WARSAW — Until recently, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz was one of the most popular politicians in Poland, eagerly courted by many parties and a potential candidate for president — then he fell in love.
Now the 50-year-old former prime minister, a right-wing Catholic, graces the front page of tabloids with his new love, an attractive blond named Isabel who is a 28-year-old Polish bank analyst who lives in London (her last name hasn't been released).
Despite Marcinkiewicz’s complaints that the tabloids “are like bulldozers which mindlessly destroy whatever is in front of them,” his current travails mark the likely end of what had been one of the most remarkable political careers in post-communist Poland.
The former high school physics teacher got his start in the rundown western city Gorzow, before becoming a back-bench parliamentarian with the right-wing Law and Justice Party. He was plucked from relative obscurity in 2005 to become the prime minister after his party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, decided to be a political backseat driver.
Marcinkiewicz was not a particularly effective prime minister, but he obviously loved his job. His excellent PR team fashioned his story as a small-town Pole made good. They showed him riding an ATV through the bush and attending school dances. His wide grin and close-cropped hair became a staple of Polish television.
But when he started to get dangerous ideas about actually making decisions on his own — such as nominating a new finance minister without consulting Kaczynski — Marcinkiewicz was summarily dumped after less than a year in office.
As a consolation, Marcinkiewicz was named as acting mayor of Warsaw, replacing Kaczynski’s twin brother Lech, who became Poland’s president. But this was something of a poisoned chalice: The Law and Justice candidate didn’t have much of a chance in a city that is a bastion of the centrist Civic Platform Party.
After his electoral defeat, Marcinkiewicz began to hunt around for a job — a topic that became a national obsession and something of an embarrassment to his party as the former prime minister publicly pondered taking various senior posts at state-owned companies, despite his lack of experience in business or economics. Finally, he won a spot as Poland’s representative to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London.
Despite his rather strange journey to the British capital, Marcinkiewicz tried to remain in the limelight back home and — in poll after poll — maintained his position as one of the most respected political figures.
But then the freedom of London evidently went to his head. Marcinkiewicz publicly split from his wife, and was seen shopping for an engagement ring for his new girlfriend. He called her “fantastic, ambitious and governed by principles.”
But Poland has not shared the same enchantment with Isabel as her middle-aged lover. In a recent poll of potential presidential candidates, Marcinkiewicz dropped from third to seventh place, and is now considered increasingly irrelevant.
In a recent radio interview, Prime Minister Donald Tusk noted: “We had talked with Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz when his political future seemed fairly bright and straightforward,” adding that Marcinkiewicz had even been considered for a government post, but that was before he became “a soap opera hero.” Earlier suggestions that he would stand for the European Parliament have been scrapped.
On top of that, Marcinkiewicz has become an advisor to the investment bank Goldman Sachs, a big player in the recent speculation against the zloty. Marcinkiewicz insists, fairly credibly, he had nothing to do with currency trades, but it hasn’t helped his nationalist credentials.
Now Marcinkiewicz is trying to defend himself in the media, and his girlfriend has taken to writing anti-tabloid poems on his political blog.
A recent verse (translated into English):
“Reporters got writing,
Their comments on the internet posting,
His political career might be over, but Marcinkiewicz faces a tempting new 21st century possibility: His career as a professional celebrity looks increasingly viable.
More GlobalPost dispatches on Poland:
A bearish direction for Polish banking?
A Polish story through Hollywood's eyes