The Secrets of Jarosław Kaczyński

15. 3. 2017

Michał Krzymowski, Jarosław. Tajemnice Kaczyńskiego. Portret niepolityczny. Ringier Axel Springer, 2014

Writing a biography of one of a set of twins is virtually a suicide attempt for the author. Choosing as their subject one of the most controversial, but also most reclusive Central European politicians is twice the gamble. Against all odds, Polish journalist Michał Krzymowski has managed to write a highly readable gripping book for anyone wishing to understand the current events in Poland. In his biography of Jarosław Kaczyński, he presents a detailed, well-researched portrait of a man whose recent decisions have all of Europe scratching their heads.

The book titled Jarosław: Kaczyński’s Secrets. A Non-Political Portrait appeared in Polish bookstores about a month before the parliamentary elections in October, and has immediately become a useful handbook full of facts, anecdotes, and accounts of the growing and formative years of the currently most powerful Polish politician. We learn of Kaczyński’s complicated relationship with his father, and perhaps an even more complex relationship with his mother, the only authority in his life whom he had been willing to obey without question. Kaczyński’s father, Rajmund, who is rarely mentioned in Poland, had a domineering personality similar to Jarosław’s, and their relationship gradually deteriorated as the years went by.

Jarosław had a more straightforward relationship with his brother Lech, the former Polish president, who had perished in an airplane crash in April 2010. As evidenced by accounts collected by Krzymowski through careful research and dozens of interviews, since the brothers’ childhood, Jarosław had been the more dominant of the twins. One of the brothers’ old schoolmates has claimed that while Lech was more willing to listen to others and consider their opinions, Jarosław had always been the fierce one. “Their whole life, Jarosław had been the one who always set the tone,” said the twins’ mother, Jadwiga, years later.

Jarosław had basically given up on his career and ceded the highest office, the Polish presidency, to his brother Lech. Lech was more emotive and capable of quickly establishing personal contacts, which gave him a better chance of succeeding in such areas as foreign policy. According to Krzymowski, Lech Kaczyński had not been as merciless and decisive in planning revenge, which is one of the driving forces behind Jarosław Kaczyński’s personal brand of politics. Jarosław is slow to let people get close to him, which is apparent when we look at the current Polish administration: the key posts have been given to Jarosław’s old friends and allies, even though in reality, the conservative side won the elections thanks to a group of young talented experts skilled in online campaigning.

Jarosław’s political opponents now have a first-hand experience of his ruthlessness: his current actions are, in some way, a revenge for the death of his brother. The “Smolensk myth”—the conviction that Lech’s airplane had been intentionally brought down by the Russians and the Polish administration at the time helped to cover it up—is the primary article of faith among the die-hard politicians and voters of the conservative Law and Justice party.

Despite the depth to which Krzymowski describes Jarosław’s childhood, adolescence, and family ties, his Kaczyński is a thoroughly political being. Even though both brothers shared a passion for politics, Lech had at one point left Warsaw for Gdańsk, freed himself of the dependence on his brother, and started a family. For Jarosław, on the other hand, politics became the only passion worth pursuing, even though the beginning of his political career was far from impressive. From Krzymowski’s account, it is obvious that his role in the anti-Communist opposition has often been exaggerated. Unlike his brother, he was not interned after the Communist-imposed martial law in 1981. His animosity toward opposition leaders like Jacek Kuroń might have been fuelled by petty slights—such as an anecdote from one of the first opposition meetings in the 1970s, where Kuroń took Kaczyński’s chair. It was actually Lech who invited Jarosław to the highest tier of Polish politics during the round-table negotiations in 1989. However, as Jarosław explained in a long interview in 1994, he had viewed the round- table negotiations with a critical detachment: according to him, it was a mere trade-off, thanks to which the Communist nomenclature could keep its wealth and privileges, in exchange for co-opting the elites of the Solidarity movement into their ranks. This view of Polish politics logically culminates in the Smolensk myth.

