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This is Poland's almost-president, on drugs

Jaroslaw Kaczynski disavows his campaign messages and fires key staff.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Candidate for president Jaroslaw Kaczynski (center), twin brother of late Polish president killed in a plane crash, arrives on July 2, 2010, for a final rally held before the second round of the presidential election on July 4. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

WARSAW, Poland — Jaroslaw Kaczynski narrowly failed to win Poland's presidential election this summer and he has one dramatic explanation for his loss: drugs.

“I was in a terrible state of shock after my brother's death — nothing worse could have ever happened to me in my life. I had to take very powerful calming drugs — which had its effects,” Kaczynski said in an interview with the Polish edition of Newsweek. “I was in such a state that, honestly, the election campaign was thought up for me.”

Kaczynski's twin brother Lech, Poland's president, as well as 95 other senior officials and civil servants, died in a plane crash on April 10. Jaroslaw took his brother's place in the ensuing presidential election as leader of the right-wing opposition Law and Justice party, and by all accounts conducted an excellent campaign that had the ruling Civic Platform party running scared.

Starting as a widely disparaged and mistrusted right-wing radical, Kaczynski tacked to the center, saying kind words about Russia and Germany, calling for an end to political strife in Poland and making nice with the ex-communist left. Despite warnings from Civic Platform that the new Kaczynski was a fake, many voters were persuaded of the sincerity of the change of personality and Kaczynski narrowly lost to the eventual winner, Bronislaw Komorowski, 47-53 percent.

But the skeptics were right: The candidate Kaczynski was nothing more than a front, and now the opposition leader is returning to his normal personality.

“Today I have reason to question the election strategy,” Kaczynski said.

Kaczynski first took an axe to his campaign team — denouncing his spokesman, Pawel Poncyliusz, as nothing more than a “pretty face” and briefly suspending one of his campaign chiefs, Elzbieta Jakubiak, for no particular reason at all. Marek Migalski, a member of the European Parliament, was dumped after writing an open letter saying that Kaczynski was one of party's greatest assets, but also one of its greatest liabilities.

Kaczynski has also returned to his traditional foreign policy views, proclaiming that Poland is now a German-Russian condominium, which would come as something of a surprise to Poland's NATO allies.

He reserves particular venom for Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, calling them “evil people,” saying that he will never shake Komorowski's hand, and accusing the government of being responsible for the air crash that killed his twin brother.

As Polish pop psychologists try to determine what is going on with Kaczynski, the role of the Smolensk air crash looms ever larger. It has become Kaczynski's obsession. Although the crash is being investigated by both Russian and Polish authorities, and there is no final conclusion, all indications are that the main factor in the crash was pilot error, as the Polish air force crew tried to land the Russian-built Tu-154 airliner in a dense fog. But Kaczynski insists: “Crew error does not enter into it. Either the equipment didn't work or it was some sort of an attack.”

Kaczynski's views have found an echo with the hard core of his party's electorate. The ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja network holds prayers for the return of Polish independence, proclaiming that the country is under threat from Russia, which had a hand in the air crash as a way of eliminating Lech Kaczynski. That conspiratorial tone is echoed by Antoni Macierewicz, the Mephistophelian head of a parliamentary commission, consisting of only Law and Justice party members, looking into the crash.

Many of Kaczynski's followers were galvanized by Komorowski's decision to remove a wooden cross from in front of the presidential palace, originally set up by Boy Scouts to commemorate the crash. The cross was finally taken down by squads of police after its backers held a series of street protests to keep it in place.

Kaczynski's increasingly erratic behavior is hurting his party in opinion polls, while Tusk's Civic Platform party continues to have the backing of about half the electorate, and looks set to romp to easy victories in this year's local and next year's parliamentary elections.

“We have no one to lose to,” Tusk recently proclaimed.

The more moderate members of Kaczynski's party are distressed, but they have little influence over Kaczynski, who brooks no dissent in the party he built.

“I have to be very careful about what I say,” said a senior Law and Justice party member. “This talk of the plane crash is hurting us, but there is nothing I can do.”

The end result is that as Tusk's government tries to deal with a rising budget deficit, and steers the country through increasingly tricky economic waters, the main opposition party has gone missing, holding torchlight parades to remember those killed in the plane crash, and fearfully waiting for Kaczynski's next unpredictable move.

“If Law and Justice doesn't get its act together, I could see Civic Platform ruling for another generation,” said Eryk Mistewicz, a political consultant.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/poland/101022/jaroslaw-kaczynski