Poland: Sex, drugs and scandal

WARSAW, Poland — A sex and drugs scandal that has besmirched the reputation of one of Poland’s most respected politicians has now dragged down two opposition party members who refused to join the witch hunt against Senator Krzysztof Piesiewicz.

Piesiewicz, a well known screenwriter who collaborated with Krzysztof Kieslewski, one of Poland’s most celebrated directors, as well as a lawyer who fought for dissidents in Communist-era courts and a prominent member of the anti-Communist underground, saw his political and professional career destroyed this past December when a Polish tabloid published enormously embarrassing videos of the senator on its webpage.

The films showed the senator, wearing a flowery dress, in the company of two women and snorting a white powder, that Piesiewicz later said was “crushed medicine” not cocaine.

The video was peddled to the Super Ekspres tabloid by blackmailers — since arrested — who had reportedly managed to extract about 500,000 zlotys ($170,000) from Piesiewicz before he finally turned to the police for help.

“It was a set-up,” Piesiewicz told the tabloid. “I don’t know if something was not thrown in my drink. I am completely normal. It was the only incident of its kind in my life.”

Piesiewicz’s downfall came as an embarrassment to the ruling Civic Platform party. Although Piesiewicz gave up his party membership, Donald Tusk, the prime minister, cut himself off from the errant legislator. Tusk and his party have long presented themselves as squeaky clean in moral and criminal matters, and with presidential elections this year and legislative elections in 2011, being caught up in a messy scandal could damage Civic Platform.

That was the hope of the right-wing opposition Law and Justice party (PiS), which had counted on turning Piesiewicz’s troubles to its own advantage. Newspaper columnists close to the party denounced the senator’s “immorality” and demanded that he apologize to the Polish people before withdrawing from public life.

However, a recent vote in the senate to remove Piesiewicz’s parliamentary immunity has now blown up in the face of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, PiS’s leader. Two leading PiS senators, both of them with long traditions in the anti-Communist underground, refused to go along with Kaczynski’s demand that Piesiewicz be stripped of his immunity to face investigation for possible drug possession charges.

One of the two, Zbigniew Romaszewski, a prickly and argumentative, albeit respected politician, said that he had no intention of taking orders from Kaczynski in a matter of conscience.

“I do not agree that, whether I am correct or not, someone in an arbitrary way and without discussion prevents me from expressing my views,” said Romaszewski, who was first suspended from and then quit PiS. “I am one of the few senators who knows the situation from up close, and no one asked by opinion before the vote on removing Krzysztof Piesiewicz’s immunity.”

For Kaczynski, who rules PiS with an iron fist, the issue came down to party discipline and to his long-running crusade against corruption, which has been a lynchpin of PiS’s electoral platform.

“Mr Romaszewski had a different opinion and he was punished,” said Kaczynski.

In the end the vote to remove Piesiewicz’s immunity failed, but on the strength of the majority of Civic Platform senators, and not because of the two PiS rebels. Instead of a scandal that damages the ruling party, Kaczynski has again turned the discussion to his tight control over PiS, something that is also likely to damage to re-election chances of his twin brother Lech, currently Poland’s president.

As for Piesiewicz, he has gone to ground, not even showing up for the immunity vote in the senate.

In one of his only interviews since his career blew up, Piesiewicz told a religious TV channel that he only blames himself for his “naiveté and thoughtlessness."

“We will see what will become of me. I’m waiting calmly for the media fuss to die down,” he said, adding that he will “never” know peace again.