Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

Analysis

Meet the new Mr Poland - worse than the old one

  • Brudzinski (l) with Morawiecki, the PM, who is not a contender (Photo: pis.org.pl)

Poland's power behind the throne, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is unwell, but the ageing party chief's potential successor could be even worse for EU relations.

The 68-year old Kaczynski has been out of sight for the past month in his bed at the Military Medical Institute in Warsaw.

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  • Kaczynski (c): Most recent photos on PiS' website were from 14 April (Photo: pis.org.pl)

It is due to an infected knee, Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which Kaczynski chairs, has said.

"I'll start with the bad news, especially for all those who either wish Kaczynski a quick political retirement or who spread nasty, fake lies about his health," Polish interior minister, Joachim Brudzinski, joked on Wednesday (7 June).

"Jaroslaw Kaczynski indeed has a problem with his knee. It causes him pain … but he's not thinking about retirement," Brudzinski said.

The PiS chairman might be up and about in a few days, a party spokeswoman added.

The comment on "nasty, fake lies" referred to some Polish reports that Kaczynski was actually being treated for cancer.

But even if he springs back into public life, his prolonged absence has prompted speculation on who might succeed him when, one day, he does step aside.

Kaczynski has pulled the strings behind the scenes of Polish democracy since PiS won power three years ago.

He has shuffled around ministers and prime ministers, while steering Warsaw into a clash with the European Commission over judicial independence and migrant sharing.

He has said outrageous things on asylum seekers and has accused Donald Tusk, the Polish EU Council president, of being in on a purported Russian plot on the 2010 Smolensk air disaster, which killed his twin brother, Lech Kaczynski.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a confirmed bachelor, who lives with his cats, and who disdains modern technology, like computers, embodies a 'Little Poland' mentality on EU affairs.

His illness has also shown how much personal power he wields and the opacity of his regime.

Paparazzi have kept watch outside the Military Medical Institute to see who goes in and out to visit him. Snaps of prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, ex-prime minister Beata Szydlo, Brudzinski, and others have prompted 'kremlinology' in Polish media on who is in favour with the PiS chief and who might take over if he does not get better.

But if Kaczynski has been bad for EU relations, then his anointed successor, Brudzinski, sounds worse.

Kaczynski 2.0

Brudzinski, the interior minister, who is also the PiS vice-president, is a Kaczynski loyalist who already stood in for him at a PiS meeting in May, which divvied out regional jobs.

He holidays with Kaczynski and posts chummy photos together on social media.

"If I broke my leg, if something happened to me, he [Brudzinski] is the one I want to replace me," Kaczynski said, in a prescient remark, in 2016.

Even less well known in Brussels than PiS prime ministers, Brudzinski is more Catholic than the Pope when it comes to Kaczynski's views on EU relations, migrants, and Smolensk.

"When I drove to Warsaw today, I filled up with petrol at Orlen [a Polish firm], despite all those 'Europeans'," he said last summer on Twitter.

People going on holiday should fill up their cars "only at POLISH stations. Everything that's POLISH is the best," he said.

Kaczynski once said Muslim migrants were infected with contagious "amoebas", but Brudzinski went one better.

There were no roses in Poland at New Year's Eve because feminists had bought them all to give to Muslim rapists in Germany, Brudzinski once joked on Twitter. "They're preparing to give them out after New Year's to the hot young bucks called 'refugees'," he said, in a reference to sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, two years ago.

He was equally obnoxious on Smolensk.

"Get fucked by a dog", he tweeted in 2013, when local authorities in Bydgoszcz, a Polish town, declined to name a bridge after the late Lech Kaczynski.

All this bodes ill for delicate EU talks on rule of law and asylum reform if Brudzinski was to get his hands on the PiS reins.

His rise in the party despite his foul mouth shows the depth of parochialism and chauvinism in the conservative Polish establishment, which bodes ill even if he does not.

Broader public backing also indicates the popularity of PiS-type thinking in Polish society.

Kaczynski's party is polling to win parliament elections next year by a wide margin.

Nine percent of respondents wanted Brudzinski to take over PiS if need be, putting him in second place after Morawiecki in a recent survey by Rzeczpospolita, a Polish newspaper.

Forty percent of respondents believed Brudzinski was in line for the PiS top job in a poll by Gazeta Wyborcza, another Polish daily.

PiS-ology

PiS declined to answer EUobserver's questions on Kaczynski's health or Brudzinski's potential succession.

But party insiders have had plenty to say about the PiS pretender in off-the-record remarks to Polish media in recent days and further back.

Brudzinski, a 50-year old from a working-class family, who was once arrested for violence on a train, was a "street thug, but dressed in a suit", one PiS source said. "He cursed like a shoemaker and loved the good old days when he used to knock back cheap booze," another PiS colleague said.

Other rivals for Kaczynski's crown, whose mandate as PiS chairman expires in 2020, include Mariusz Blaszczak, Andrzej Duda, Jaroslaw Gowin, Antoni Macierewicz, and Zbigniew Ziobro.

Morawiecki, the PM, an urbane former banker, was ruled out as being a PiS outsider in an in-depth article on the succession issue by Gazeta Wyborcza last Sunday.

The former PM, Beata Szydlo, was said to be eyeing an MEP post instead.

Duda, the Polish president, had no PiS clique to back him, while Macierewicz, an ultra-nationalist MP, was out of favour because Kaczynski and he had quarrelled about World War II history, PiS insiders told the Polish newspaper.

That left Blaszczak, the defence minister, Gowin, the education minister, and Ziobro, the justice minister and prosecutor general - few of whom would augur well for EU ties.

Blaszczak is mild by PiS standards, but Gowin, a devout Roman Catholic, was previously ejected from Donald Tusk's old party, Civic Platform, for making bigoted comments on embryo testing.

The last contender, Ziobro, is the author and enforcer of the judicial reforms that gave PiS control of Polish courts, in what could see the EU impose sanctions on a member state (Poland) for the first time in the 60-year history of the union.

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

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