There is one thing we have to give Kaczyński credit for: his persistence in pushing through his nationalist, conservative, and somewhat outmoded political visions. At the beginning of Poland’s shift toward democracy, he managed (with the help of his brother) to join the highest political circles, but soon decided to establish his own political party and try to rise to power through it.

Kaczyński’s first political party was Center Agreement. The mid-1990s were a period in Polish politics when anything seemed possible. However, the party’s existence was short-lived: it soon became apparent that what had worked perfectly in the relationship with his brother would not work as well in a wider team. Kaczyński was diligent and hardworking: he traveled all over Poland, established local party organizations, and formed a close circle of associates. Unfortunately, he also struggled with a frequent problem, typical—and devastating—for the Central European political scene: the one-man leadership concept. Kaczyński, who had had his first taste of power in the beginning stages of the Polish democratization as an associate of President Lech Wałęsa, did not tolerate the slightest opposition. Based on his experience with the Communist state security service, as well as agents of the new intelligence service who had been following him in the 1990s, Kaczyński was paranoid about secret services and wished to have total control over them. “As long as someone is useful to him, Jarosław will welcome their cooperation, hug and kiss them. But as soon as someone dares to criticize him, he will start humiliating them and dredging up ancient issues,” writes Krzymowski, basing his claims on the accounts of several former members of Kaczyński’s party. Even today, some people predict that this tendency will eventually prove to be Kaczyński’s undoing.

It is because of this, among other things, that Kaczyński is often considered to be an unpredictable politician. He had confirmed this during his short stint as prime minister (2006–2007), when he was criticized for poor foreign relationships with Germany. Kaczyński mixes political ideas with personal issues, especially the desire for revenge, which has become even more prominent after the Smolensk disaster.

Thanks to his education and family upbringing, in which his mother had played a prominent role, Kaczyński’s thoughts and actions are rooted in Polish politics of the first half of the 20th century, where parties and political programs came second to the dominant figures of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, founder of the Polish state, and politician and statesman Roman Dmowski. Kaczyński’s upbringing, his lawyer’s education, and life experiences have all contributed to the fact that a liberal approach to democracy is a concept utterly foreign to him— even if he would never say it openly.

Kaczyński had completely sacrificed his private life to politics; in one of the chapters, Krzymowski comes to the conclusion that Kaczyński had consciously chosen the path of a “professional revolutionary,” even though his penetrating stare can work wonders on women. He often provokes their nurturing instincts, and his secretaries and female fellow party members fall over themselves to cook him the best meal (nothing exotic; traditional Polish meals only, please).

Some might feel pity for an old man living alone in his old family house with a huge library in the Warsaw district of Żoliborz. Others might feel concerned. Politics is Kaczyński’s life—and he has just made it to the very top.

Martin Ehl

has been working for different Czech print and online media since 1992, from 2006 to 2018 as Chief International Editor and now Chief Analyst at Hospodářské noviny daily. He writes a regular bi-weekly column Middle Europe for the English language internet magazine Transitions Online, for this column he was awarded the „Writing for Central Europe“ prize in Austria in 2012. Co-editor of Visegrad Insight magazine.

Share this on social media

Support Aspen Institute

The support of our corporate partners, individual members and donors is critical to sustaining our work. We encourage you to join us at our roundtable discussions, forums, symposia, and special event dinners.

These web pages use cookies to provide their services. You get more information about the cookies after clicking on the button “Detailed setting”. You can set the cookies which we will be able to use, or you can give us your consent to use all the cookies by clicking on the button “Allow all”. You can change the setting of cookies at any time in the footer of our web pages.
Cookies are small files saved in your terminal equipment, into which certain settings and data are saved, which you exchange with our pages by means of your browser. The contents of these files are shared between your browser and our servers or the servers of our partners. We need some of the cookies so that our web page could function properly, we need others for analytical and marketing purposes.