|Ambitious, eccentric - Polish twins prescribe a dose of harsh reality |
9/6/2006 - Ambitious, eccentric - Polish twins prescribe a dose of harsh reality
Radical and controversial solutions planned to shake off communist past
Ian Traynor in Warsaw
Friday September 1, 2006
Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Political double act ... Identical twins Lech (left) and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, president and prime minister, have made a political comeback after being cast out by the Solidarity elite in the 1990s. Photograph: Ludmila Mitrega/AFP
Alongside the adverts for the latest French supermarket, Japanese plasma TVs, and a Roger Waters gig, the billboards of Warsaw are currently selling a new country. A man gazes at a rippling field of wheat while looking after a child; a young woman admires a fine old block of flats; a teenager contemplates a seascape. These are decent people - honest, successful and content. They are all, the billboards say, model Citizens of the Fourth Republic.
This is a country that does not exist, at least not yet. But turning the billboard Fourth Republic into a real country called Poland is the vision of the extraordinary double act in European politics.
Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, prime minister and president of Poland respectively, and identical twins, have launched an ambitious project to fashion a new society from what they see as the rotten compromises of post-communist Polish democracy.
They are taking on the most powerful vested interests in Poland in a project which, if seen through, would bring the biggest changes in the country since the upheavals of 1989.
The brothers, whose formative years were spent in the underground anti-communist resistance, are viewed as inscrutable plotters who have made a miraculous political comeback after being cast out by the Solidarity elite in the 1990s. They have personal scores to settle. But they appear convinced that a greater reckoning is urgently needed to rescue Poland.
"This is a political project ... about how the elites function, how society is constructed, how power is exercised and distributed in this country," said Adam Lipinski, key political aide to the prime minister. "The democratic system is not threatened in any way. The only thing that is threatened is the status quo and the elites that built the present system."
Cezary Michalski, deputy editor of the centre-right Dziennik daily, which supports the twins, says: "Their project is definitely an indictment of the past 17 years [of Polish democracy and independence]. We're experiencing a radicalisation of government."
If the "citizens" on the billboards are at ease, others are quaking. Liberals are crying foul and running for cover.
"This country has been corrupted and demoralised," said Artur Zawisza, a leading MP from Jaroslaw Kaczynski's governing Law and Justice party. "The question of a moral revolution is fundamental. And for our institutional revolution we need two terms, eight years. We need to dissolve all the institutions and build new ones."
To grasp the scope of the project, a few snapshots from the last week alone:
· The government sought to undermine the independence of the central bank, bitterly attacking its chief, Leszek Balcerowicz, architect of Poland's free market. The country's entire banking system, said Mr Zawisza, was in the hands of oligarchs preying on the public;
· The new deputy defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, said most of the country's eight foreign ministers since the 1989 overthrow of communism were KGB agents. Mr Macierewicz has just accomplished one of the most sensitive tasks in any country - the abolition of military intelligence. He is currently creating two new purged security services;
· A bill going through the upper house would vet 400,000 posts in the public sector, for contacts or collaboration with the old communist security services. Any incumbents named in the secret police files, which are to be released for the first time, are regarded as guilty until proven innocent. They may be sacked. Mr Lipinski accepts innocent people will get hurt, but says there is no alternative;
· This week, too, the Kaczynski team was drafting lists of hundreds of cadres for wholesale replacements in the ministries and civil service, while independent NGOs feared they will be subject to controls by the education ministry, run by Roman Giertych, head of the ultra-Catholic extreme right League of Polish Families, a coalition partner. He is calling for the restoration of the death penalty, particularly for paedophile killers, and wants the school curriculum extended to include a few hours a week of "patriotic education";
· A new corruption-busting service is being launched with sweeping powers of surveillance, intrusion, and phone-tapping. The government is not against wealth, it says, but the prime minister has stated that the country has to know how and where the rich got their money;
· A new national television chief who made his name by leaking lists of hundreds of thousands of alleged communist collaborators is busy purging the state broadcaster. "If you're not our friend, you're fired. That's the rule. Loyalty is the crucial word for the Kaczynskis," says Dorota Warakomska, recently sacked after spending 15 years in state television.
Other key pillars that the Kaczynskis have in their sights include the judiciary, the supreme court, and ultimately the constitution.
"It's a real drama, a very tragic moment," said Jadwiga Staniszkis, a sociologist and political thinker who has known the Kaczynskis for 30 years and was an early advocate of the Fourth Republic. "These methods are far too costly, the price is too high. You can't build a moral state by creating control through fear."
The twins are more left leaning on the economy, pledging redistribution of national wealth and threatening to soak the rich to improve the lot of those who lost out from the wrenching transformation of the past 15 years.
The brothers do not like the European Union, although they may be the biggest political beneficiaries of Poland's membership, receiving about €60bn (£40.4bn) in EU transfers over the next few years to fund their social and infrastructure programmes.
The twins see Poland's fundamental problem as the domination of what they call "the system" or "the network": a web of big business, corrupt politicians, and secret service personnel with roots in the communist era who have hijacked Poland and usurped state functions.
Prime minister Jaroslaw has been in office for little over a month. It is too early to gauge how his ambitious and radical project will go down among the Polish public. His party, however, is running at around 30% in the polls, a strong performance in the Polish system.
Critics say the Kaczynskis are obsessed with "reds-under-the-beds" and that their solutions amount to witchhunts and purges when Poland has moved on. Many of those who agree with the Kaczynskis' diagnosis of what is ailing Poland are worried the prescribed medicine could cripple rather than build the country.
"We can imagine Poland becoming an illiberal democracy," said Mr Michalski of the Dziennik daily. "The Kaczynskis are attempting to create their own model of modernisation, an alternative Polish model."
That alternative model is the Fourth Republic, a huge challenge. "The Kaczynskis are unable to win. It's illusory," said Ms Staniszkis. "But that just makes them more and more radical."
From east to west
1980 Strikes at Gdansk shipyard lead to establishment of Solidarity trade union, former Soviet bloc's first officially recognised independent mass political movement.
1981 Martial law declared and Lech Walesa and other Solidarity leaders arrested.
1989 Partly free elections bring Solidarity sweeping victory.
1990 Walesa elected as Poland's first post-communist president, launching market reforms, including large-scale privatisation.
Mid-1990s Polish economy makes progress; annual growth rate of its GNP is highest in Europe.
1996 Becomes member of Council of Europe, establishes economic ties with EU. Successive governments seek Nato membership.
2004 Joins EU.
2005 Conservative Lech Kaczynski becomes president and Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz prime minister.
2006 PM resigns and president appoints his twin brother Jaroslaw as prime minister.
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