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Back to normal
August 2, 2010   
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Poland has a new president. The shortest election campaign since 1989 is over. It lasted only a few weeks and was handled with velvet gloves. Politicians from the ruling Civic Platform (PO) and the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party took pains to tone down the rhetoric, in contrast to the full-frontal tirades that marked the presidential election campaign of five years ago and the parliamentary election campaigns of 2005 and 2007. No new facts came to light, no embarrassing, incriminating documents were unveiled, and no attempts were made to dig up dirt or bring skeletons out of the closet. This time, politicians known for their sharp tongues played a far less prominent role on both sides. Jacek Kurski, a PiS bigwig who is now a member of the European Parliament, stayed low key. During the 2005 presidential election campaign, Kurski accused Donald Tusk’s grandfather of having joined the Wehrmacht, or the German armed forces, as a volunteer in World War II. That allegation, although untrue—in reality, Tusk’s grandfather was conscripted into the Wehrmacht by force—undermined the reputation of Tusk, who is now prime minister and was then running for president. Sociologists believe this was one of the reasons why he was defeated by Lech Kaczyński in the second round.

Another controversial politician, Janusz Palikot, deputy leader of the PO parliamentary group, also largely kept mum. Before the campaign he regularly made headlines, alleging that Lech Kaczyński was an alcoholic and demanding that he and his twin brother Jarosław should undergo psychiatric tests. Palikot also demanded that PiS be outlawed.

Observers wondered if the sudden absence of verbal vitriol was a sign of newfound political maturity, or just skillful tactics by the two parties. The election campaign, overshadowed by the April 10 crash of the presidential plane near Smolensk, had to be conducted in such a way that the parties could not accuse each other of using the tragedy for political gain. Meanwhile, pessimists argued that as soon as the election was over everything would return to normal and that the politicians would resume mudslinging.

They were right. Accusations and insults began to fly from both sides immediately after Bronisław Komorowski was declared president. Palikot claimed the late president had “blood on his hands,” alleging he was responsible for the Smolensk tragedy because he had been determined to reach Katyn at all costs to attend ceremonies there. “Lech Kaczyński died because of his own stupidity,” Palikot claimed.

PiS deputies, in turn, set up a group to investigate the Smolensk plane crash. Antoni Macierewicz, the group’s head and former interior minister, called the Smolensk crash a “crime,” but failed to expand on that. Other PiS politicians alleged that the government and Prime Minister Tusk were responsible for the crash but did not say clearly what they meant. Jarosław Kaczyński, the PiS leader defeated in the second election round, also returned to his customary hard-edged combative rhetoric.

Polish politics is quickly getting back to normal.
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