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Friday, June 19, 2009

Let's Hear It For the Ducks!

The Ducks turned 60! Picture your most petulant friend. Temper tantrums. Pouting. Insolent stubborn pettiness. That, unfortunately, goes a long way to describing Poland's President and his twin brother. Polish President, Lech Kaczynski and his mostly identical twin, the former Prime Minister (yes, they were in office at the same time), Jaroslaw Kaczynski celebrate their 60th birthdays this week. Cheers for the Ducks. Yip yip. The evening was settled and lovely, lazy white clouds floating around in the sky, the calm after another afternoon storm. Our coffees were still steaming as we sat around the marble table at Blikle and watched the world go by. Up the street, a sound of two-tone sirens alerted us to the coming motorcade. Three motorcycles led a procession of four black Mercedes, serious cars for serious business. Of course we looked. "Oh," he said, "it's just the Ducks." Presidential motorcades in Poland are not quite the dramatic affairs they are here in the States. No oversized SUV's, no press bus. Just the four Mercedes speeding up Nowy Swiat from the Presidential offices to the Presidential residence, or the Parliament or the opera. So went the Ducks, a twofer, both of them together, off to wherever they were wanted. Which is not everywhere, that's for sure. The Ducks are not terribly popular, especially in the capital. Which is why -- and you may have been wondering -- they are derisively referred to as "the Ducks." It's not a term of affection. And certainly not one of respect. The name "Kaczynski" is very close to the word for duck. Hence, you have it. They were child actors. Think Lindsay Lohen in high office. No, please don't. Lech and Jaroslaw became lawyers and then activists in the burgeoning Solidarity movement in the early 80's. After an infamous falling out with Lech Walesa, having to do with an admittedly crude joke Walesa made about matters pertaining to the brothers' sexual orientation, the twins went their way and were instrumental in the creation of a rival political party that has been consistently consumed with matters of personal morality and, more to the point, vendettas against the more liberal and outward looking politics of a long list of Polish presidents and parliamentarians. Of course there are substantive issues on which their political party, PiS -- and yes, Poles love to refer to it as such, knowing full well the meaning of piss in English parlance -- and other parties differ. Especially regarding the influence, directly or indirectly, of Roman Catholic teaching on issues of sexual morality. But it often seems that the main energy of PiS is all about antagonizing Walesa and whomever they view as allies of more progressive social policies. The pettiness has been laughable. And sad, disturbing and stupid. The Ducks are not in quite the same power position as two years ago. The PiS coalition in Parliament fell apart and new elections were held, from which a new party emerged victorious. Lech is still the country's President but Jaroslaw is only the leader of the minority party. Nonetheless, they manage to keep stirring the pot. Temper tantrums of late have included ridiculous posturing about their role in the celebrations of the end of communism. Several European leaders, including Angela Merkel of Germany, came to honor Poland's role in bringing down the walls around the Soviet satellites. But there was no President of Poland to welcome her. Oh, no. He was off in Gdansk, leading a counter-celebration set up to compete with the official one. Earlier, he chartered a plane to fly to an EU meeting where he was not officially involved because, he insisted, he should be. And the Ducks duo summarily cancelled an important international summit two years ago because they were angry at German political cartoons for making some fun of them. It would be like Bush refusing to go to France because, oh, wait, I think that happened too. Well, anyway. Pettiness and petulance are their hallmarks. And I tell you all this because it has had an unfortunate effect on Poland's continued development economically, culturally, and politically. Poland, twenty years beyond communism, is still spoiled to an extent by the continued suspicions and resentments of the past. Who did what, who was on what side, who got what when the country privatized its huge production plants and corporations? It will take until the next generation is firmly in charge, probably, for all of these old hurts and frustrations to stop standing in the way of basic reforms still needed to modernize the economy. How can you get anything done when everything is hamstrung by bickering, obstinance and stick-out-your-lower-lip, take-your-ball-and-go-home silliness? Poland's remarkable economic success has happened in spite of, rather than thanks to government leadership. So now Poland has only one Duck in high office instead of two. But both brothers keep up the barrage of bad behaviors. In spite of that, and in the spirit of cheesy bipartisanship, let me be among the well-wishers. Let's hear it for the ducks. Quack.

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