Poland`s newly elected leader makes U.S. visit a priority
11:13, 10/02/2006, By Tom Hundley, Chicago Tribune
The visit to Washington underscores importance Poland places on the trans-Atlantic alliance and signals Kaczynski`s deep skepticism of the European Union, especially in matters concerning Poland`s security and its testy relationship with Russia.
Poland`s ties with France and Germany suffered when Warsaw supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Its current deployment of nearly 1,500 troops to Iraq is the fifth largest after the United States, Britain, South Korea and Italy.
The previous Polish government planned to withdraw the troops in early 2006, but after Kaczynski`s election in October, the new government decided to extend the deployment until the end of 2006 and perhaps longer, even though opinion polls show that 60 to 70 percent of the electorate want the troops home, and many commentators have complained that the Bush administration has done little to reward the Poles.
"We simply believe our mission in Iraq is not over yet," Kaczynski said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week. "Other NATO member states are still there. For example, Italians, who are there in greater numbers than us, are still there. And this is why we thought it would be good that the Poles stay to finish the mission."
At the same time, he suggested that the Bush administration could be doing more to support Poland`s efforts to modernize it military.
Kaczynski, 56, and his twin brother Jaroslaw came to power last fall by portraying themselves as the defenders of Poland`s conservative social values against the encroaching liberalism of Europe.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the older by 45 minutes, heads the Law and Justice party which won September`s parliamentary elections. But instead of taking the top job as prime minister, Jaroslaw, who prefers to operate in the background, stepped aside in a bid to enhance his younger brother`s chances in the presidential elections the following month. The strategy worked.
With Lech as president, Jaroslaw as the power behind the government, and Law and Justice increasingly allied with some of Poland`s most reactionary fringe parties, the two former child actors now find themselves at the forefront of a budding "culture war" in Europe.
Both Kaczynskis have been outspoken critics of gay rights, liberal abortion laws and the failure of the proposed EU constitution to contain any reference to God or Europe`s Christian roots.
In his interview with the Tribune, President Kaczynski said his views were conservative, but hardly out of the mainstream.
"Contrary to some people`s opinions I am not a radical conservative myself. I accept change in this world. I accept the right of people to have their own opinions, equal rights of women and changes in social mores. However, that doesn`t mean that we should forsake family values," he said.
"Also contrary to what some people say, I am not for the discrimination against gays. They have the right to participate in public life. However, I am against the public display of their sexual preferences," said. But many in Poland are concerned by the Kaczynski brothers` faithful embrace of Roman Catholic teachings on social matters, especially on homosexuality and abortion.
"This is a very reactionary, very conservative group, and they are scaring people in Europe," said Krzysztof Bobinski, director of Unia I Polska, a pro-European Union research center in Warsaw.
"Banning gay marches is something you do for political effect when you`re trying to build a constituency on the right. They are learning from the U.S., from the Moral Majority," said Bobinski. "But I think it`s dangerous and unhelpful if you say homosexuality is an illness that can be treated - then we`re back in Britain in the 1950s."
Earlier this week, a mother of three who is nearly blind sued the Polish government in the European Court of Human Rights over the refusal of doctors to terminate her third pregnancy even after they warned that giving birth would further damage her eyesight. The woman`s eyesight worsened after the birth of the child.
The case is shaping up as a major test of Europe`s notion of human rights versus Poland`s idea of family values and Catholic values.
Kaczynski noted that "Poland is definitely more deeply Catholic than any other Catholic country in Europe," and that as president "I will, for sure, defend the fundamental value system in Poland."