One would be hard put to remember the
last time Law and Justice (PiS) and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński
actually put forward a policy proposal.
Even when it comes to Prime Minister
Donald Tusk's extremely unpopular plan to raise the retirement age in
Poland to 67 for both men and women, the largest opposition party in
Poland has been unable to come up with its own alternative to tackle
a demographic problem that everyone agrees needs to be addressed.
They simply rejected the idea of raising the retirement age outright
and that was that.
What is PiS's stance on taxes? Should
they be raised or lowered? What is PiS's idea for keeping Poland's
economy going in these uncertain times? Silence. Even the ongoing
global discussion on capitalism as a whole and how much adjustment it
needs seems of scant interest to Mr Kaczyński and his colleagues.
Instead, what we have from PiS is
street politics, with Mr Kaczyński spending more time at
demonstrations than in parliament.
This month he has taken part in at
least three such rallies. The first was during the second anniversary
of the Smolensk airplane catastrophe, an occasion he used to lambaste
the current government and suggest that the plane crash was actually
an assassination of his brother, the late President Lech Kaczyński.
Then there was the anniversary of his
brother's funeral, during which he held a rally saying he is
“fighting for a free Poland” and that the country needs a “moral
Last weekend, the PiS leader was on the
streets again, protesting against the decision of Poland's National
Broadcasting Council not to issue a license for Poland's digital
platform to the ultra-conservative TV Trwam, run by the controversial
priest Tadeusz Rydzyk.
Surrounded by mediocrity
From a certain perspective, Jarosław
Kaczyński's stance is understandable. The Smolensk catastrophe
resulted in the deaths of almost all his party's credible experts on
social and economic issues. Those experts who didn't die in Smolensk
have been kicked or forced out of PiS.
These were politicians one could
disagree with but who nevertheless had arguments worth debating.
Mr Kaczyński is presently surrounded
by sycophants who are intellectual minnows, mere “yes men.” They
have no ideas that could help Poland progress and develop, and Mr
Kaczyński is so loath to admit independent-minded people into his
inner circle (access to which is also guarded jealously by its
members) that those PiS politicians who might have good ideas have no
way of making themselves heard.
And so, Mr Kaczyński takes to the
streets as a way of getting attention. So far, polls show this
strategy has neither harmed nor helped him. Of course, if the economy
takes a drastic turn for the worse, Mr Kaczyński could be
well-positioned to stand at the helm of popular protests. However,
while Poland's economy is doing relatively well, street politics is a
road to nowhere.
Going by opinions expressed in Poland's
mainstream media, one would think that Law and Justice (PiS) leader
Jarosław Kaczyński had lost his mind. In recent times, he has
suggested blatantly that his late twin brother, former President Lech
Kaczyński, was murdered on April 10, 2010 in the Smolensk airplane
“How can he spread such drivel?”;
“that's absurd,” are some of the most oft-repeated comments of
Polish journalists. These are in response to Mr Kaczyński's recent
claims that he “feels his brother was murdered” and that “the
roots of the assassination could have been in Poland,” suggesting
that Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government was involved in the
Not so crazy?
But a recent opinion poll indicates
that Mr Kaczyński seems to know what he is doing. A mid-April TNS
OBOP voter survey showed his party now trailing the ruling Civic
Platform (PO) by only three percentage points.
The poll had PO with 34 percent support
and PiS with 31 percent support. A month earlier, before Mr Kaczyński
categorically stated that he believes his brother was murdered, TNS
OBOP had PO with 29 percent support and PiS with 25 percent.
This means that while the ruling
party's standing has improved in the eyes of Poles, PiS's popularity
is also rising and Mr Kaczyński's theories, considered outlandish by
some, are resonating with an increasing number of Poles.
Nothing like polarization
This shows that putting the Smolensk
catastrophe at the forefront of the political discourse in Poland is
very beneficial for both parties. Mr Kaczyński can activate his
electorate plus those who might not be his natural supporters but are
suspicious of Russia, and also those Poles who are simply angry at
the government for one reason or another and thus enjoy seeing it
being hammered by PiS.
Donald Tusk, on the other hand, can
activate his natural electorate plus those who might not otherwise
support him but who think Mr Kaczyński's theories are simply crazy
and that he can never again be allowed to rule Poland.
Also, as long as Smolensk is the main
topic in Poland, the PM does not need to answer questions about his
planned pension reform and other such mundane matters but simply has
to push back at PiS's accusations of “treason” and
The Smolensk issue is thus a very
convenient political tool for PiS and for PO as well. Those who it
doesn't benefit are the other smaller political parties and of
course, those who would like the discussion to be about something
other than Smolensk.
In an interview with Onet.pl published over the weekend, Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jarosław Kaczyński said he now “has a feeling that [my twin brother] Lech Kaczyński was murdered.”
This came just before the second anniversary of the April 10, 2010 plane crash in Smolensk which claimed the life of then-President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others, including many of the top military commanders of the Polish armed forces. Although Mr Kaczyński later added that he “could not be certain” that it had been an assassination, his message was clear.
Mr Kaczyński has now whole-heartedly joined the conspiracy theorists who believe the late president was murdered on the orders of the Kremlin. What's more, 18 percent of Poles agree that Lech Kaczyński was assassinated while 32 percent say that both the Polish and Russian governments are “hiding the truth” about the Smolensk catastrophe, according to an April poll carried out by Gazeta Wyborcza.
