Poland has not yet perished
So long as we live.
What foreign violence has taken from us,
We will reclaim, sword in hand.
Poland’s history of suffering at the hands of Germany and Russia is so long that its anthem was written at a time when the country had, once again, been partitioned off the map. Despite the loss of statehood, the anthem expresses the hope that, against the odds, “Poland has not yet perished / so long as we live…”
Over the last two years Poland has, once again, suffered immensely. But this time the suffering wasn’t imposed by powerful invaders from the West or East.
No, President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski – known, after their looks and surname, as the Duck Brothers – had hijacked Poland via the polls by evoking the worst in its citizens: an hysterical anti-Communist witchhunt which combined McCarthyism with partisan political manipulation; complex-laden, passive-aggressive nationalism which fused racism, anti-Semitism and a paranoid emnity to Germany; an amateurish foreign policy which left key embassies without embassadors; populist opposition to the EU; and economic mismanagement: Jaroslaw Kaczynski didn’t think it a problem that close to half of Poles don’t have bank accounts – indeed, he doesn’t have a bank account himself, preferring to entrust his Prime Ministerial income to his mother.
This time round, Poland’s spooky spectacle was self-imposed.
But at last Sunday’s election, recalling her anthem’s fighting spirit, a different Poland arose to reclaim, pen and polling paper in hand, what domestic violence had taken from her… The result: a resounding defeat of the governing coalition and a victory for the pro-European Civic Platform, led by a calm, intellectual Donald Tusk.
Though the Civic Platform, like the Kaczynkskis’ Law and Justice party, is considered right-of-center on the European political spectrum, its policies are likely to be radically different. As the designated Prime Minister, Tusk is hoping to substitute the traditionalist and protectionist populism of the Kaczynksi years by a modernizing approach: he will push for free-market reforms at the same time as taking a more liberal stance on social issues.
Internationally, the first priority of the new Polish government will be to return Poland to the center of Europe. Under Tusk’s leadership, the Sejm, Poland’s parliament, will move quickly to ratify the EU’s constitutional treaty, which the Duck Brothers had long opposed. This should be welcome news to all Europeans (even though Gordon Brown, who is in his own quandary about how to convince the British to accept the EU treaty, will be unhappy to have the spotlight turn on him…)
Relationships with Germany – which had detiorated to a level of mutual hostility unknown since before Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik reconciled the traditional enemies in the 1970s – will improve markedly, even though real disagreements remain. Poland is worried about a German-Russian oil pipeline which is being built outside Polish territory. It is also angry at the plans, championed by descendents of Poland’s German minority, to commemorate their forefathers’ expulsion after World War II without direct reference to the preceding Nazi terror.
The Polish-German relationship will not turn peachy overnight. But Tusk will know how to raise these issues calmly, as disagreements between friends should be. As a result, Tusk might convince Angela Merkel to take Poland’s genuine worries more seriously than she had when they were raised as a phony part of Kaczynski’s frenzied rhetoric.
The greatest measure of tact, however, will be required in Tusk’s handling of the Polish-American relationship. Tusk and his pro-business party are by no means anti-American – nevertheless, Tusk’s campaign promise to bring back home the remaining 900 Polish soldiers in Iraq will strain Poland’s relationship with the Bush administration. As the “Coalition of the Willing” is further decimated – most of the countries which invaded Iraq at America’s side now make up the “Coalition of Countries whose Previous Governments were Willing” – Donald Tusk will strive hard to assert Poland’s role as an equal partner, neither a vassal nor an enemy, to the US.
Overall, the better Poland has good reasons to be relieved that the Duck Brothers got clobbered by Donald. So has the rest of the world.