Poland's Kaczynski Brothers Seeing Double in Warsaw

As president and prime minister of Poland, the twin Kaczynski brothers Lech and Jaroslaw want their country shake off its inferiority complex. But are the two men narrow-minded nationalists or serious reformers?

Polish President Lech Kaczynski shows former prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz the door.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski shows former prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz the door.

When politicians lose their jobs, they usually try to put on a brave face and hand in their unavoidable resignation with dignity. That's when their telegenic smiles disappear and their optimistic facades crumble. Their last official acts are all the more painful when old friends are the ones calling the shots.

Former Polish prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said his goodbyes last week. After a private meeting with President Lech Kaczynski, Marcinkiewicz emerged into a storm of camera lights to announce his resignation. It seemed voluntary, but, of course, it wasn't. His successor had always been waiting in the wings -- while he himself always stood in the shadow of the more powerful politician.

Poland's strongman, at least since last autumn, is Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's identical twin. And now that Marcinkiewicz has been let go, the two brothers have reached their goal: The two are now the Polish state. Lech quickly authorized his brother Jaroslaw to form a new government which was confirmed by parliament on Wednesday.

A president and prime minister from the same family is something new in European and Polish history, which certainly has seen its share of oddities over the years.

The Kaczynskis proudly call this new era the "Fourth Republic." They have plans for Poland, which they believe should finally receive the respect to which it's entitled in the European Union. The honor of the nation and a self-confident patriotism -- these are the terms they like to use so frequently. They want to see the return of greater government involvement in a country with Europe's highest rate of unemployment (around 18 percent), and they want a strong state that isn't intimidated by its neighbors to the east and west.

Prickly partners

Those are certainly reasonable goals. But they don't necessarily jibe with the charged resentment that the Polish twins have used to generate headlines across Europe recently. They've snubbed Germany and France, distressed EU bureaucrats in Brussels and generally created a sense of confusion about what they want. Who are these Kaczynskis?

First the president lost his composure and cancelled a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac, seemingly in response to a mediocre satirical article in a small left-wing German newspaper depicting him as "Poland's new potato." And the twins certainly consider their country's fate to be on the line as Berlin and Moscow develop plans for a natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea -- as if Poland's neighbors were only intent on humiliating the country. Lech Kaczynski even warned darkly against a "new intellectual climate" in Germany in a SPIEGEL interview in March, saying that Germans these days too frequently try to justify what happened between 1939 and 1945.

The tone may be shrill, but what these powerful brothers really want is to restore self-confidence to the Poles. The country has drifted from straightjacket of communism to the real contradictions of capitalism, and the Kaczynskis have taken it upon themselves to liberate their fellow citizens from the confusions of modern-day life.

They promise Poland's poor and the losers of the switch to a market economy a state that will care for their needs, while the winners can expect a strong and upright government. At the same time, the Kaczynskis want a streamlined and efficient state. All this, of course, is like trying to square a circle. After years of steady disintegration of old certainties, they now want to unify their people under the umbrella of Catholicism and national identity. Despite odd outbursts that have generated headlines abroad, the two brothers, both intellectuals, approach their jobs with the necessary pragmatism -- while at the same time enjoying their reputations as resistance fighters.

Born to resist

Warsaw was still in ruins on June 18, 1949, when Jaroslaw and Lech -- 45 minutes later -- were born. Their father, Rajmund, an engineer, and their mother, Jadwiga, who had studied linguistics, had been active in the Polish resistance movement against the Nazis. This tradition, which the two brothers continued in their own lives by opposing the communists, ultimately brought them sympathy, votes and their current jobs.

In 1980 the Kaczynskis were part the movement of workers and intellectuals in Gdansk that founded the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) trade union and its leader, Lech Walesa, was initially the brothers' mentor. When Solidarnosc grew into a mass movement, the communists promptly crushed the trade union and threw Lech Kaczynski into prison for a year. But by the late 1980s, the two brothers were already part of round table negotiations over the peaceful departure of Poland's communist leaders, spelling the beginning of the end for communism in Eastern Europe. In the country's first somewhat free elections in 1989, the brothers were both elected to the senate as two up-and-coming politicians. Jaroslaw was a doctor of law at the time and Lech became a university professor a short time later.

Some Poles like to make fun of the brother too.

