WARSAW – Until his recent bungled attempt to block Donald Tusk’s reelection as European Council President, Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, may have appeared to many European Union leaders to be a politician in the vein of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán or some Western populist. But that is far from the case. And now Europe has gotten a taste of Polish political culture, which has long revolved around attempting to restrain a madman. This is what Aleksander Kwaśniewski did as president, and it is what occupied Tusk when he was prime minister. Now this task falls to the Polish opposition – and to Europe.
What happened in Brussels was not part of any larger plan. Kaczyński’s attempt to undermine Tusk benefited no one, neither Poland nor the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which Kaczyński chairs. That is not surprising, because Kaczyński represents the antithesis of pragmatism, which he views as a hallmark of betrayal and weakness. Unlike Orbán, his partner in “illiberalism,” Kaczyński is a paranoid fanatic, not merely a cynical opportunist.
There is little to be gained by trying to decipher Kaczyński’s plans, goals, statecraft, or ideology. He is not an egoist; in Freudian terms, he is pure id, overwhelmed by the death drive. His modus operandi is to attack his opponents, wait for them to hit back or mount resistance, and then retaliate with full force. And, as always, his views, allies, and short-term objectives are inconstant, because they ultimately matter little to him.
Given Kaczyński’s belief that he was humiliated at the recent summit, he will now lash out at the EU. He will provoke, obstruct, ignore, and assign blame. In a sign of what is to come, Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told the tabloid Superekspres after the summit that the EU was pursuing “a policy of double standards and deceptions.” According to Waszczykowski, Poland not only “must drastically reduce [its] level of trust in the EU,” but “must also begin to pursue a negative policy,” by “blocking other initiatives or playing a very aggressive game.”