An assassination is meant to achieve something
This poll results show that Jarosław Kaczyński and his Law and Justice party have been at least partially successful in propagating the view that the Polish government, led by Mr Kaczyński's main political rival, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, directly or indirectly helped cause the death of the late president.
The question is, does Mr Kaczyński really believe this? In my opinion, the PiS leader does not really believe that his brother was assassinated. Not because the current head of the Kremlin is not capable of ordering an assassination, since there seems to be ample evidence to the contrary, but because even the most far-seeing political analyst would be hard-put to find any tangible benefits for the Russian government from liquidating the late Polish president.
He was not in any way a threat to the Kremlin or its policies and was far too minor a geo-political player to warrant assassination in such a spectacular fashion. The Russian security services know subtler methods of handling such matters when the need arises.
Jarosław Kaczyński is no fool. He is aware of all this so then why is he suggesting something he doesn't believe in? Well, first of all, because of those 32 percent of Poles who believe the Polish and Russian governments are hiding the truth.
The Smolensk catastrophe is an emotional chain that holds many conservative voters in Poland together and he who gets to dominate the Smolensk narrative gets the ear of those Poles. When asked about the most important events in post-communist Poland in an opinion poll, PiS supporters placed the Smolensk catastrophe in second place, after the death of John Paul II and ahead of Poland's accession to the EU. Mr Kaczyński is thus pandering to his electorate with the assassination rhetoric.
Politics, but not only ...
As I mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago, Mr Kaczyński is also battling to keep his supremacy on Poland's right. He has now lost six elections in a row and thus some are questioning his ability to lead Poland's conservatives to victory. His former number two, Zbigniew Ziobro, announced the inauguration of his own political party Solidarna Polska Zbigniewa Ziobro, last month. Mr Kaczyński wants to make sure all the available emotional and political “benefits” deriving from the Smolensk catastrophe accrue to him and him only.
However, one should definitely not discard the real emotions which Mr Kaczyński must feel regarding the catastrophe. I think he does believe that Mr Tusk is indirectly responsible for his twin brother's death by having done everything to belittle Lech Kaczyński's presidency when he was alive and as a consequence not providing the April 10 delegation with the security befitting a head of state.
All this means more negative emotions in Polish politics and even less chance of Poland's two major parties, Donald Tusk's Civic Platform and and Mr Kaczyński's PiS, being able to work together on any kind of political initiative.
Palikot, leader of Palikot's Movement (RP), the third-largest party
in the Polish parliament, announced last week that two MPs from the
ruling Civic Platform (PO) party will most likely cross over to join
RP in the second half of April.
this were to happen, it would mean the ruling coalition of PO and the
Polish Peoples' Party (PSL) would have 232 votes in the 460-member
parliament, a slim majority by any standards.
Palikot has also suggested that even more MPs want to dump PO for his
party. However, he has told them to hang on until after the Euro 2012
soccer championships, which is being held in Poland and Ukraine from
don't want to create a crisis and the possibility of snap elections
during the Euro [championships],” the RP leader said.
March, Łukasz Gibała, an MP from Kraków, jumped ship from PO
to join Mr Palikot's party, evidence that the RP leader's words
cannot simply be dismissed offhand.
End of the coalition?
Palikot has thus prompted speculation about whether the current
coalition can survive beyond the end of this year. Much depends on
how PO performs in the polls
later this year. This, in turn, will be heavily influenced by the
outcome of the Euro 2012 soccer championships. Polish national pride
is riding on the success or failure of the tournament.
2012 is by far the most prestigious event Poland has ever hosted. The
eyes of the world will be on the country (and of course co-host
Ukraine) and millions of people will form their opinions of Poland
based on what they see this summer.
are very sensitive to how their country is perceived abroad and
desperately want to create a good image during the tournament.
Not just a game
Poland is praised in the international press for its organization
during the tournament, and if the Polish national team does
relatively well, for example making it through the group stages to
the quarter-finals, then the prime minister and his party will likely
experience a significant boost in popularity, a rising wave that
could give them serious political momentum.
would be proud of their country and Mr Tusk's government would be
pretty much untouchable.
MPs would be far less willing to switch parties and face an uncertain
future in the party of the erratic Janusz Palikot.
on the other hand, the tournament turns out to be a PR disaster and
the Polish team's performance is embarrassing, then there will be a
backlash for the government and Mr Tusk might be unable to stop the
current downward trend in the popularity of his party. An exodus of
PO MPs would then be quite likely, especially as the PM is not
exactly loved by many in his party.
MPs routinely complain of being treated as nothing more than “voting
machines” in parliament, who have no influence over legislation. In
addition, Mr Tusk's unsentimental and often ruthless attitude towards
some members of PO who were once considered his personal friends has
won him many enemies in the party he leads.
only reason these politicians are still sticking with him is because,
up until now, he has guaranteed the popularity of the party, which
has translated into seats in parliament. The moment Mr Tusk appears
politically weak, his detractors will pounce on him mercilessly.
political atmosphere in Poland come autumn will undoubtedly be shaped
by how Euro 2012 goes. Poland's ability to perform on the world stage
will be tested this summer as will the ability of the Polish national
before has a Polish prime minister's fortunes been so dependent on
something so trivial as a few soccer games.