As Poland Prepares to Vote: The Deep-Rooted Tensions of Kaczyński and Tusk Take Center Stage

The upcoming parliamentary election in Poland is underscored by a 20-year intense rivalry between Jarosław Kaczyński, the country’s de facto leader, and Donald Tusk, former president of the European Council and current leader of the opposition Civic Platform party. Their bitter feud, which is deeply personal, has significantly influenced Polish politics, writes Financial Times. The two have exchanged harsh accusations, ranging from authoritarianism and treason to spying. Both claim the other is a threat to Poland’s future.

Tusk, after regaining control of his party in 2021, witnessed a surge in its popularity in opinion polls. He believes Kaczyński is eroding Poland’s democratic foundations. Kaczyński, on the other hand, asserts that Tusk wants Poland to succumb to foreign influence, erasing its conservative roots. Both have invoked Russia in their criticisms, with each suggesting the other is influenced by or favors the Putin regime.

Interestingly, both politicians once played significant roles in Poland’s shift away from communism. The election’s outcome is crucial, as it will determine Poland’s stance within the EU, following years of tension between the country and Brussels. Given the deep-seated animosity between the two leaders, this election is seen as a pivotal moment in Polish politics.

  • Vitriolic Exchanges: Their animosity is deeply personal, with both leaders trading severe accusations. Kaczyński has labeled Tusk as a “traitor” and “enemy of the nation”, while Tusk has threatened Kaczyński with imprisonment for breaching the rule of law.
  • Impact on Polish Politics: Their rivalry, which spans over 20 years, has greatly influenced the political landscape in Poland, with the current campaign being particularly acrimonious.
  • Election’s Significance for the EU: The result of this election is crucial for the European Union. It could potentially redefine Poland’s role within the bloc, especially after years of disagreements between Warsaw and Brussels.
  • Party Popularity: Under Tusk’s leadership since 2021, the Civic Platform party has seen its popularity in opinion polls double to about 30%, closely trailing Kaczyński’s PiS party at 35%.
  • Contrasting Political Views: Kaczyński alleges that Tusk wishes to surrender Poland to external powers and obliterate its conservative heritage. Conversely, Tusk contends that Kaczyński seeks to dismantle Poland’s democratic principles, an assessment shared by many in Brussels.
  • Russian Angle: Both politicians have attempted to connect each other with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Kaczyński accuses Tusk of being a Russian spy, while Tusk warns of Kaczyński’s intentions to mold Poland after Putin’s Russia.
  • Tragic Incident & Emotional Depth: The plane crash in Russia that killed Kaczyński’s twin brother, then-president Lech Kaczyński, added emotional depth to their rivalry. Kaczyński believes Tusk played a role in the crash, though investigations have cleared Tusk of any involvement.
  • EU Relations & Polexit: Tusk’s close ties with the EU, having served as its Council’s president, contrasts with Kaczyński’s distant stance from Brussels. The ongoing dispute between Poland’s ruling party and the EU has led to concerns about Poland’s potential exit (“Polexit”) from the bloc.
  • Election’s Broader Implications: The result of this election will also influence Poland’s position regarding Ukraine, especially in light of the ongoing conflict with Russia. Poland has been a key EU gateway for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict and has led EU efforts in supplying weapons to Ukraine.
  • Generational Divide: The prolonged feud between the two veteran politicians emphasizes a generational gap. Younger voters find it challenging to relate to their past disagreements, with some even finding their exchanges entertaining due to their historical nature.
  • Party Foundations: In 2001, the two leaders formed their respective political parties. Kaczyński, alongside his twin brother Lech, created the PiS, while Tusk co-founded the Civic Platform.
  • Ideological Differences: The two parties represent distinct ideologies. PiS is ultraconservative, blending Catholic values with a more left-leaning economic perspective. In contrast, the Civic Platform is more liberal, advocating for fewer state interventions and not supporting a complete abortion ban.
  • 2005 Election Controversy: A significant turn in their feud occurred in 2005 during the elections. Kaczyński’s party attacked Tusk for his grandfather’s forced involvement with the Wehrmacht during World War II. This incident deeply strained their already contentious relationship.
  • Election Manipulation Allegations: The current election campaign has been marred by allegations of manipulation. Notably, the government has added a referendum to the parliamentary election, posing questions about illegal migration, border security, retirement age, and foreign ownership of state assets. This move is reminiscent of tactics employed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
  • The Referendum Questions Are: 1) “Do you support the selling off of state assets to foreign entities, leading to the loss of Poles’ control over strategic sectors of the economy?”. 2) “Do you support an increase in the retirement age, including the restoration of the increased retirement age to 67 for men and women?”. 3) “Do you support the removal of the barrier on the border between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Belarus?”. 4) “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, in accordance with the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?”

Photo: Kaczyński (left) and Tusk. Credits Wikimedia