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Europe

New Polish President Sends Worrying Signals

Lech Kaczynski, winner of Poland's presidential poll, has taken a tough foreign-policy line toward neighboring Germany. Should Berlin be worried? DW-WORLD spoke to Poland expert Dieter Bingen.

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Lech Kaczynski's victory hasn't exactly reassured Europe

The surprise winner of Poland's runoff presidential election on Sunday, 56-year-old Lech Kaczynski of the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) has ruffled feathers by adopting a nationalistic tone during the election campaign, in particular signaling a tougher approach towards Germany and Russia.

DW-WORLD spoke to Dieter Bingen, head of the German-Poland Institute in Darmstadt about what the election of the populist leader might mean for future ties between Berlin and Warsaw.

DW-WORLD: What have the Poles voted for with Lech Kaczynski's victory in the presidential runoff election on Sunday?

Dieter Bingen: The Poles have voted in favor of the promise to care more for the social concerns of the losers in society -- a state with a heart so to speak -- and for the promise that corruption and nepotism will be done away with. In addition, they voted for Kaczynski's vow to pursue a stronger line in dealing with the Communist past and the beneficiaries of the regime after 1990.

The media in Germany is talking about a "shift towards right-wing attitudes" and that Kaczynski is an anti-Semite? How do you see it?

Wahl in Polen

Lech Kaczynski speaks to supporters after his victory

That's absurd. Lech Kaczynski is in no way an anti-Semite. He did get the support of groups and parties who have anti-Semitic tendencies -- he did take that into account, but he's not anti-Semitic himself though he does play on traditional national hostile stereotypes.

And Kaczynski's election can't really be described unambiguously as a shift toward right-wing attitudes either. Kaczynski also has strong social aspects, particularly when it comes to the economy he's rather left-leaning and he's shown himself to be in favor of a welfare state. These are elements that he courted very consciously in order to lure away a group of voters who supported the left-wing candidate in the first election phase. Thus he's more structurally conservative if you will, and in an ideal sense paternalistic when it comes to values and also patriotic.

What ramifications will the new situation in Poland have for Germany?

We'll have to -- at least initially -- brace ourselves for some unpleasant situations and reckon with some emotional rhetoric that will question Poland's partnership with Germany and in particular Warsaw's political relationship with Germany.

Merkel in Polen

Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk in Poland in August, 2005

Donald Tusk (of the pro-market Civic Platform who lost the presidential election to Lech Kaczynski) and Angela Merkel (Germany's new chancellor-designate) had already made common plans for the future. Do you think there will be any parallels between Kaczynski and other parties in Germany?

No, Kaczynski didn't seek any contacts at all in Germany. He has no experience with foreign affairs and never gave it much importance.

And, what does the new situation in Poland mean for Europe?

Poland's commitment to European integration in the EU's political arena will probably not be promoted as much and there's a danger that Poland will isolate and marginalize itself. Poland will probably not pursue an active European policy, but will orient itself much more strongly towards the US.

At the same time, that may be simply demonstrative and symbolic and things may appear different when it comes implementation-- one has to make a distinction here between the heat of the election campaign and real politics.

Poland has after all profited from its membership in the EU, particularly its farmers. Does that mean that things won't fundamentally change with regard to economic and political ties?

Precisely. Poland must have an interest in having allies in Germany and not isolate itself in crucial looming budget talks. If Poland isn't constructive there, it can lose out badly.

So, atmospherically there will be tensions between Poland and Germany but eventually we have to wait and see what happens next. It's all open. The Civic Platform as a coalition partner must ensure that the worst fears don't become reality.

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