The ruling party is trying to present itself as the protector of national sovereignty
Poland’s general election on 15 October is seen by many as a battle for the nation’s soul — and right now, it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge victorious. Going head-to-head are the leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) Jarosław Kaczyński and the leader of the opposition Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and ex-European Council president.
As campaigning grows increasingly bitter, Tusk’s past is leaving him open to attack as an alleged German stooge and enemy of Polish sovereignty, as PiS bets on playing up threats to national sovereignty in the run-up to the vote.
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The latest in a long line of attacks by PiS is an ad which portrays Tusk as keen to sell out Poland to German interests. The ad draws on claims that his decision to raise the retirement age while previously prime minister was taken under orders from Berlin. It shows Kaczyński receiving a fictitious call from the German Embassy demanding that the retirement age be “the same as it was under Mr. Tusk” (PiS reversed Tusk’s raising of the retirement age), to which the party leader replies “Mr. Tusk is not here anymore and those habits are finished.”
The ad encapsulates PiS’s electoral strategy: combining its favourite pastime — Tusk-bashing — with its attempts to awaken deep-rooted anti-German sentiments. A year ago, the party launched a campaign to extract $1.3 trillion in reparations from Germany for losses inflicted during the Second World War, with Germany insisting that the matter of reparations is closed. PiS said Berlin was setting “a perfect example for Russia on how to behave as regards Ukraine”.
It may seem illogical for Warsaw to devote so much energy to attacking a key ally, yet attempting to convince the Polish public that they are in fact hemmed in by hostile superpowers for whom Tusk is a servant — not just Russia but also Germany and, by extension, the EU — is the key ingredient in PiS’s electoral campaign.
Despite Germany’s U-turn on relations with Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine, Kaczyński has continued to warn of a “German-Russian plan to rule over Europe”. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has meanwhile claimed that “Tusk, an envoy of the Brussels elites,” will “demolish Poland’s security”.
The party has put the spotlight on Tusk’s roles in the heyday of Russian economic cooperation with Germany and the EU during the previous decade. Indeed, a move to institute a committee investigating past “Russian influence” in Poland has been nicknamed “Lex Tusk” by opponents due to concerns that it will be used to discredit PiS’s arch opponent.
And while implicating him in the Russian-German tandem which fostered Europe-wide dependency on Russian gas, Tusk’s EU past also allows him to be linked with supposedly sinister designs now being hatched by Brussels bureaucrats to enforce conformity among member states.
PiS portrays its various legal battles with Brussels as a noble attempt to preserve national sovereignty even at the cost of heavy fines. In this context, Tusk’s promise to secure the release of withheld EU funding on his first day in office will come across to many PiS supporters as a promise to wave a white flag.
By linking Tusk with a triumvirate of supposedly hostile powers in Moscow, Berlin and Brussels, PiS has positioned itself as the party that protects Polish sovereignty from threats to the east and west. Kaczyński is trying every trick in the book to ram this message home and to persuade voters that, when it comes to next month’s crunch elections, only one party truly has Polish interests at heart.