For the leading opposition party, Sunday's election here is the
most important event since 1989, when Poland extracted itself from
the Soviet Union while 250,000 troops were still in the country.
They term it a historic battle between light and dark.
For center-right Civic Platform candidate Donald Tusk, Sunday's
vote decides whether Poland turns inward, chauvinist, and
authoritarian under Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski - or flowers
into a more open economy and civil society, as well as a closer
partner to Europe. The party also favors pulling Polish troops out
For Poland's ruling conservative Kaczynski brothers, who are
president and prime minister, Sunday is a battle between light and
dark, but for other reasons. For them, it is about establishing for
the first time since the 18th century a genuine, "pure" Poland - a
lighthouse of Catholic moral and Polish national virtues, a place
where the forgotten poor have hope, and where the security services,
rightly directed, will finally purge white collar crooks, communist
collaborators, and ex-dissidents. Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the
twins, as they are known here, want a Poland that stands for Poland
in Europe, a friend of Washington, and isn't rolled over by Germany
Until a week ago, most polls showed the Kaczynskis would take
Sunday's election. But an Oct. 12 televised debate has put Mr. Tusk
in a neck and neck race. European leaders, wondering about the
direction of a new EU state often described as prickly or
unpredictable, are very interested in the outcome.
The snap elections were called in August amid a terrific
fracturing of political coalitions here. The atmosphere in Warsaw
has been charged by a full-bore campaign by the Kaczynskis to
dismiss high-ranking officials and even to imply that former
dissidents like Solidarity leaders Lech Walesa, Bronislaw Geremek,
and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and even Polish war hero Wladyslaw
Bartoszewski, a former foreign minister, are insufficiently
Since taking office in 2005, the Kaczynski twins have fired or
dismissed no fewer than 14 cabinet-level officials, including the
ministers of finance, interior, defense, and foreign affairs.
Defense minister Radek Sikorski, a prominent political figure here,
resigned in February.
To be sure, experts admit that from the late 1990s to 2005,
corruption in Poland was a serious problem. Yet the twins attempt to
clean up Poland has been at least equally divisive. The combination
of broad "lustration" laws this spring - that used old secret
service files to ferret out collaborators (the effort was struck
down by a constitutional court) - as well as the formation of an
active secret bureau of investigation into corruption (beholden to
the prime minister, according to Western diplomats) has created fear
of retribution along political lines.
"The brothers use the anticorruption and the decommunization
campaigns as two mutually reinforcing ways to vet anyone who wants
to participate in public," says Jacques Rupnik of Sciences Po in
Paris. "It has created a lot of hatred in Poland."
But the Law and Justice Party (PiS) of the twins appeals to
ordinary people in the countryside, to older Poles who have not
enjoyed the fruits of Poland's postcommunist economic success, and
to staunch Catholics. …