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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » September 2, 2011
Politics & Society
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Former Deputy PM Found Hanging
September 2, 2011   
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Former Deputy Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper, a firebrand populist and one of Poland’s most controversial politicians over the past two decades, was found hanging Aug. 5 in the Warsaw offices of his Samoobrona (Self-Defense) party, in what police believe was a suicide.

Some shocked party colleagues said they did not believe that Lepper, 57, killed himself, while one newspaper editor claimed that Lepper, who was embroiled in a series of high-profile scandals during his career, had told him he feared for his life.

Lepper’s body was discovered by his son-in-law in his private chambers in the Warsaw head office of Self-Defense, the party he founded and ran as undisputed leader. He left no note.

The police and the State Prosecutor put the death down to suicide by hanging and said there was no evidence that anyone else was involved. Investigators will likely question people closely connected with Lepper.

Prosecutors said that financial and family problems may have been a motive for Lepper taking his own life. Numerous demands for payment were found in the Self-Defense office, indicating that Lepper may have had serious debt problems. His son Tomasz had been battling a serious illness for several months. Many party colleagues believe that this may have contributed to a nervous breakdown. Media reports have also speculated that Lepper may have been depressed as a result of losing his political clout. Polls ahead of this year’s parliamentary elections made it plain that he had no hope of getting back into the big league.

“We don’t believe that Andrzej’s death was a suicide,” said one of Lepper’s party colleagues immediately after the news of the death had broken. They recalled that Lepper, known for his brash, self-confident manner, had recently spoken to them of his plans for the coming days and weeks and gave no indication of being capable of taking his own life.

Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska, a radical right-wing weekly that supports the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, lost no time in inflaming the situation.

Sakiewicz related that in a conversation with Lepper six months previously, Lepper revealed that he feared for his life in connection with a corruption scandal at the Agricultural Market Agency from the days when he was agriculture minister. While no details have yet been made public, Sakiewicz has been formally interviewed by prosecutors.

Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice party and prime minister in the government in which Lepper served as deputy prime minister, said a few days after Lepper’s death that the Self-Defense leader had wanted to meet with him several months before. Kaczyński announced that he had told prosecutors all he knew about the matter and stressed that he had nothing more to disclose. He did say, however, that Lepper’s death should be “investigated thoroughly.”

Lepper was born in June 1954. He graduated from a secondary agricultural school and was a professional boxer in his youth. He first became known to the public in the early 1990s when he began campaigning on behalf of disaffected farmers and rural dwellers reeling from the free-market economic changes being implemented in Poland. He founded the Self-Defense Agriculture Trade Union in 1992. The union wasted no time in making a name for itself by getting farmers to block roads, calling on them to not repay loans, and even by physically assaulting bailiffs trying to recover debts from farmers. These antics soon landed Lepper in court. The union became the Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland Party in 2000.

The Self-Defense leader was known for his controversial and colorful remarks. For a long time, his mantra was “Balcerowicz has to go.” This referred to Leszek Balcerowicz, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister who went on to become the governor of Poland’s central bank. Balcerowicz was the chief architect of the economic reforms of the late 1990s, deemed by Lepper to be the “theft of Poland.”

Lepper was a presidential candidate four times, winning 1.32 percent of the vote in 1995, 3.05 percent in 2000, 15.11 percent at the height of his popularity in 2005, and a mere 1.28 percent in 2010.

Lepper entered parliament after Self-Defense won 10.2 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections of September 2001. He soon became deputy Speaker of the Sejm. However, after preventing the eviction of traders from a marketplace in Włocławek and then accusing several politicians of having taken hefty bribes, he was relieved of his duties in November 2001.

Lepper became deputy Speaker again when Self-Defense won more than 11 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections held in the fall of 2005.

Self-Defense became a junior partner in the ruling coalition in 2006. The agreement with Law and Justice was signed with then Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. When Roman Giertych’s League of Polish Families (LPR) decided to throw in their support, a tripartite coalition government led by Marcinkiewicz was formed on May 5. Lepper was made deputy prime minister and minister of agriculture. On July 10, Jarosław Kaczyński took over as prime minister.

The relationship between Law and Justice and Self-Defense became strained when the 2007 state budget was being drawn up. President Lech Kaczyński, twin brother of the prime minister, dismissed Lepper from the government on Sept. 22 amid a flurry of recriminations between the coalition members.

It was not long before the return of Self-Defense to the coalition fold was being mooted and in October Lepper was made deputy prime minister once more and was also appointed agriculture minister. He was dismissed again in July 2007 after the collapse of the coalition. Neither Self-Defense nor the League of Polish Families had any role to play in the government after the elections held in the fall of 2007.
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