Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | April 10, 2010

Kaczynski’s Date with History

The tragic 10 April plane crash in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 96 other people died amplifies a sense that the march of history is accelerating and its direction is unclear. There is no evidence of foul play and no reason to suspect any.  But how odd that Kaczynski died during a trip to Russia to commemorate the Katyn Forest massacre of 70 years ago.  The irony is deepened by the fact that Vladimir Putin participated in a separate commemoration ceremony on 7 April with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, marking the first time Russia has implicitly accepted responsibility for the massacre.

Lech Kaczynski told Fox News in September that it was an “unfortunate coincidence” when Barack Obama announced he was abandoning the Bush missile defense plan on 17 September, the day the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939.  That coincidence also fell on a 70th anniversary.  It’s almost – if we believed in cosmic omens – as if the dead hand of World War II were reaching out to shake us and wake us up.

The loss of Kaczynski will make a difference to the face of politics in Europe.  This is more than a banal bromide: Kaczynski has been one of the most vocal advocates in the EU for close relations with the United States and European energy independence from Russia.  The European left has seen him as an annoyingly nationalist Pole, invariably characterizing his Law & Justice Party dismissively as “far right.”  Conservatives from elsewhere in Europe have been coalescing, however, around the short list of principles embodied in Kaczynski’s policies, including “Euroskepticism” – a skeptical view of the rush to central government in Brussels and administrative homogenization across national lines within the EU; a strong NATO with an Atlantic orientation; and European policy independence from Russia.

The question, after Lech Kaczynski, is what the political fate of this set of principles will be, both in Poland and across Europe.  These principles, while professed to varying degrees by others, are not represented in Kaczynski’s terms in the leadership of Europe’s other large nations.  Although the Law & Justice Party is a robust coalition, it is not clear that there is a leader of Kaczynski’s stature waiting behind him.  The opposition Civic Platform Party, led by Prime Minister Tusk, has controlled parliament since 2007, and its speaker in the lower house was expected to run against Kaczynski in this year’s presidential election anyway.  Will the Poles turn firmly away from the Kaczynski legacy and vote in a Civic Platform president, when the election is held in the next two months?  And if so, how will that affect the political future of European conservatism as a whole – with no “security conservative” left in the ranks of the most senior officialdom in the biggest European nations?

Indeed, how will it affect Polish relations with the US?  Poland may decide not to host even the Patriot point-defense missile battery the Obama Defense Department proposes to put there, as part of the concept for defending NATO against intermediate-range missiles from Iran.  Kaczynski made his name by taking a tough line with Russia and resisting a de facto Russian veto over Polish policies.  Donald Tusk has not shown this disposition; indeed, that is widely understood to be why Putin joined him in the Katyn Forest commemoration this week, but Kaczynski had to make a separate trip.

The loss of Kaczynski will mean one thing for certain:  a muting of analytical, security-focused criticism about accommodationist policy toward Russia.  Leaders from Bush and Obama to the EU-3, and Spain, Italy, and Greece, have had to defend their policies against such criticism, oriented on their handling of Russia, from Kaczynski’s Poland.  No European national leader, at least not one from a major nation, appears likely to assume that role now.  The resulting rhetorical void will inevitably increase a sense of isolation and political impotence among Kaczynski’s policy sympathizers in Europe.

Kaczynski, for example, affirmed in a speech to a Chicago audience in 2007 that Poland wanted Russia to move beyond her perception of Poland as a satellite, or as the primary subordinate nation in Russia’s European sphere of influence.  He publicly stressed the importance of Europe diversifying its energy sources after the Russian invasion of South Ossetia in August 2008, as well as expressing support for Georgian independence, and pointing out Russian provocations in the disputed provinces that involved violating the ceasefire accord.  His criticism of the West’s reaction to the Georgia crisis was blunt and forthright in a way no other European leader’s was.

And in November 2008, he visited Georgia and accompanied President Mikhail Saakashvili on a driving tour of South Ossetia, during which the two of them approached what they described as an improperly located Russian outpost, and were subsequently fired on – in their opinion, from the post they were heading toward.

Kaczynski’s trajectory is a reminder of the reality in a part of the world where World War II was neither “the good war” nor the end of oppression and conflict.  It has other poignant qualities too, from his brief career, with twin brother Jaroslaw, as a child film actor in the early 1960s, to their joint rise to political prominence as leaders of the Law & Justice Party, to Lech’s own presence at a Hanukkah celebration at Warsaw’s main synagogue in December 2008, the first time in history that a Polish political leader has made such an appearance.

But his fiery death is also a harbinger of the end of our holiday from history since 1991.  It’s an accidental harbinger, perhaps, but a true one nonetheless.  It’s emblematic of Poland’s condition – national size, location in place and time – that so very many of her state leaders were flying on the same airplane all at once.  The great powers never do that.  But Kaczynski imagined a Poland that had the same latitude in its national life as a great, hegemonic power, without having to amass the might and perquisites of one.  Europe is busy disavowing that vision of national integrity in principle; and without leaders like Kaczynski to articulate it, European politicians can express less and less reason to resist domination by Russia – or perhaps, one day, by political Islam.

The pointed intersection of historic anniversaries with the last year of Lech Kaczynski’s life is the clearest of signals, if we are willing to see it, that history is not done with us yet.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.


  1. Great Roosian Peoples categorically deny hanky panky charges and other lies by Roosia-hating foreign peoples. Just ask Anna Politkovsaya. Ask 200 Rossian journalists who died by accident too.

    Watch out! Great Democratic Rossian government can quickly reclaim rights to Poland, which has always been a far Russian Peoples Region of our great democracy. Polish peoples love their big Rossian brothers. They are Slavs too, remember!

  2. It really makes you wonder…

    I somehow doubt the Russians would be this overt. If this actually was foul play wouldn’t they have started the invasion by now? I guess we’ll have to see who takes over and decide by their statements and actions.

  3. Zoltan: Do you mean Slavs or slaves, my frem?

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