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Poland's chief bruiser turns to hugs

Opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski fashions message of reassurance for financial crisis.

The economic crisis that struck Poland late last year, and which is continuing to gather force, has changed the tone of Polish politics. Now no one wants to hear about spies and ex-communists — millions of Poles are worrying about losing their jobs, paying off mortgages denominated in fast-rising Swiss francs and nervously watching the zloty plumb new depths against the euro and the dollar.

A few weeks ago, Kaczynski retreated to a government villa and retooled, coming out with a softer image he hopes will garner him support beyond his hard core of older, rural and religious voters.

“A modern state, a modern economy, a modern nation,” Kaczynski proclaimed during a recent party gathering in a speech in which said he wanted to “calmly” reform the country. He talked of spending on research and development, computerization and competition, but steered clear of the conspiracy theories that had been a hallmark of past speeches.

The new Kaczynski is also making an obvious effort to restrain his temper. Jacek Rostowski, the finance minister, needled Kaczynski, who was absent during a speech to parliament about the state of the economy, saying: “If PiS wants to be a serious partner in battling the crisis, it can’t be that the theoretical future prime minister is not taking part in the debate.”

A enraged Kaczynski was prepared to storm back onto the floor of parliament, but calmed himself and did not respond to Rostowski’s jabs.

The smiling Kaczynski, surrounded by his three leading female lawmakers, has so far failed to make much of a breakthrough in public opinion. New polls show support for PiS and Civic Platform essentially unchanged.

“They are looking for a magic wand to immediately change Jaroslaw Kaczynski and make him acceptable to a wider public,” said Eryk Mistewicz, one of Poland’s leading political consultants. “But a credible and effective change is one that is subtle and not too obvious. They have to remember that they rose to power by offering a tough and radical program.”

While PiS isn’t making much progress in luring centrist voters, it may offend those who were first attracted by its radical and populist program. A new opinion poll showed that for the first time in two years the moribund nationalist League of Polish Families had registered above 5 percent in terms of support.


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