Wednesday, February 07, 2007

radek's departure


Poland’s troubled rulers

Feb 6th 2007

An admired minister goes, further weakening the government


Get article background

POLAND’S defence forces, unlike those of most European countries, are tough, numerous and enthusiastic. So the resignation on Monday February 5th of Radek Sikorski, the country’s suave and forceful defence minister, is more than a quirky turn in the history of a notoriously eccentric government. Poland’s soldiers are in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other hotspots—and unlike some token members of international coalitions, they do real jobs. Poland is also a planned site for an American “star wars” missile-defence base.

Nobody is talking publicly about the reasons for the resignation. On departure, Mr Sikorski praised Poland’s prime minister and president (the identical twins Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski). The government has spoken of “reservations” about his work. But the outlines are clear.

The main battle is about who controls military intelligence. Mr Sikorski has been wrestling for months with Antoni Macierewicz, a close ally of the Kaczynskis who was installed as deputy defence minister to oversee the liquidation of Poland’s WSI military-intelligence service. Depending on whom you believe, this was a nest of traitors and gangsters, a decent outfit full of professionals, or a mixture of the two.

Mr Macierewicz certainly takes the first view. He has replaced the WSI with two new services, one for spying, one for spy-catching. He claims to have rooted out scores of secret WSI collaborators in the media, business and officialdom, and is about to publish a list—maybe as soon as next week—which will expose their malign influence over the past 18 years of post-communist Poland. His supporters reckon that Mr Sikorski was too soft. That certainly chimes with the Kaczynskis’ view of Poland: a land bedevilled by sleaze and treachery.

The alternative view is that the influence of the WSI is wildly overstated and that Mr Macierewicz is cynically feeding the Kaczynskis’ paranoia. Mr Macierewicz has now taken personal charge of the new military counter-intelligence service and is using it—critics say—as a personal intelligence-gathering outfit for the Kaczynskis. That, coupled with a witchhunt against experienced officers, has endangered Polish national security, especially the troops serving abroad.

Separating imagined ghosts and real demons is tricky. Mr Sikorski had several times threatened to resign if Mr Macierewicz’s influence was not curbed. There are suggestions that Mr Macierewicz had counter-attacked by ordering the collection of dirt on Mr Sikorski himself. Mr Sikorski fled Poland after the imposition of martial law in 1981, and spent the next decade in Britain, where he gained British citizenship. The communist-era Polish security service thought he must be a British spy; it would be ironic if Mr Macierewicz, an anti-communist witchfinder-general, were to take a road so well-trodden by his foes.

What is clear is that Mr Sikorski’s resignation robs an already troubled government of one of its few ministers with unquestioned practical competence. Since taking power in October 2005, the government has had two prime ministers, five finance ministers, two treasury ministers and two foreign ministers. With Mr Sikorski gone, only two ministers—those in charge of justice and regional development—strike outsiders as worthy of their jobs. Mr Sikorski introduced changes in Poland’s defence establishment such as regular fitness tests and modern IT (ability to use a BlackBerry is a condition of promotion).

Critics may call these changes gimmicky and superficial. But Mr Sikorski was also a rare Polish government figure able to talk convincingly to the outside world. Even supporters of the ruling right-of-centre coalition admit that its foreign policy is startlingly clumsy. The Kaczynskis seem to distrust all foreigners except Americans, and have reduced relations with Germany to a level of icy puzzlement unknown in Poland’s recent history. In European Union meetings, it is almost a laughing-stock.

Mr Sikorski, who used to work at an American think-tank, will continue as a senator in Poland’s upper house of parliament. He will be heard of again: a Polish magazine has even suggested he may be a future president. The shaky coalition government’s future looks rather less assured.


Karol Chlasta said...

He was definitely a good Defence Minister. The modernization of Polish Army will probably go on a little slower, but (fortunately) it is unstoppable at the moment. I’ve also heard (today) that some politicians say it is now high time for Mr Sikorski to apply for a position in NATO. We will see…

Michael Moran said...

The Tumbrils Roll on Warsaw Streets

I am often rendered speechless by the current political 'purge' in Poland but I was rendered absolutely mute by the resignation of Radek Sikorski on Monday.

The country does not deserve this current political circus after such a history of struggle and unimaginable bloody sacrifice and resistance. The resignation of Radek Sikorski seriously weakens the image of the country abroad and further exacerbates the self-imposed isolation of Poland on the international scene. The country is fast becoming the figure of fun it was in Europe during the Polish Commonwealth.

