I spent about a week in Hungary, spending time with several American friends, then a quick trip to Estonia's southern neighbours: Latvia and Lithuania and then a trip to Warsaw. While in Warsaw I witnessed with friends (and several relatives of the new President) the election of Bronislaw Komerowski as the fourth President of the Polish III Republic.
The second round of the election was a straight choice between Komerowski and the twin brother of the late President, killed in the Smolensk air disaster, Lech Kaczynski. Jaroslaw "Jarek" Kaczynski has previously served as Prime Minister, when his brother first became President. Jarek Kaczynski is- to say the least- a controversial figure. A profound Social Conservative, he is close to the most reactionary figures in the Catholic church, several of whom chose to denounce -the no less Catholic- Mr. Komerowski from the pulpit. Mr. Kaczynski's follows included some of the most backwoods elements of Polish Society who seem determined to offend their opponents for the slightest deviation from their perceived true path of Nationalist, Catholic Conservative and defensive Polish identity.
Mr Komerowski, on the other hand, as a member of the ruling Civic Platform, is far closer to the true spirit of the Solidarity movement which opposed Communism in the 1980s- indeed he was imprisoned under Communism twice. However his vision for Poland is far more open and much more tolerant- unlike either of the Kaczynski brothers, he has spoken approvingly of secular policies, such as greater freedom for homosexuals, for example. Almost all of the leaders of the Solidarity Movement, including Lech Walesa and Tadeusz Mazowiecki have supported Mr. Komerowski's campaign.
Had Mr. Kaczynski been elected there would have been a return the the hostilities of the Kulturkampf that was taking place between the late President Kaczynski and the government of the centrist Civic Platform under Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Indeed Jarek Kaczynski might have been even more divisive than his relatively calmer brother.
This is not to say that the Tusk government may now rest on its laurels.
The vote for Mr. Kaczynski- no doubt influenced by sympathy for him after the death of his brother- was nonetheless still impressive. Despite the occasionally almost paranoid tone of the two brothers in the last few years in both domestic and international policy, which seemed set to mark the certain defeat of President Lech Kaczynksi in the scheduled election in October, the margin of victory for the Civic Platform was very narrow. Mr. Kaczynski seemed revivified in the campaign, and some subtle changes of tone helped prevent the dramatic defeat that once seemed likely for him and his party.
Nevertheless, despite the economic success of the Tusk government, the battles of the Kulturkampf remain as shrill as ever. The power of Polonia Semper Fidelis remains strong, together with the almost unchallenged role of the church. Any attempt to challenge the deeply conservative elements in the Roman Catholic church must be handled carefully: despite the full throated opposition that several Conservative priests have voiced, the government continues to give their views and exaggerated respect.
In one year's time, the Parliamentary elections will be held, and the backwoodsmen will be back in that campaign as strong as ever. It is time for the Prime Minister to push forward a more radical economic policy, which he may now do without the sniping of a President Kaczynski.
As one of Mr. Komerowski's relatives said at the election night party: Poland usually does do the right thing, but generally only when all the other alternatives have been exhausted.