Troublesome Twins

They are, quite simply, the twins--and identical ones, at that--who now rule Poland. Elected president last fall, Lech Kaczynski swore in his brother Jaroslaw as prime minister last week, stripping away any pretense that anyone else is in charge. That's not all that's been stripped away, however. Only recently applauded as New Europe's biggest success story, Poland before last year's elections was emerging as a key new player within NATO and the EU, sending troops to Iraq and leading the European effort to support the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine. Now it's mostly seen as a problem country, and increasingly, the twins are seen as the biggest problem of all.

Last fall, Jaroslaw assured voters he wouldn't take the job of prime minister if his party won, since he didn't want to jeopardize Lech's chances of winning the presidency. He also led voters to believe he would form a government with the liberal-leaning Civic Platform. Instead he joined his Law and Justice Party with two fringe parties in a coalition that has turned out to be virulently anti gay rights, nationalist to the point of jeopardizing its relations with both Germany and Russia, and whose emphasis on instilling "patriotism" in schools has already triggered a domestic backlash. As a result, Poland has found itself mocked and chastised by its Western neighbors.

By going back on another promise, after dumping popular Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz earlier this month, Jaroslaw has effectively declared that he doesn't care. That could mean bumpy times ahead for Poland. When a Berlin daily recently mocked Lech as "Europe's new potato" who prides himself on his lack of contact with Germany, the notoriously thin-skinned president canceled a planned meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac, ostensibly because of a stomach ailment. Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga demanded an apology from the German government--which had to explain that it has no control over its press.

Judging by a new book of interviews with the twins conducted by Michal Karnowski and Piotr Zaremba, reporters for NEWSWEEK's Polish edition, most of the battles they pick are less about ideas than perceived slights and settling scores. Longtime Solidarity activists during the communist era, the Kaczynskis always resented the fact that they didn't get the same kind of recognition as many of their more glamorous colleagues. After the communist regime collapsed, they served newly elected President Lech Walesa--and promptly were at the center of infighting that shattered the old Solidarity camp. In the book Jaroslaw refers somewhat scornfully to "the myth" of the former Solidarity leader--and makes clear his was purely an alliance of convenience. "I treated him simply as an objective fact," he says.

Similarly, he could ignore his earlier denunciations of Andrzej Lepper, the demagogic head of the farmers' party Self-Defense, and invite him to join his government--despite the fact that Lepper has a record of praising the communist era, and opposing almost everything Solidarity governments have espoused since then. No matter. "To the end, I can't judge what's real about him, and what's a game," Jaroslaw tells his interviewers. Unfortunately for Poles, the same can be said about their new leaders.