Some Poles like to make fun of the brother too.

The Kaczynskis and Walesa were at odds because the brothers wanted to destroy the country's former communist networks, while Walesa preferred to allow the past to remain the past. To this day, the brothers are fixated on battling the remnants of Poland's former nepotism-plagued system. Indeed, the name of the party they founded in 2001, Law and Justice, is an allusion to this preoccupation. Establishing the party marked the beginning of the twins' ascent to the highest ranks of power.

"Mr. Chairman: mission accomplished!" With these words, and a click of his heels, Lech delivered the happy news of his victory in the October presidential election to his brother. As mayor of Warsaw, Lech had prepared the city for his own triumph, ordering the police to deal harshly with petty criminals and demanded the death penalty for serious crimes: "By hanging for civilians, and by firing squad for soldiers."

Anti-German attitudes

Anti-German rhetoric was part of the Kaczynskis' repertoire even before a Düsseldorf-based outfit, Preussische Treuhand, came on the scene. The group wants to use class action lawsuits to enable former German landowners driven out of eastern Prussia, now part of Poland, after World War II to reclaim their properties. Lech Kaczynski promptly rose to the occasion and had someone calculate how much the Germans should owe his people for the destruction of Warsaw alone: €35 billion. Lech plans to demand at least that much in reparations from Germany if Preussische Treuhand so much as files a single lawsuit. Of course, neither case would have the slightest chance of winning from a legal standpoint.

But the twins scored big with their talk of a Fourth Republic. According to their calculations, Poland's First Republic began in the 16th century, when Polish noblemen forced the king to grant them the right, through their representatives in the Sejm, or national parliament, to approve any law the king wished to pass. The second republic arose after World War I, when Poland reappeared on the European map in 1918. Although communist-ruled Poland was called a "people's republic" from 1945 to 1990, the people did not in fact regain control of the country until after the fall of communism, marking the beginning of the Third Republic.

Despite economic successes -- including five percent growth this year -- few Poles are satisfied with this current republic. The country's healthcare and pension systems are ailing and its administration is often corrupt. Former communist cadres pepper the ranks of management in major corporations like PKN Orlen, an oil company.

Governing with populists

But the Kaczynski brothers are not interested in enlisting the help of the almost equally powerful center-right Civic Platform in making their new republic a reality. Instead, they have chosen to align themselves with populist Andrzej Lepper, leader of the farmer-oriented Self Defense party and the staunchly Catholic League of Polish Families led by Roman Giertych, whose fellow members remain deeply ensconced in the country's far-right scene.

It's a volatile mix. The coalition partners are united by an irritable, depressive nationalism and the romantic ideology of the tragic heroism of an unappreciated but cultured people, a people that produced great men like Chopin and Pope John Paul II. And, as far back as the Middle Ages, served as a bulwark against the supposedly vulgar hordes from the East. They claim this still holds true, pointing out that it was the members of Solidarnosc who brought down communism.

The core idea behind this prejudice-laden nationalism is that Poland's neighbors were never sufficiently appreciative of its contributions. To this day, Poland under the Kaczynskis feels oppressed and forced onto the sidelines. Officials close to the twins have even compared the planned Baltic Sea gas pipeline between Russia and Germany with the pact between Hitler and Stalin that carved up Eastern Europe between the Nazis and the communists.

Some Poles aren't comfortable having Lech (R) and Jaroslaw govern together.

Some Poles aren't comfortable having Lech (R) and Jaroslaw govern together.

However, their anti-German tirades haven't exactly helped the ruling brothers gain respect or support. According to a recent opinion poll, more than 60 percent of Poles consider the Germans one of Poland's "most important" partners. And only about a fifth of all Poles are in favor of the Kaczynskis' coalition with populists and the far right. Indeed, ordinary Poles see little evidence of the promised Fourth Republic.

And Europe? Poland's envoys have been exceedingly cocky in Brussels, behaving in much the same way as British officials did under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. "They're difficult, these Poles," complains one diplomat who spends many a late-night committee session at loggerheads with Warsaw's emissaries.

Opposed to an EU constitution and against a common European foreign and security policy, the only thing Poland under the Kaczynski twins possibly welcomes from Brussels are EU's subsidies -- about €60 billion between 2007 and 2013.

Translated from German by Christopher Sultan


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