Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Political vaudeville in Poland may have serious side effects


What do you get when two pudgy identical twins who gained fame as impish child actors become president and prime minister of Poland? A foolproof recipe for political vaudeville.

Ever since Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski won elections in 2005, Poland's political scene has become so loony that some observers are hailing a golden age of political entertainment.

There are serious consequences to all of the wackiness; the ruling coalition collapsed this week as a result of increasingly bizarre internal rows, opening the way for general elections as early as October.

Poles don't know whether to laugh or cry at the antics of their political class.

In the past 18 months, parliament held a special Mass to pray for rain during a drought; Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski acknowledged he has no bank account because he deposits his money with his mother; and a ruling party official called for investigating TV children's show Teletubbies because the character Tinky Winky seems to be gay.

So, few people batted an eyelid when two Cabinet ministers recently appeared at a news conference carrying stuffed animal toys as props for a major political announcement.

"Since the last elections and the rise to power of the current coalition, political humor has been unexpectedly resurrected," the Polish edition of Newsweek wrote recently.

The trend is captured by a cartoon in an issue of the Polityka weekly magazine this month, which shows a distressed artist from the fictitious "Union of Cartoonists" shouting into a telephone: "We must bring in satirists from China and Ukraine!!! Our people can't keep up!"

"Life just surpasses my capabilities as a satirist," cartoonist Szczepan Sadurski said.

In May, Jaroslaw Kaczynski revealed that he has no bank account because he's afraid that someone might deposit money into his account without his knowledge.

The prime minister's effort last year to shore up his government by bringing two unpredictable populist parties into a now-defunct coalition has also added to the political farce.

Jokes have centered around the two parties' eccentric leaders: Roman Giertych, head of the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families and Andrzej Lepper, a pig farmer who heads the nationalist Self-Defense party.

Last month, Giertych and Lepper announced that they were merging to create a new group dubbed LiS, "fox" in Polish. They brought stuffed toy foxes to a news conference to announce their decision.

Since then, political cartoons have lampooned the publicity stunt. A front-page montage in the weekly Wprost showed a smiling Jaroslaw Kaczynski dressed as a hunter, with a dead fox in each hand.

Several figures in Giertych's entourage have also made the headlines.

Giertych's father, Maciej Giertych, a European Parliament lawmaker, has also attracted headlines for denying Darwin's theory of evolution and claiming that humans and dinosaurs lived on earth simultaneously.

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