Sunday, 13 November 2011

Daleko od Wawelu - book review

Spent the last two days of the shorter working week (i.e. Wednesday and Thursday) on a sick leave. I had been fighting the illness since late October, but surrounded all the time either by sneezing and coughing parents at home or by sneezing and coughing colleagues at work, I finally gave up and came down with some sort of cold. Unfortunately for my employer, I was not the only one to be absent at work at this time, but if they wanted an open plan, they should have taken into account that they would create excellent conditions for germs to fly around. And so they did…

Actually feeling a bit off-colour and staying in bed for three days has even done me good. The first day, when I had a fever did not actually bring the coveted chill-out, but then I finally found time to read books and watch films I had planned to read or watch since months.

One of them was the book written by Michał Majewski and Paweł Reszka - Daleko od Wawelu (“Far from Wawel”, where Poland’s late president Lech Kaczyński was buried). I first heard of the book in October 2010, just upon its publishing, as it was mentioned in “Polityka” as a good account of Lech Kaczyński’s term in office. As the book was reviewed mostly in liberal media, I thought it would focus on presenting the demerits of late president, yet, to my surprise, the picture of the Lech Kaczyński is anything, but one-sided.

As the authors declare, the book, compiled over many months was set to be given some finishing touches in April 2010. Before final editing, authors were appointed to talk it over with Mr Kaczyński himself, yet the final meeting was postponed until mid-April 2010 in the run-up to visit in Smolensk. Needless to say, it has never been held. Shock brought about by the Smolensk disaster put the publishing plans on hold, but a few months later authors decided to make a few technical amendments (e.g. putting past tense instead of present, for “technical” reasons) and print in the book in its pre-Smolensk shape and under a different title.

Mr Majewski and Reszka have aptly drawn a picture of Lech Kaczynski as an ordinary man, as many of us having feet of clay. They carried out several interviews with people who knew the late president well and put their accounts together. The profile of the late head of state is delineated in an unbiased way, giving credit when it was due, and pointing at weaknesses, when necessary. The picture of Lech Kaczynski which emerges from the book shows a man full of contradictions, driven most by emotions. As someone claimed, you could tell about Mr Kaczynski that he was a kind-hearted, affable interlocutor, great speaker who could deliver a speech ad hoc, meet people in a provincial town and talk to them spontaneously, or you could call him hot-tempered, dogged, disorganised, suspicious or indecisive and in both cases you would not depart from the truth. Lech Kaczynski changed moods very quickly, shouted at people and fired them, just to forget about such brawls after two days…

The biggest problem of Mr Kaczynski was, from what I inferred from the book, the fact he was extremely pliable. It is commonly known that he was steered by his brother, who had laid out their plans in politics, and wife, who toned him down, yet this was not the real case. The late president was surrounded by droves of people working in his office who competed with one another at work and used their positions to pursue their own goals. Mr Kaczynski apparently could not tell a sincere man from a mercenary bastard and often trusted too much those who did not deserve it.

Mr Kaczynski seems to appear as a victim of bad people. Not just of his brother, who made him a meaningful figure in politics or the lousy entourage from his office. As everyone realises, late president fell victim of black PR campaigns run by PO politicians masterfully since their victory in 2007 parliamentary election. The purport of PO’s depiction of the president was to present him as a stumbling block that prevents the country from moving forward and an excuse for government’s idleness. The book also sheds some light on the dark side of PO and its leader, Donald Tusk, who have rarely held back from punching below the belt. Recently, the author published a new book, titled Daleko od miłości (“Far from love”), being a similar profile of prime minister Donald Tusk. As soon as I get hold of it and read it from cover to cover, you can expect a review here.

Mr Lech Kaczynski was derided not only in Poland. Foreign diplomats took the trouble to work him out and find his soft spots. In a psychological profile they noticed he felt badly in official situations and was ill at ease during less official meeting owing to his lack of command of foreign languages. They did not hesitate to make use of that knowledge to pound at him. No wonder his ability to pursue foreign policy in a way many Poles wanted (similar to his predecessor, Mr Kwaśniewski) was largely limited.

I was deeply appalled by the overwhelming disorganisation of Mr Kaczynski’s office (kancelaria) workings. The late president could not enforce discipline, the office was run by competing cliques, decisions, due to president’s inherent indecisiveness were taken at hour eleventh, meetings were arranged much too late. Many decisions were taken on the spur of the moment and inspired by bouts of emotions. The book provides a coverage of incident of the ‘Georgian flight’, when the pilot refused to touch down in Tbilisi, slightly different than presented in Gazeta Wyborcza and gives good insight into the president foray into provincial Georgia in November 2008 when someone could have tried to shoot the president. This case, when plans were rapidly changed only due to president Saakashvili’s whim and without providing proper security to the head of state sheds light not only on bad organisation of president’s administration but also is a big question mark for alleged big friendship between the two presidents.

After reading the book, Lech Kaczynski is in my mind more like a tragic character than a mediocre president. I still claim he did not deserve to be buried in Wawel, but the time will not be turned back. The late president was actually a good man, but had no makings for a president. He did not feel comfortable holding the office and it probably would have been better if he had stayed on as professor, instead of stepping back into politics.

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