November 13th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Law and Justice’s particular resentments, above all its virulent anti-Communism in the absence of actual Communists, may be distinctly Polish. But in its revolt against European liberalism, the party stands at the forefront of a growing movement. The one unifying feature of Western democracies today is the rise of nativist, nationalist parties. All of them tap a deep and thickening vein of pessimism about the economic and political prospects of the West. In part their ascent reflects the aftershocks of the financial crisis of 2007-2008, which shook the faith of many working-class and middle-class voters in the wisdom of liberal elites. The continuing refugee crisis has also provoked a fierce backlash against newcomers in many countries. And anxieties about a globalized world have created a bull market in nostalgia.
The European Solidarity Center, a research institute and museum in the old Baltic city Gdansk, sits on the site of the former Lenin Shipyard. This was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement, the union of workers and intellectuals that confronted Poland’s Soviet masters starting in 1980 and ultimately filled the vacuum left by the Soviet withdrawal less than a decade later. The museum offers a vivid reminder of one of Europe’s most heroic episodes since the end of World War II, with pictures of the young protesters killed or imprisoned by the puppet regime. Toward the end of the exhibition hangs a photograph of Lech Walesa, the electrician and Solidarity co-founder who later served as Poland’s first post-communist president, and his fellow Solidarity leaders at the end of a strike at the Lenin Shipyard in 1988. On the edge of the group there are two nearly identical young men with round faces: Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin brother, Lech. My guide at the museum was especially eager that I understand the significance of their placement in the picture: These were marginal men, acutely aware that the glory went to others.
The Kaczynski brothers were born in Warsaw in 1949. At 12, they became famous as the adorable, mop-topped stars of a children’s film, “Those Two Who Stole the Moon.” Both received law degrees, then became caught up in history. In 1976, Jaroslaw joined the Committee for the Defense of Workers, or KOR, a group that formed in the aftermath of a government crackdown. Lech, who by chance had moved to the Gdansk region, went to work for Walesa. When, in December 1981, the Communist government declared martial law, outlawing Solidarity and imprisoning many of its leaders, the Kaczynskis continued to work underground with the union. After Walesa was released from prison, the Kaczynskis returned to his side, writing policy briefs and drafting memos on legal issues. The twins became his functionaries.
“They were useful in a support role,” Walesa told me when I met him at the office he now keeps at the Solidarity Center, “but they didn’t have the ability to be leaders themselves.” This was a view I heard from a number of Solidarity veterans: The Kaczynskis did work no one else wanted to do but never fully tasted either the suffering or the sublime romance of Solidarity. Walesa speculated that Jaroslaw’s turn against the liberal post-Communist consensus arose from “an inferiority complex,” a massive chip on Kaczynski’s shoulder.
…The twins were quite different as people. Lech was a temperamental moderate who fancied himself a statesman-intellectual; Jaroslaw was the wily back-room operator. He has never lived abroad and rarely travels. Lech had a wife and child. Jaroslaw lived with his mother until her death in 2013; his only bedtime companion, he has said, is his cat, Fiona. Until recently, he had, famously, neither a bank account nor a driver’s license. His asceticism functions as a kind of charisma.
At first Jaroslaw remained in the background, but in July 2006, he took the job of prime minister for himself. Poland’s two highest officials were now twins.
That September, Jaroslaw Kaczynski delivered a little-noticed speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, which in retrospect offers an invaluable guide to his worldview. The liberals who led Poland for much of the post-Soviet era, he argued, had made no effort at “changing the social hierarchy,” which remained dominated by ex-Communists. The old elite simply exchanged its former political power for wealth. How, he asked, had these despised anti-Polish elements gained the legitimacy to remain at the top rungs of Polish life? Who smoothed their way? It was “the most influential portion of the counterelite” — the liberals. They had agreed to be “co-opted to the socially privileged sphere.”