113 days have passed since Bronisław Komorowski was inaugarated as Poland’s fourth democratically elected president. After having been characterised as inactive, bland and being a puppet of the government, the president now shows that he is maybe more independent than one might think.
The first weeks and months of Mr Komorowski’s presidency have been dominated if not over-shadowed by the so-called ‘Polish-Polish war’, the confrontation of two different visions of Poland: On the one hand the pro-European, (economically and partly also socially) liberal Poland represented by the governing Civic Platform and its leader, prime minister and Charlemagne Laureate Donald Tusk; on the other hand, the traditional, nationalistic-catholic Poland which finds its personification in former prime minister and leader of the ‘Law and Justice’ party, Jarosław Kaczyński (twin brother of the tragically died president Lech Kaczyński). A wooden cross – erected by pathfinders in front of the presidential palace on the day of the Smolensk tragedy – and the demonstration for and against it removal dominated the news (still no week passes with at least one press article or editor’s comment touching the subject) and Mr Komorowski’s intervention in the matter were perceived by many Poles as half-heartedly and too late. His other attempts to relax the situation (e.g. making his opponent, Jarosław Kaczyński, a member of the National Security Council) were boycotted by the opposition and he saw himself faced with accusations of having co-plotted the crash of the presidential aircraft in April. When comparing the approval ratings of his first three months with the former Polish presidents, Komorowski only beats his direct predecessor, Lech Kaczyński. Even though he is placed second (and thus ahead of prime minister Tusk) when it comes to the most trustworthy politicians, this can hardly be called a success as Grzegorz Napieralski, 36 year-old leader of the oppositionist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and third-placed presidential candidate, takes the first place.
It seemed that president Komorowski’s first and foremost task was not to interfer with the government (which also not distinguished itself by particular activism) or – in the case of the wooden cross – take the blame in order to ensure the government’s re-election next autumn. Furthermore, his recent proposals for constitutional amendments have been of a pure technical nature. However, the president’s decision to invite general Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last Communist head of state, to the meeting of the National Security Council shows that he might not only have his own strategies but is also independent enough to pursue them.
A little background: Mr Komorowski had invited gen. Jaruzelski to the meeting in anticipation of the state visit by his Russian colleague, Dimitri Medvedev, on December 6, 2010. While president Komorowski justified his decision by the fact that he ‘had decided to invite all former presidents and gen. Jaruzelski is one of them’ and that gen. Jaruzelski disposed of invaluable experience concerning Polish-Russian relations. Furthermore, gen. Jaruzelski had also fought against Nazi-Germany. All former prime minister were also invited to the meeting; former prime minister, Mr Komorowski’s opponent in the presidential race and and leader of the Law and Justice-party, Jarosław Kaczyński, however refused to accept the invitation saying that he would not ‘shake the hand of a dictator’.
Polish media have been divided in their comments on inviting gen. Jaruzelski. While all mentioned gen. Jaruzelski’s responsibility for introducing martial law in Poland in December 1981, only some took this a justification for opposing his participation in the meeting. Supporters mainly stressed the fact that he had ensured a peaceful transition to democracy and his expertise was invaluable. Many members of the president’s party, Civic Platform – PO, which mainly stems from the Solidarity movement (the president himself being a former Solidarity activist) also openly disapproved of the president’s decision. The newspaper ‘Polska – The Times’ even quotes an anonymous source that party leader and prime minister, Donald Tusk, had been furious when hearing about it.
It seems that president Komorowski is more independent from the government after all. His invitation to gen. Jaruzelski might on the one hand well be motivated by the wish to master president Medvedev’s state visit in a way that will be approved by all Poles (the traditionally difficult Polish-Russian relations have been tense in the last time as the Russian authorities have still not given Poland complete insight in their investigations concerning the crash of the presidential aircraft in Smolensk). On the other hand, it could be an attempt to reconcile Poles with their immediate past and trigger a less emotional debate about coming to terms with the Communist legacy. In any case, Mr Komorowski has shown that he is able to take decisions that contravene the policy of the government and his party. It is a risky game. Contrary to Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Lech Kaczyński Bronisław Komorowski is without a significant power base in his party and might thus jeopardise support for future political projects. In the worst-case scenario, he might end up just as Lech Wałęsa – unpopular and with no genuine representation in parliament. But if everything turns out well for him, he might retain the backing from his party and gain the support of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) many of whose members and MPs certainly welcomed the invitation of their member gen. Jaruzelski.