New President Komorowski Path Clear for Reforms in Poland

Poland's new President Bronislaw Komorowski is a close friend and political ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his election is bound to clear the way for tough reforms in Poland. It is, however, by no means the end of the Kaczynski era.

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New President Bronislaw Komorowski.
AP

New President Bronislaw Komorowski.


Prime Minister Donald Tusk is not one for showing his emotions. But on Sunday evening, he could barely pull himself together. "It is one of the most beautiful moments of my life," he said.

His comment came as the first exit polls indicated that his Civil Platform's candidate, Bronislaw Komorowski, had won the second round of the presidential election with just over 50 percent of the votes. A personal friend and someone who shares 100 percent of his political views would thus be taking up residence in Warsaw's presidential palace.

It was just by a whisker that Tusk avoided seeing another Kaczynski brother move into the palace. Jaroslaw Kaczynski just barely missed out on replacing his twin brother Lech, who died in the terrible air crash near Smolensk in April. Lech never made things easy for Tusk. He wanted to have an equal say in foreign policy and often put a halt to legislation with his veto.

Now the way is clear for Tusk, as his Civic Platform (PO) has a monopoly on state power.

Tusk and Komorowski have much in common: they are pragmatists rather than ideologues, reserved not blustering, and open to the world -- while also being a bit boring. Both can point to exemplary anti-communist credentials: Komorowski was born in Silesia in 1952, studied history in Warsaw and became a dissident. In 1981 the communist authorities sought to stifle the Soldarnosc movement and Komorowski was detained. After the fall of the regime in 1989 he was elected to parliament. He has been parliament speaker since 2007 and became acting president following Lech Kaczynski's death in April.

Peaceful Relations with Neighbors

From the point of view of Poland's neighbors the new constellation in Warsaw is positive. Tusk and Komorowski are in favor of a conciliatory approach toward both the Germans and the Russians. They are, to be sure, opposed to the planned Berlin museum to commemorate Germans expelled from Polish territory after World War II. They are also against the Baltic Sea pipeline between Russia and Germany. But they are much less shrill about their opposition than the Kaczynskis were.

Tusk and Komorowski don't regard the Berlin government as henchmen for the Federation of Expellees nor do they believe that the Germans as a whole are attempting to wash away any guilt for World War II. Since Tusk has been in power, the tone between the two neighbors has been much more respectful.

The prime minister and his new president also have an unambiguously positive relationship to the EU. They are in favor of Poland adopting the euro as its currency as soon as possible. Lech Kaczynski and his brother were always torn on the issue. On the one hand, they acknowledged that Poland was doing well within the EU, but on the other hand they feared that the country could fall under the influence of the hegemonic power of Germany or that Brussels would destroy Poland's national character with directives on issues like gay marriage, for example. That made Poland under the Kaczynskis an uncomfortable, demanding partner, one that often enraged those attending meetings in Brussels.

The Poles are now waiting to see if Tusk and Komorowski will use their new complete hold on power to introduce domestic reforms. The state bureaucracy has to be cleared out, the pension and health systems need to be overhauled and an economy that has been doing well despite the crisis has to be kept going. Tusk's government, though, not achieved much so far -- and the prime minister has always blamed the Kaczynski presidency for blocking his path. That excuse is no longer valid.

Sick of Polemics

Three months after the tragic accident in Smolensk and now with the defeat of Jaroslaw, is the era of the Kaczynski twins finally over? Not at all. The national-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) was still able to attract 48 percent of the voters. That is an enormous success. The first opinion polls at the beginning of the campaign had only given Jaroslaw Kaczynski 20 percent.

Much of Kaczynski's success, of course, came from sympathy. The fact that following such a terrible private tragedy -- the loss of a twin, his mother on her deathbed for months -- Kaczynski contested the election at all has made him a legend to his supporters. The situation seemed futile, the fighting was brave and in the end complete defeat was avoided -- as so often in Poland's heroic history.

Many commentators even believe that Kaczynski never expected to win at all, rather that from the very beginning he was looking for the moral victory that he has now won. Indeed, he is more of a political man of action; he would have had little interest in the ceremonial aspects of the presidency, they argue. Now with fresh impetus from the election, Kaczynski can torment Tusk from the opposition benches, the idea goes, and perhaps even steal next year's parliamentary election. That, though, won't be so easy. Polish voters are sick of the polemics of the past few years. They want peace and harmony.

As such, Kaczynski now has to develop a more positive vision, something that has never been one of his strengths. He and his brother tended to mobilize people by focusing on the negative: those who voted PiS were usually voting against the old boys' network of communists within the economy, or the new boys' networks of dissidents in the media or against the revisionist Germans.

Kaczynski did not even mention these themes during his presidential election campaign. As a populist he knows that the ghosts of the past have lost their ability to shock. And his sympathy bonus will get smaller for every day that the tragedy of Smolensk recedes further into the past.

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