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reflections

Feb 20, 2007 | 09:00 GMT

5 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Trying to Redefine Poland

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski on Feb. 17 released a 374-page report on the workings of the recently liquidated Military Intelligence Service (WSI). The report betrays the country's intelligence apparatus of the past 15 years, outing its practices, people, connections and expertise. Opposition leaders have said the report is a guidebook to Poland's national security. Kaczynski dissolved the WSI in October 2006, saying the agency had overstepped its jurisdiction and infiltrated every aspect of Polish life with agents in political parties, media and businesses. The report is intended to make public the problems that led to the WSI's demise; instead, its opponents are calling it one of the largest breaches of Polish national security. Uproar over the report is increasing, and former Polish President Lech Walesa has called the move political suicide for the president and his identical twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. However, the move fits into their proclaimed agenda of rooting out all old (communist) institutions, protecting Poland against Russia, solidifying Poland on the international stage and becoming the key European ally for the United States. But this all assumes that the Kaczynski twins do in fact have such an agenda in mind and have not completely fallen off the wagon, as many of their opponents like to believe. The Kaczynskis are internationally known for making brash choices. Since late 2005, the Kaczynskis have gone through myriad Cabinet ministers, collapsed the government and gone head-to-head with the European Union on many substantial policies. Though these moves have given them an unpredictable reputation, they control enough of the government to ensure they cannot be ousted by a vote of no confidence. The twins are clearly consolidating their power in order to reshape the very definition of what Poland is today. What the Polish fear most is a resurgence of Russia as a great power — an assertion that has recently become more apparent. Russia has been consolidating power at home, expanding its influence through its energy infrastructure and getting involved in international disputes, such as that with Iran. If the Polish are going to consolidate their power, effectively purge Soviet influence and become weighty enough to be the front line against Russia, then this is the time to do it — not after Russia fully awakens. And the new government has been swift both to restructure itself and gain influence. In reshaping Poland, Lech Kaczynski is not only purging the old members of government, but also ensuring that they can never return. Like his predecessors, Kaczynski vowed to root out communists and their collaborators from the government. But unlike his predecessors, he has actually taken the drastic moves to do so, turning the purge into a virtual communist witch-hunt. The move both removes Soviet influence and consolidates the twins' power in the government. The release of the WSI report is one of the largest and most decisive moves along these lines. By naming people in the WSI who are connected to Soviet intelligence, Kaczynski ensures their names will forever be known for — alleged or real — Soviet ties. The move undermines the entire structure of the WSI and all of its former personnel, ensuring that it and those attached to it can never recover. Now Poland must create a new, and inevitably non-Russian, model of government and security. This will take years to accomplish and leaves Poland highly vulnerable in the short term. In the meantime, Poland is counting on the United States for protection. However, if this plan is executed, then Poland will be a key — if not the key — U.S. ally in continental Europe to counterbalance the Russians. In recent decades this role has been held by Germany. This is not to say that Poland will replace Germany as the U.S. partner against Russia, especially not in the next few years. However, Poland could become the core of those countries once on the "wrong" side of the Iron Curtain and increase its influence in Europe. And though this would protect Germany, Berlin would still envy Poland's regional influence. This all said, it is still just the Kaczynskis' agenda in a government that could be consolidating, but that is still shaky and unpredictable. A shakeup to this degree is very difficult to pull off even under a stable government. And Poland is keeping with its traditional tactic of looking to a power that is not geographically nearby to deal with those near. The last time Poland did this was in World War II, when it looked to the French to help prevent the Germans from invading, which did not work out too well. This time it is looking to the United States. And though it has promised protection to many of its NATO allies, Washington has never had to prove itself. Poland certainly is pushing for a U.S. guarantee since it is inking the deal for a U.S. national missile defense interceptor base to move in as soon as possible.

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