His support of European integration, both military and economic, was never in doubt. His powerful negotiating role with the US was important not only to Poland but to NATO itself. He was in the midst of crucial negotiations with the US concerning the missile shield.

Poland has a current shortage of suitably qualified and experienced ambassadors. Sikorski was perhaps the only Polish politician who possessed significant international credibility and who held a profound grasp of strategic and geopolitical issues.

One is vaguely reminded of the dismissal of another distinguished Sikorski, Wladislaw Sikorski, by Pilsudski in 1926.

He was after all a man with a life mission to reform and modernise the Polish Armed Forces and give them international credibility after years of neglect under communism. As with the family manor Dwor Chobielin he wants to restore traditional values and rehabilitate the legendary upright and honourable stance of former patriotic officers before the debilitating caress of communism engulfed them.

One cannot but lament this loss of a true patriot and interpret the situation as the expression of a provincial fear of his clear intellectual superiority - a threat to the future aspirations of the present mediocre Presidential incumbent.

Loyalty, the tall poppy syndrome and not merit rule Poland today. Is that not reminiscent of the mind set of a former regime? No, the communist mentality has not changed. Being an Australian married to a beautiful Pole I suffered 'The Interrogation' yesterday at the Immigration Office which will be followed by 'The Decision' in due course. All that was missing from our separate full hour's grilling with written notes on the minutiae of our married life together were the lamps and silhouetted figures behind them. Two generations will need to pass to extinguish the Kafkaesque.

The country was lucky to have Sikorski - he could be earning millions in the City - and it is a great loss.

Superior people are not replacable.

Michael Moran

Jerzy said...

Mr. Sikorski resignation is certainly a blow to Amercian and British interests in Central Europe. Not necessarily, however, for Poland.

He was another of too naively pro-Western politicians in Poland. Ones liked abroad not only for competence, but because they too easily put vague "friendship" "unity" etc. before real gains.

USA, NATO and Europe have problem accepting that Poland is running independent politics in own interests instead of being told what to do, and rewarded with head-patting as "progressive" or scolding as "backwards laughing-stock".

Mr. Sikorski decisions included blind support for Iraq and Afghanistan wars and attempt to move naval academy to Warsaw, 300km from sea. Asking for resignation of Macierewicz in the middle of his campaign against sleaze in Poland was also simply bad. Asking soldiers to make push-ups cannot gloss over these facts.

Olgierd Rudak said...

Jerzy, note please that at the very moment Poland has no main interests beside NATO. I don't know what sort of 'real gains' you meant but in my opinion close ties with US are the real gains of our politics.

Not asking for Macierewicz dismissal in the midst of Iraqi and Afghanistan operations would be even worse. The trouble is that Antoni's heading toward catastrophy.

Jerzy said...

Olgierd, note please that Iraq war was not supported by NATO and Mr.
Sikorski involvement in Afghanistan was deeper than NATO expected.

Why push soldiers risking terrorist attack, anger of other European
countries and huge cost for still poor country?

I feel that under Mr. Sikorski army was better trained but Poland less

Can you please explain what "close ties with US" gave to Polish politics
and what kind of "catastrophe" will Macierewicz take us? I hear this
slur since over a year, and Poland has record economic growth, improved
crime fighting and huge cost of outdated B-12.

Olgierd Rudak said...

Jerzy, each time I hear 'why send troops to Iraq or Afghanistan' it resembles me the case of Hitler's growing aspirations. I cannot give you any real exclamation except 'we don't want do die for Danzig' French attitude.

Nevertheless, it was not Mr Sikorski who sent Polish troops to Iraq. Decision was made in 2003 and then nobody expected him as the Defense Ministry.

I am aware that Macierewicz activities may decrease the security level of our soldiers in Iraq as well as allow Russian spies to enter Polish top secret areas even easier. The truth is that WSI did provide us with some substantial coverage.

Jerzy said...

olgierd, I thought you have some real arguments. Sorry.

Reductio ad Hitlerium & Godwin's Law

Edward Lucas said...

hang on: Sikorski was negotiating toughly with the Americans about missile defence. Kaczynski didn't like that. So now Poland will get a less good deal. Sikorski knew Washington well; the Kaczynscy are naive atlanticists who don't. Even if you don' tlike neo-cons, people with dual citizenship, people with foreign wives, or whatever else you may have against Sikorski, he was doing a good job negotiating for Poland.

On Afghanistan & Iraq: remember that these missions were agreed by the whole govt. Surely it is better to have Polish soldiers well protected by professional intelligence officers rather than have the mission compromised by Macierewicz's personal feuds and paranoia?


Unknown said...


Great blog!

David Ensor