“An alliance with a powerful person is never safe.” The words of the Roman poet, Phaedrus, which are suddenly apposite as the Polish prime minister, Beata Szydło, said on Tuesday morning that there will be a government reshuffle within the next few weeks.
“The decision has been made; there will be changes in the government,” Beata Szydło told private broadcaster TVN24. She added that she was discussing details of the reshuffle with Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, who many consider to be the de facto prime minister. For her part, Szydło dismissed speculation that the reshuffle might see her own departure, saying she would remain in office. But how safe is she really, given the power the party leader seems to wield?
According to deputy prime minister Jarosław Gowin, she is indeed safe, and “there is no decision to change the prime minister”. He was responding to a report in weekly Sieci Prawdy that Beata Szydło would be removed so she could “rest” before standing for a seat in the European Parliament, and that she would be replaced as prime minister by Jarosław Kaczyński, a move which would not be without precedent.
Gowin dismissed the Sieci Prawdy report as a “rumour”. He said that although there would be a mid-term assessment of the government’s performance after which some changes might be made, suggestions that decisions had already been taken were “made up”. Another deputy prime minister, finance and development minister Mateusz Morawiecki, was more circumspect. “This is not a question for me. I am just a deputy prime minister”, he said.
Be that as it may, another weekly, another prime minister who may or may not be safe, this time former prime minister and President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. According to weekly Do Rzeczy, Tusk may have acted against Poland’s interests by allowing Russia to conduct an investigation into the crash of the presidential plane at Smolensk in 2010. Its claim that Tusk needlessly “handed over” the investigation to Russia is based on a study the magazine claims was commissioned in 2011.
According to Do Rzeczy the study by law firm K & L Gates, commissioned by the then prime minister’s office, found that Poland was not required to apply an annex to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation requiring it to hand over the conduct of the investigation of the crash to Russia. The magazine said that the study, mentioned in a note dated 19th September 2011 and sent by Tomasz Arabski, head of the prime minister’s office under Tusk, to the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office, was among new documents it had accessed. These documents form part of evidence collected during a continuing investigation into suspected “diplomatic treason” that is being conducted alongside an investigation into the causes of the crash.
Official reports by the Russian authorities and Poland’s previous government concluded the crash was an accident. The Polish report cited a catalogue of errors on the Polish side, while also pointing to errors made by Russian staff at the control tower of Smolensk Military Airport. The Russian report placed all the blame on the Polish side. Needless to say, on PiS forming the government in October 2015 a new investigation was launched. PiS deputies concluded in 2014 that the aeroplane had been brought down by an explosion, a claim which is regularly repeated, and for which, despite periodic announcements that it will soon be forthcoming, the evidence has yet to appear.
This almost cult-like devotion to the belief that an alliance of sinister forces – in this case a political opponent and the ever, in some eyes, malevolent Russians – must be to blame for the crash is wholly political and appeals, it seems, to only the most enthusiastic of PiS supporters. It is sad that this Pol Pottist “Year Zero” approach to the Smolensk crash seems to have obscured the memory of the Katyń murders, the commemoration of which was the reason for the flight in the first place. And no doubt the irony is also lost on those who, while so quick to condemn brother Putin and all his works, are quite happy when it suits them to adopt some of his methods. But there again, as Phaedrus also reminds us: “Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many.”