local leader's incompetence. And it was possible to vote for him across the entire town. However, that does not explain why Bakun made it to the second round. Nor why he utterly obliterated his opponent with nearly 75 per cent of the vote in the second round, or why traditional Civic Coalition and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) voters decided to support a Kukiz'15 candidate.

Robert Choma, originally associated with PiS, presided over Przemyśl for 16 years. However, when it turned out that during the communist era he had signed an obligation to cooperate with the dreaded Security Service (SB), he was ousted from the party. Over the last four years he run the town in coalition with PiS. - The town needed a change, many, and particularly younger people, were openly supporting Wojciech Bakun. Even though his campaign was lacking a coherent programme, people saw him as a newcomer, not associated with those entrenched in local politics for years from PiS as well as other parties and movements - said Marek Rząsa, a Przemyśl Civic Platform Deputy in an interview for "Do Rzeczy". - Wojciech may not have abundant experience or knowledge, but his motivation more than makes up for those shortcomings. Above all, he was handed a powerful mandate to govern by the strength of the vote (more than 17 thousand people voted for him). He wants to build a coalition with everyone: I couldn't help but smile when I heard this. However, maybe there is something in this idea. With a result such as this, it will be difficult for the opposition to criticise him. It's better to cooperate.

Sometimes a team is straggling with a problem, unable to fund a solution, until someone young comes along and presto, problem solved - says the politician.

The Ukrainian card

Some external commentators see conflicts associated with national minorities as the root of the problem. The boss of TV Biełsat was outraged when Bakun made it to the second round. In a Facebook post, Agnieszka Romaszewska wrote: "that's what you get when you cosy up to and nurture anti-Ukranians". She pointed out that the new mayor of Przemyśl does not shy away from individuals associated with the local nationalist circles. Nationalists did support Bakun and truth be told, in this town with a Ukrainian population of just under 3 thousand (not new arrivals but part of a long-standing community), ethnic relations are tense. Ukrainian nationalist proclaim that the Przemyśl region ought to be part of Ukraine. Two years ago a group of nationalists wanted to break up an annual, Ukrainian Greek Catholic procession commemorating Symon Petliura's soldiers interned in Przemyśl - Puklice in 1918. A struggle ensued, a red-black embroidered shirt was torn off one of the participants. Apparently it glorified the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). On the other hand Ukrainians scorn the March of the Przemyśl Eaglets, commemorating the young Polish soldiers who died whilst defending our newly emerged country a hundred years ago.

The murky depths of various election campaigns are full of Ukrainian heritage accusations. This time Bakun himself fell victim to this smear camping (even though there is nothing wrong with Ukrainian heritage). However, he never denied the fact that his wife is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic. - We are a family just like many others in these parts. And when it comes to cooperation with nationalist circles, I just try to manage them. That is the role of politicians. I want to curtail the radicalism evident in commemorating important anniversaries and focus on cultural events. I want to show that flares and inflammatory slogans are not the only way to show remembrance - he says.

However, it wasn't the Ukrainian question that pushed Bakun to victory. Nor his ideas for national policies. And his party allegiance did not help either - he is an odd one out in the Kukiz'15 team, who managed to win elections and become a steward of his town. Przemyśl had decided that problems faced by local communities are most important. And this holds true for every other town. And it would be good if Bakun, together with the other newly-elected local government members, kept that in mid throughout the forthcoming five tears.

Stefan Sękowski

The author is a deputy director of Nowa Konfederacja thinkzine.

source: Do Rzeczy, photo: