The shooting of a Law and Justice (PiS) party functionary together with the stabbing of another in Łódź last month prompted at least one newspaper to raise the spectre of a Polish civil war, an analogy that was already being bandied around in the run-up to the elections. The attacks are the latest and most shocking events in a string of increasingly hysterical clashes between conservative traditionalists and modernising liberals. The seismic shock of the Smolensk disaster in April seems to have jarred opened a vault of dark national feelings that nobody suspected was there.
Poland’s current political scene is surreal, especially from the point of view of a foreigner. The heads of the establishment, in the form of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party, are striving to be modern Europeans who don’t look or sound out of place at a Brussels conference. Meanwhile, the opposition is fulminating about incitements to assassination and trying to elect Jesus as king of Poland. These are figures and ideas from different eras, living side by side in modern Poland.
If Smolensk was the blow that cracked the lid on Poland’s troubled past, Jarosław Kaczyński looks increasingly like a man hammering in a wedge. Is it possible that the enormous psychological shock of Smolensk cracked Kaczyński as well? Watching him on the news last night, I had that sinking feeling you get when you begin to suspect a figure people have casually been calling “crazy” might actually have a genuine mental illness. I mean this quite seriously and without political motivation — I’m not Polish and I can’t vote here anyway, so what do I care. Kaczyński’s response to the Łódź attack was so extreme it may have pushed him over the tipping point from figure of fun to object of pity.
If Kaczyński really has lost his mind, in the non-flippant sense, it would hardly be a surprise. The man has been subjected to pressures that would have left Chuck Norris gibbering. Losing a brother in a plane crash would be crushing for anyone; losing a twin brother you have spent your whole life working with, and scores of other close friends at the same time, is hard to imagine. Now try to imagine all that plus an emotionally supercharged presidential campaign in which you take your dead brother’s place, whilst your mother is on her deathbed, and lose. It’s frankly a miracle the bloke hasn’t been fitted for a backward-fitting jacket long before now.
For a formerly competent political operator, Kaczyński’s recent behaviour has been bizarre to say the least. Nothing he has done since the presidential election has made sense from a political point of view. The war of the cross that dragged on outside the Presidential Palace did no real harm to his political opponents, but did make many of his moderate supporters feel uncomfortable. His ongoing whispering campaign suggesting that Tusk and Komorowski are somehow responsible for the Smolensk disaster might, just might, have had some political impact if there were important elections coming up or a fragile coalition to bring down, but neither of these is the case. He is expending enormous effort, and the indulgence of voters, whipping up hysteria that can have no outlet other than on the streets.
A real shooting war in Poland? Almost certainly not. A corrosive political war of attrition in which some frustrated people will do deranged things? It’s already started.
Jamie Stokes also writes for Polandian.