Twin Pillars of Populism: The Kaczynski Twins Are Taking Poland by Storm

By in Warsaw

The two vocal populists are almost impossible to tell apart, but Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are rocketing to the top of Poland's political establishment. Soon, both the prime minister's office as well as the presidency may be in their hands. And they have a plan for what to do with their power.

Meet the Kaczynski brothers.
DPA

Meet the Kaczynski brothers.

All of Poland knows the two small, roundish -- and virtually identical -- men. For weeks, even months, they have been smiling down from campaign posters and parading through the nation's political talk shows. Yet for all their media presence, one question occupies most of the electorate: How does one tell these two apart? After all, Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are identical twins -- and the only differences are a tiny birthmark on one of their noses and the slightly unkempt hair of the other.

The two brothers have become shooting stars in Polish politics. They have both managed to cut through the political apathy of the population and have neatly divided it into enthusiastic devotees or vehement detractors. The two brothers, as it turns out, are not much for middle-of-the-road vapidity. On the contrary. The two are populists -- and they peddle their Catholic-nationalist worldview energetically and with little consideration for their political opponents.

And they are wildly successful. On Sept. 25, the party they both lead, the Law and Order Party (PiS), won the country's parliamentary elections meaning Poland's next prime minister will come from their ranks. This Sunday, the Poles go to the polls again -- this time to cast their ballots for the position of president. Lech Kaczynski, current mayor of Warsaw, is one of the leading candidates. Their successes are being viewed with some trepidation by their neighbors.

Modern day Hitler-Stalin pact

Recently, for example, the two of them attacked a planned natural gas pipeline agreed to by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin by comparing it with the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact, which resulted in the partition of Poland. Lech, who is currently the mayor of Warsaw, also made headlines early this year by banning the gay and lesbian parade in Poland's capital. He said the event was damaging to Polish youth.

Mostly, though, the brothers' are characterized by a deep mistrust of Russia and Germany. They were born in 1949 in the rubble of an almost completely destroyed Warsaw. They grew up with the results of the Nazi occupation and under the subsequent hegemony of the Soviet Union. Even now, they are still warning of the danger of allowing Germany too great an influence in the European Union. They are also deeply mistrustful of that group of Germans expelled from Poland following World War II, suspecting them of wanting to someday retake parts of western Poland. Indeed, the two have already threatened that Germany should be made to pay reparations to Poland for World War II damage. For Warsaw alone, Lech has calculated a sum between $30 and 40 billion.

Here's Jaroslaw, who led his Law and Order Party to victors in Sept. parliamentary elections.
REUTERS

Here's Jaroslaw, who led his Law and Order Party to victors in Sept. parliamentary elections.

The brothers, both trained in law, have been politically active since they went to university together. They were part of the underground and belonged to the Workers' Defense Committee (KOR), a group of academics where many of the Solidarity intellectuals got their start. In 1980, in fact, they were in Gdansk for the founding of Solidarity. That only Lech Kaczynski did a stint in prison in 1981 was pure luck: The police thought that the existence of a second Kaczynski with the same birth date as the first was a typo.

It didn't take long for the two -- known as the "ducks" for a last name that recalls the Polish word for "duck", if not for their physical stature -- to become part of Lech Walesa's inner circle. Following the fall of the communist government in 1989, they both took high positions in the new government, but they quickly butted heads with Walesa. He refused their demand to rigorously cleanse the secret service and military of left-over cadres.

Getting rid of the communists

Which is one reason for their grandiose comeback. Current candidate for president Lech Kaczynski discovered -- as justice minister under former Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and then as mayor of Warsaw -- just how popular the fight against corruption and lawlessness is among Poles. Even now, many secret service and army members who were active under the communist regime are still in their old positions. Communist structures are still intact, and corruption and cronyism are part of the day-to-day.

And here's Lech, mayor of Warsaw and a candidate for president in Sunday's elections.
REUTERS

And here's Lech, mayor of Warsaw and a candidate for president in Sunday's elections.

And that, if the Kaczynski brothers get their way, will all change. They want to see a more Catholic and more traditional Poland protected by increased presidential authority and restrictions on former communists holding public office. Lech even wants to see much of his political crusade -- including laws infringing on the rights of homosexuals and other minorities -- written into the country's constitution. The twins want to see an unconditional national Catholicism.

It is a development that many analysts connect with the recent death of the Polish Pope John Paul II. The long, painful decline of the pope was accompanied by a new wave of spirituality and a reawakened interest in Catholicism -- especially among younger Poles. And the guidelines being followed by the Kaczynski brothers are also those of the deceased pope: anti-abortion, a traditional role for women and a strong emphasis on community. Of course, such a platform hasn't hindered Lech -- as mayor of Warsaw -- to call for all the homeless in the Polish capital to be resettled in container slums on the edge of the city so they no longer clutter up the center. Hardly a charitable position.

A dash of nationalism with a helping of Euro-skepticism

The two want nothing less than a "Fourth Republic," a new Poland -- a vision reflected in the name of their Law and Order Party. With its mixture of nationalism, populism and Euro-skepticism, the party was already wildly successful in the 2002 local elections. Lech Kaczynski was voted in to the Warsaw city hall with a large majority and -- on Sept. 25 -- the party came out tops in the parliamentary elections with 27 percent of the vote. Coalition negotiations with the liberal Civic Platform (PO) -- which took 24 percent of the vote -- are ongoing.

Jaroslaw's decision to forgo the office of prime minister in favor of the less-well-known Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz surprised many observers, though. It is assumed that the move is intended to improve his brother's chances of winning Sunday's presidential elections. He would then -- with both the prime minister and president coming from his party -- pull the strings in the background. Both he and his brother have said they don't plan on having both offices in their family at the same time.

It's a tactic that seems to be working. For weeks, the PO candidate Donald Tusk has been leading Lech in the Poles by as much as 10 percentage points. Now, that lead has shrunk to just 37 percent for Tusk against 33 percent for Lech. And even though coalition talks between the PO and his own Law and Order Party are continuing, Lech misses no opportunity to portray Tusk as a heartless fiscal liberal and himself as the voice of social justice.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has affirmed that -- even should his brother lose on Sunday -- he will stay in the background and allow Marcinkiewicz to become prime minister. Many Poles, though, don't believe him. They assume that a final decision as to who will be Poland's next prime minister will only come after the presidential election.

And with both of them potentially leading Poland, telling them apart may be that much more important. Here's another difference between the two: Lech is married and has a daughter. Jaroslaw, on the other hand, still lives at home with his mother and his cats.

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