Polish leaders slam Kaczynski for words on Germany

October 5, 2011 - 12:20 PM
Poland Elections

Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks at the Institute for Tax Studies in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. Poles will elect a new parliament on Oct. 9, with both the Civic Platform party and the Law and Justice vying for majority in the parliament. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's leaders lashed out Wednesday against their main challenger in looming elections, accusing him of harming Polish national interests by stirring up suspicions of Germany and its leader Angela Merkel.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said his country has no greater friend than Chancellor Merkel, as relations with Germany suddenly emerged as an emotional campaign issue ahead of Sunday's balloting.

Poland's nationalist opposition leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, accuses Merkel of trying to keep Poland in a subservient position while seeking superpower status for Germany.

He made the allegations in a book — "The Poland of Our Dreams" — released in recent days.

"It is important that from Poland Merkel wants, first of all, a subordination, albeit soft," Kaczynski wrote.

Kaczynski's provocative remarks indicate that the former prime minister is trying to stir up anti-German sentiment as he struggles to regain power — a strategy he and allies in his nationalist Law and Justice party have used before.

Tusk accused Kaczynski of "exposing Poland's national interests to harm," and said there is "no greater friend to Poland than Merkel."

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski accused Kaczynski of harming Poland's political and economic interests by fueling conspiracies about Germany. He called on Kaczynski's Law and Justice party to stop "stirring up bad blood against Poland's biggest trading partner."

"Let me ask: Where are the limits of obsession?" Sikorski said.

In his book, Kaczynski also hints that there was something amiss in the way Merkel was elected chancellor in 2005. His allegations are so vague as to be incomprehensible, while still casting doubt on her legitimacy. They stirred up a storm of controversy in Poland.

He writes that he does not believe that the choice of Merkel for chancellor was "the result of a pure coincidence" and should be studied by "political scientists and historians."

He was repeatedly asked by reporters to clarify that remark and refused — but said Merkel would understand what he meant. On Tuesday, he lashed out at a Polish reporter who pressed him on the matter, demanding to know if he worked for a Polish or German new outlet.

Kaczynski also uses his book to recall a dinner with Merkel — before she was chosen chancellor in 2005 — where she complained about Poland's participation in the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Germany did not participate in that military mission.

"She wanted us to have a similar position to Germany," Kaczynski writes. "Poland was supposed to be doing just as Germany did."

Kaczynski was prime minister from 2006-2007 and his term was marked by an aggressive stance toward Germany and Russia and a strong pro-U.S. stance. He has played the anti-German card in the past to win elections.

Ahead of the presidential race of 2005, Tusk was projected to beat his main rival Lech Kaczynski, the late twin of Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

But instead he was defeated, days after a strategist aligned with the brothers — close political allies — revealed that Tusk's grandfather had served in the Nazi German army, the Wehrmacht, during World War II.

Tusk lost the presidency but made a political comeback in 2007 when he replaced Jaroslaw Kaczynski as prime minister.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has won over many older Poles by invoking long-standing mistrust of Russia and Germany, powerful neighbors who invaded and dominated Poland in past centuries.

The German government said it would not comment on Kaczynski's remarks.

"I can only tell you that the chancellor places extraordinarily high value on a friendly relationship with our Polish neighbors, and that she dedicates a large part of her work to good relations with Poland," government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters in Berlin.

A poll published Wednesday showed Kaczynski's party trailing Tusk's — with 21 and 31 percent support respectively.

The poll by TNS OBOP questioned 1,000 people Monday, giving a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.