sierakowski77_Michal FludraNurPhoto via Getty Images_donaldtusk Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Tusk Effect

Within weeks of returning to Polish domestic politics, former European Council president Donald Tusk has already emerged as the father of the opposition – and with the public support to prove it. At the same time, the country’s illiberal ruling party finds itself on a collision course with just about everyone.

WARSAW – In July, Donald Tusk, the former European Council president who previously served as Poland’s prime minister from 2007 to 2014, returned to Polish politics. Many voters remember him as the politician who raised the country’s retirement age – a policy that was reversed in 2017 by the Law and Justice Party (PiS). In fact, the PiS has blamed Tusk for pretty much everything that is wrong in Poland.

Other paranoid accusations leveled against Tusk include that he collaborated with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2010 to arrange the plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczyński, the identical twin brother of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, and that he is, in fact, a German backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But Tusk is a consummate pragmatist. He admits that he made some serious mistakes during his tenure as prime minister. He now believes that people should be able to choose whether they want to retire earlier or get a larger pension for retiring later. He is less economically liberal than he was before, conceding that the state should be more active in redistribution. Like the rest of the Polish political class, he acknowledges that the PiS government’s many generous social programs are popular. There will be no returning to the neoliberalism that dominated Poland after 1989, in the era of then-Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz’s “shock therapy.”

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