To many observers, the continual scrapping and backbiting between Premier Minister Donald Tusk and President Lech Kaczynski since Tusk’s Civil Platform (PO) took power last November has taken on the character of a poorly scripted farce.
This has prompted the Dziennik newspaper to reconstruct the story of the less-than-cordial relations between the two most influential men in Polish politics as a trashy soap opera.
Act 1: Silence and Forgiveness
Early indications were positive. “It’s true that love rather than power is the most important thing,” cooed the enraptured Tusk as the first set of election results rolled in. Unfortunately his amatory advances were spurned by the bilious President Kaczynski, who further rubbed salt into a festering wound by refusing to congratulate the PO leader on his election success. Kaczynski later forced a televised public apology out of the embattled Tusk for what the president characterized as “a raft of offensive statements” emanating from the PO ranks. Tusk had little choice as the president had been making it impossible for the two to work together.
Act 2: Radek Sikorski
Voted the most popular politician in Poland last year, Oxford-educated Sikorski exudes glamour. Last year, however, he committed a cardinal sin in the president’s eyes by defecting to Tusk’s PO from the Law and Justice Party (PiS), which is led by the president’s twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. This move was not really surprising as Jaroslaw Kaczynski had thrown Sikorski out of his coalition government after Sikorski resigned his brief as minister of national defense. When Tusk announced that he intended to anoint the twins’ nemesis as foreign minister, the disconcerted president squealed through a spokesperson that he would take the radical step of blocking the appointment of any of Sikorski’s ambassadors. When Nov. 16 Sikorski finally stepped up to the president to officially accept his new brief, he was greeted by a stony glare.
Act 3: Special Forces
One of Tusk’s first decisions when he assumed power was to dismiss Antoni Macierewicz, vice minister of defense under Jaroslaw Kaczynski and chairman of the Counterespionage Commission. As soon as Macierewicz was unceremoniously plucked from his position of influence, sensitive documents that had been in the possession of the commission were whisked off to the Presidential Palace. The Palace disingenuously claimed that they were merely making available extra office space for the commission and hadn’t thought to question what it might be used for. It appears, however, that Macierewicz was soliciting the help of the President’s Office in a desperate attempt to cover his tracks. To make matters worse, an annex to a report penned by Macierewicz on the Special Forces seems to have got “lost” in the move. New Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski has announced there will be an inquiry into the matter.
Act 4: Lisbon, Brussels and Timekeeping
Nov. 23 Tusk was due to read a policy statement, but the president didn’t turn up to the Sejm to hear it. According to the Presidential Office, he was visiting Georgia. Sikorski later rebuffed the president’s offer of a “consultation” over foreign affairs claiming that there was an important session in the Sejm that he ought to attend instead. To compound matters, he informed the president that he wouldn’t be attending three minutes after he was supposed to be meeting him, prompting Chief of the President’s Office Anna Fotyga to comment that Sikorski “must acquaint himself with his place in the hierarchy.” Tusk and Kaczynski’s inability to coordinate with each other led to both of them popping up in Lisbon for the signing of a reforming EU Treaty and also at a summit in Brussels. Although they shared a hotel in Lisbon, they naturally exchanged barely a word.
Act 5: Rada Gabinetowa
In a desperate attempt to resolve the long-standing dispute over pay and working conditions, the Doctor’s Trade Union (OZZL) turned to the president last month for help. Kaczynski used his powers under the Constitution to create an extraordinary advisory body, the so-called “Rada Gabinetowa,” that would in theory help the battling sides in the dispute come to an agreement over the sticking points.
The deliberations have been racked so far by bitter grievances emanating from both parties. Tusk moaned that the president had made no attempt to consult with the government over the issue, but subsequent comments made by Kaczynski suggest that he took matters into his own hands, because he felt that the government were clueless.
Act 6: Itemized Phone Bills
Another flare up occurred Jan. 23 after a CASA military transport plane crashed in Miroslawiec, killing the 4 flight crew and 16 officers who were returning from a conference on flight safety. The President’s Office accused the Ministry of National Defense of informing them of the catastrophe too late. The president had already boarded a plane for Croatia by the time they found out. The ministry, however, managed to disentangle themselves from the resultant brouhaha by producing an itemized phone bill, proving that they had rang the President’s Office in time. Apparently, nobody had picked up the phone.
Act 7: Sikorski Again
The tension between president and foreign minister was further stoked last week when Kaczynski called Sikorski back to Warsaw from a conference he was attending in Brussels to discuss an “urgent matter.”
This turned out to be what Sikorski considered a relatively unimportant consultation about the eastern borders. Sikorski characterized the meeting he had with the president as one of the “stormiest” he remembers, but mysteriously added that the government is anxious “to demonstrate how much we respect the Head of State.” Tusk has subsequently questioned whether the president has the right to summon ministers in such an abrupt manner.