The circumstances under which Poland’s presidential took place notwithstanding, many interested observers, including myself, are breathing a sigh of relief at the result. In essence, Poland faced a stark choice: move firmly toward the European mainstream, or through the election of Jarosław Kaczyński, send a signal that on the whole Polish society preferred to keep its distance. To those unfamiliar with the Polish political scene on 4 July the forces of Christian Democracy, represented by Bronisław Komorowski of Civic Platform, were ranged against those of the populist Law & Justice. Given that this election was a run-off, it appears that politically engaged people of all stripes who were opposed to Law & Justice rallied around the more moderate of the two candidates.

The election was interesting above all for the fact that Jarosław Kaczyński presented himself as some kind of born-again moderate. His campaign was notable for its lack of anti-Russian and anti-German invective: curious for someone who has built his entire career around attempting to preserve Polish national integrity and values (as defined by him, his twin brother and their political acolytes) against ill-defined threats from abroad, and Russia and Germany, which is of course allied to Poland, in particular. Maybe Smolensk and the loss of his brother, Lech, had some kind of cathartic affect on Jarosław Kaczyński, yet, I’m not convinced. Rather it may have been the case that he recognised that after the Russian government’s reaction to Smolensk no mileage could be gained from carping about past and indeed current, Russian behaviour toward Poland. Similarly, he and his advisors may have drawn the conclusion that trying to convince Polish voters that Erika Steinbach is somehow more influential than Angela Merkel simply won’t wash with most Poles aged under 50.

So, where does Poland go now? In terms of domestic politics, I don’t expect much change. After all, the president and the prime minister are ideological bedfellows. In terms of its relations with Russia, although no grand rapprochement with Russia can be expected, neither is Komorowski likely to pick fights, especially concerning the past. As for Germany, Komorowski can be expected to treat residual matters arising from World War Two, as precisely that, and not let them get in the way of more substantive and immediate matters.

The greatest change, however, is probably this: the election may well mark the definitive end of Poland’s long transition from authoritarianism to liberal democracy. The emergent Polish elite was born in the midst of the collapse of ‘really existing socialism’ and has no real memory of those times, let alone of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the carnage it unleashed on what was an already fragile and deeply divided society. On 4 July 2010, Poland seems finally to have broken with a long tradition. Meanwhile in South Africa, Miroslav Klose, the greatest Polish-born footballer of modern times continues to spearhead Germany’s march to the World Cup final

Karl Cordell is Professor of Politics at the University of Plymouth, UK, and is co-editor of Ethnopolitics

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