Poland's Balancing Act The Left Wing, the Far Right and the Kaczynskis
The power of the Kaczynski twins in Poland rests on a coalition of left-wing populists and right-wing nationalists. It's an arrangement that is increasingly difficult to maintain.
Father Tadeusz Rydzyk rarely goes public. Indeed, the 61-year-old founder of the national Catholic media conglomerate that controls Poland's Radio Maryja only takes to the airwaves himself on especially important occasions. As was the case a few weeks ago.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Merkel's husband Joachim Sauer and Kaczynski's wife Maria Kaczynska in Poland on Saturday.
The "cesspool" Rydzyk was talking about was a meeting of 50 women journalists with Maria Kaczynska, the wife of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski. To mark International Women's Day, the Polish first lady and her guests had signed a statement to protest a tightening of the country's already extremely strict abortion laws.
Rydzyk's tone is nothing new. The Polish clergyman over the years has never shied away from launching vigorous verbal onslaughts against those who don't see eye to eye with him. The target of his most recent outburst, though, is something of a novelty. Radio Maryja has been a consistent supporter of Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minster Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in the past. The two owe much of their political success to the station.
Which makes the surprise attack from the right all the more interesting. So far, the twins have managed to keep a tight lid on their right-wing nationalist and populist partners. But now, it seems, the right is fearful it could be forced into political insignificance -- and has chosen to launch a counterattack.
It is an assault from within. In the wake of its double victory in the parliamentary and presidential elections in the fall of 2005, the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice party (PiS) entered into a risky alliance: with the populist left-wingers surrounding Andrzej Lepper and the right-wing nationalist League of Polish Families (LPF), under its party leader Roman Giertych.
It didn't take long for the Kaczynskis to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of the two parties. To ingratiate themselves with the former, they have complained loudly about a supposedly overpowering and egotistical Germany. To seek the approval of the latter they have made bold social promises. But in neither case were they forced to make any political concessions. Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are strict nationalists and harbor a deep-seated mistrust of Poland's neighbor to the West.
Their campaign has apparently been successful. According to opinion polls, Lepper's farmers' alliance, after entering the parliament last year as Poland's third-strongest political force, currently enjoys the support of only 6 percent of voters. Giertych's LPF, for its part, would not make it into parliament today.
"The twins managed to integrate the political fringe and then weaken it. But they also want to appeal to urban, liberal-conservative voters," says Kai-Olaf Lang, a Poland specialist with the Berlin-based Foundation of Science and Politics. "They want to turn their party into a right-leaning, socially-minded populist party."
In Polish cities, many object to the brothers' aggressive stance toward Germany and Europe. But it is precisely here that the twins have shown some flexibility in recent weeks. Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga cautiously signalled a willingness to discuss the EU constitution. The once-cantankerous Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski made a visible effort to be affable when German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Poland on Friday for a weekend visit.
Safe sex brochures
But arch-nationalist Roman Giertych isn't letting himself be pushed aside that easily. Indeed, he has recently managed to create some political distance between himself and the brothers. The 36-year-old LPF leader -- who is currently the minister of education -- demanded that abortions be banned even if the life of the expectant mother is at risk, and even if she is the victim of rape or if the newborn child is likely to be severely disabled. He also demanded that teachers face prison sentences or fines for "propagating homosexuality." In other words, if Giertych has his way an educator who allows a gay organization to distribute safe sex brochures could face the possibility of prison time.
Merkel did her best to keep the mood light during her weekend visit.
The fact that President Lech Kaczynski dispatched his wife to rebuff the proposed tightening of abortion legislation highlights the brothers' dilemma. They are disinclined to scare away liberal party supporters, and yet they want the proponents of radical, right-wing positions to feel that they too have a place in the ruling coalition.
But the Polish president is just as miffed about the Radio Maryja attacks as he once was over a German newspaper's labelling him "Poland's new potato." "My wife was insulted," the president said. But his brother has already sent his emissaries to meet with the powerful clergyman and settle the quarrel.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan