Meet the new Mr Poland - worse than the old one
AnalysisMeet the new Mr Poland - worse than the old one
By Andrew Rettman
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.Dear EUobserver reader
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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 that 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 â¦ but he's not thinking about political retirement," Brudzinski said.
The PiS chairman might be back in his office in a matter of days, a party spokeswoman added.
The comment on "nasty, fake lies" referred to some Polish news 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 steps aside.
Kaczynski has pulled the strings behind the scenes of Polish democracy since PiS won back power three years ago.
He has moved around ministers and prime ministers, while steering Warsaw into a clash with Bruss els over judicial independence and over migrant-sharing with Greece and Italy.
He has said outrageous things about asylum seekers and has even accused Donald Tusk, the EU Council president and a former Polish leader, of being part of a purported Russian plot on the 2010 Smolensk air disaster, which killed his twin brother, Lech Kaczynski.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who lives alone with cats and who dislikes computers, embodies a 'little Poland' mentality on EU affairs.
His illness has also highlighted the amount of personal power that he wields and the opacity of his regime.
Polish 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 return.
But if Kaczy nski has been bad for EU relations, then his anointed successor, Brudzinski, could be even worse.
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 that doled out regional jobs.
Brudzinski was with Kaczynski on holiday when the PiS chairman first hurt his knee and often posts photos of them 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 prescient remarks back 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 petrol company], despite all those 'Europeans'," he said last July 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 available in Poland at New Year's Eve because feminists had bought them all to give to Muslim rapists in Germany, Brudzinski also claimed on Twitter. "They're preparing to give them out after New Year's to the hot young bucks called 'refugees'," he said, in a joke about sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, two years ago.
He showed equally obnoxious form on Smolensk in 2013.
"I'll tell it straight to your hearts, get fucked by a dog!", he tweeted at the time, when local authorities in Bydgoszcz, a Polish town, declined to name a bridge after Lech Kaczynski.
Those kinds of views bode ill for delicate EU tal ks on rule of law and asylum reform if Brudzinski were to get his hands on PiS reins.
His rise in the party despite his vulgarities also shows the depth of parochialism and chauvinism in the current Polish establishment, which bodes ill for EU relations even if he gets passed over.
PiS declined to answer EUobserver's questions about Kaczynski's health and the succession debate.
But party insiders have had plenty to say about the PiS vice-president in off-the-record remarks to Polish media in recent days and longer ago.
One PiS colleague described Brudzinski, a 50-year old from a working-class family who was once arrested for fighting on a train, as a "street thug, but dressed in a suit". "He cursed like a shoemaker and loved the good old days when he used to drink cheap booze," another PiS colleague said.
Meanwhile, broader public backing indicates the depth of PiS-type mentality in Polish society.
PiS is polling to win general elections next year by a wide margin.
Nine percent of respondents wanted Brudzinski to take over the party, putting him in second place after the more urbane prime minister, Morawiecki, in a recent survey by the Rzeczpospolita newspaper.
Forty percent of respondents believed Brudzinski was in line to get the PiS top job in a poll by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
Other rivals for Kaczynski's crown, whose mandate as PiS chairman expires in 2020, were said to include Andrzej Duda, Mariusz Blaszczak, Jaroslaw Gowin, Antoni Macierewicz, and Zbigniew Ziobro.
The Polish prime minister, Morawiecki, a former investment banker, was ruled out as a party outsider in an in-depth story on the succession questions by Gazeta Wyborcza last weekend.
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, was unlikely because Kaczynski and he had fallen out over 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 give the EU much to smile about.
Blaszczak is a moderate by PiS standards, but Gowin, a devout Roman Catholic, was notoriously fired from Tusk's poltical party, Civic Platform, for making ultra-conservative and Germanophobe comments on embryo testing.
Ziobro is the architect of the judicial reforms that gave PiS control of Polish judges, in what could see the EU impose sanctions on Poland for the first time in the 60-year old history of the union.Source: Google News Poland | Netizen 24 Poland