It’s not been a good few days for Poland. First off, during a debate on equal rights, on Women’s Day as well, we had a Polish MEP, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, stating that “women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent”. The issue on how to deal with this is still currently being decided on, while all along Korwin-Mikke is appearing on TV stations across Europe defending his stance with a combination of dog ignorance and defiant confidence. To add insult to injury, having announced a few days previously that they would in no uncertain terms support their fellow Pole, Donald Tusk, in his re-election as the President of the European Council, the Polish government now face universal criticism for their position.
Beata Szydlo, Poland’s Prime Minister, was forthright and insistent in her statement that Tusk, the former leader of rival party, Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform, or PO), was in violation of his mandate due to his involvement in local Polish polices. As a result, she refused to sign off the summit’s final statement as a protest. “Poland has a right to veto the conclusions – and Poland is exercising that right. He does not have the support of his home country – that’s sufficient reason for him not to be appointed,” Beata Szydlo said.
Despite the disapproval by Poland’s government, the remaining 27 leaders voted to elect Tusk for another two-and-a-half-year term.
Poland now looks isolated and perplexing in the current light and it seems like political suicide for them to adopt a parish politics decision on such a large international stage. The result is that Warsaw is washing its dirty laundry in the forecourt of the EU with all their neighbors shaking their heads in both disapproval and pity. There is no secret that PiS under Jaroslaw Kaczynski has nothing but disdain for Tusk and the party he represents. They were once kindred spirits as young men in the Solidarity movement, but once the fight against the communist government was over, that allegiance was soon discarded as both men went in opposite directions. Now we may be seeing Szydlo make all the speeches and face the EU, but make no mistake, it is Kaczynski that is pulling the strings. He still controls Law & Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or PiS) with an almost fundamental grip. And he makes no secret that among the many conspiracies he believes in, his biggest one is that the the plane crash in Smolensk in April 2010 that killed his twin brother and the then Polish President Lech Kaczynski and all 95 others on board, was an act of sabotage. He also believes that Tusk, as the Prime Minister at that time, is “morally responsible” and should be brought to trial for his actions or lack thereof. And all of this despite the fact that there have been two separate investigations into the accident, both of which determined that the cause was pilot error.
Kaczynski and Tusk in earlier days
To the average person, it would seem that Kaczynski is acting as if on a personal vendetta to avenge his brother’s death and his motives seem to depict a man seemingly unhinged by the tragedy.
So is this maneuver by PiS just that? A hard core act or revenge against a so-called traitor of the people, or is it more calculated and based even deeper in parish politics?
There is no doubt that whatever the now heavily muzzled Polish media may say, Donald Tusk is still a popular man in Poland. He is seen as a great example of the local boy done good. His rise to the heights of the EU has been swift and successful and he commands respect throughout the EU and further afield. His command of politics is impressive and one would think that he would have the potential to move even higher up the international political sphere, maybe as a potential UN Commissioner.
But would that be his future path? One can’t be sure, but it could be that the powers in Warsaw are fixing the game so they win either way. They may have feared that if Tusk had failed to be reelected, he could have done a Martin Schulz and made his way back home and established himself as a real threat to the current government. So was the decision to completely ignore him just based on sheer dislike and personal grudges, or did it go even deeper and became a calculated turnabout to ensure that Tusk stayed where he was? By being so defiant, did Kaczynski ensure that the rest of the EU member states, even including the likes of Orban, voted out of sheer annoyance at Poland and thus he made sure that the cunning plan worked?
Jarosław Kaczynski and Beata Szydlo
It’s certainly a conspiracy that Mr. Kaczynski would probably relish and he would most likely enjoy it being told back to him. And it would be true to form when you look at how right wing governments work. They thrive on populist distractions, be it abortion amendments or calls for public humiliation of rivals. Because distractions like these ensure that the public have their eyes off the ball and give the likes of PiS valuable time to implement more dangerous policies out of the public eye. So although it would have to be a very calculated risk, it seems that if this was their plan, they succeeded. Tusk is in Brussels for another year or two and Kaczynski and his cronies can stand firm, knowing that they have delighted their hard core party members and possibly brought in potential members, who so far were undecided, but now feel that they must defend the honour of Poland by supporting the current government. They never cared about the left of centre voters, as they know that those parts of the Polish public would never vote for them no matter what. But what has happened is that Kaczynski has just bought more time. And he will use this time to ensure that he stays in power, be that by legal means of something else.
Of course, I could be completely wrong in my assumption and I am probably giving the old guy far too much credit when it comes to secret schemes, and, to be honest, I hope I am wrong. But no matter how I try to look at it, something still smells fishy to me. What’s the worst that can happen? Poland will be in the bad books of Junker for a while, but eventually something else will come along and their awkward position will be forgotten. In the meantime, Kaczynski and his crew will continue to up the levels of hypocrisy mixed in with nationalistic fervour, while all along chipping at the Polish democratic system in an attempt to stay in power.
This whole idea could be seen as outlandish, improbable and preposterous, but nevertheless, it’s true to form in the current political game.