August 9, 2010

President Komorowski – a friendly face of Polish “Big Brother”?

Tomas Jermalavicius: On August 6th, Bronislaw Komorowski will be sworn in as a new president of Poland. As a candidate of the ruling party “Civic Platform”, he defeated Jaroslaw Kaczynski – a former Prime Minister, leader of the opposition “Law and Justice” party and a twin brother of the deceased President Lech Kaczynski – by a narrower margin than initially expected. The election was a rather muted affair, marked by polite (at least by Polish standards) campaigning, whereby even J. Kaczynski and his party, known for their vitriolic assaults on their opponents, behaved themselves. This is not surprising, given that the election was triggered by and took place in the aftermath of “Poland’s moment of 9/11” – death of the President and the accompanying delegation in an air crash.

09.08.2010, Tomas Jermalavicius
On August 6th, Bronislaw Komorowski will be sworn in as a new president of Poland. As a candidate of the ruling party “Civic Platform”, he defeated Jaroslaw Kaczynski – a former Prime Minister, leader of the opposition “Law and Justice” party and a twin brother of the deceased President Lech Kaczynski – by a narrower margin than initially expected. The election was a rather muted affair, marked by polite (at least by Polish standards) campaigning, whereby even J. Kaczynski and his party, known for their vitriolic assaults on their opponents, behaved themselves. This is not surprising, given that the election was triggered by and took place in the aftermath of “Poland’s moment of 9/11” – death of the President and the accompanying delegation in an air crash.
Domestic politics of Poland is slowly resuming its usual course, with bitter bickering replacing a brief period of rather respectful intercourse. In terms of foreign policy, the election of B. Komorowski will almost certainly mean less internal discord in Polish foreign policymaking. Earlier, the Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the late President Lech Kaczynski were rivals in this field and had diverging views on how to deal with, for instance, Germany or Russia. Tusk’s pragmatic streak and liberal instincts were constantly at odds with Kaczynski’s conservatism, suspiciousness and self-anointed role of a bulwark against perceived assertiveness of Poland’s historical enemies. Even representing Poland in the EU summits was an issue of competition between the two top officials.
Bronislaw Komorowski is loyal to his party and party’s leader Donald Tusk. Unless he decides to break out of Tusk’s shadow and forge his own identity in foreign policy, where president’s authority is more substantial than in domestic affairs, there is little chance he will diverge from, let alone oppose, Prime Minister’s line. And that line is utterly pragmatic. It is aimed at, first, maintaining good working relations with and constructively engaging three critical players – Washington, Moscow and Berlin (a rather traditional geopolitical triangle in Polish history, where Washington replaced London and Paris) and, second, building and exploiting Poland’s potential as a regional heavyweight, with concomitant influence in the EU and beyond.
When it comes to small Poland’s neighbours or regional partners and their interests or concerns, a certain pattern has already emerged in Poland’s foreign policy which has been noted by many observers: these countries are often treated as a nuisance that occasionally has to be dealt with, but not of any major importance. They are consequential only in so far as building coalitions on various issues pertaining to advancing Poland’s position within the EU are concerned. Noting this egocentric and somewhat arrogant stance, one Polish analyst even went as far as to compare Tusk’s attitude with Putin’s view of the small neighbours. As a result, for instance, the Baltic states are likely to continue having difficulties in enthusing Warsaw to do more for creating or improving crucial energy and transport links between our region and the rest of Europe.
In a similar vein, the cause of promoting democratisation of the space between Russia and the EU is not resonating very well through the pragmatic Warsaw’s foreign policy camp. Or, at least, it has been acquiring a much lower profile. So, with the Kaczynskis out of the picture, transition to post-idealist phase of foreign policy in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltics is almost complete. Estonia’s President Ilves will often feel lonely in this field when meeting his regional counterparts. Values-driven approach to foreign policy, promoted by such figures as Lech Kaczynski of Poland and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania and aimed at bolstering young democracies in Ukraine or Georgia as well as resisting the assertiveness of authoritarian Russia, is unlikely to experience rejuvenation because of Komorowski’s inauguration.
Indeed, the region’s “managerial” prime ministers with their portfolios full of economic interests, infrastructure projects, energy security designs or financial stability issues will have more of a say and will feature more prominently in foreign policymaking than visionary but largely ceremonial presidents – many of whom, including Komorowski, will simply sit in the shadow of their prime ministers. But here we will still have to watch Warsaw as a crucial dealmaker or breaker around which a small interests-based coalition might eventually emerge as a regional group to deal with Berlin, Moscow or Washington on various strategic issues. Poland definitely has all the potential to become the region’s major hub and leader.
One major obstacle to this role is Poland’s aforementioned attitude to smaller neighbours. Lithuanian analysts and commentators pinned some hopes on Komorowski to change that. His ancestry goes back to the aristocratic family that has lived for centuries in the north of Lithuania – a background with which he seems to be emotionally very much connected. There is a certain expectation among Poland-watchers that, originating from a small country, President Komorowski might be more willing and able to listen to them, and that Poland might become more attentive not only to the American, German or Russian voices but also to those of the smaller neighbours and partners. This might indeed become a distinct contribution of President Komorowski to Poland’s pragmatic foreign policy. If he manages to temper Poland’s foreign policy instinct to deal mainly with the “big boys” while giving a cold shoulder to the small ones, he will be remembered fondly in our region.

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