Who is the politician who became increasingly authoritarian, claimed that “women don’t have children because they drink too much”, and “vowed to reintegrate Poland into Europe” to the citizens of his country, which had turned the order upside down by distancing itself from the European Union (EU)?
For 20 years, two leaders have been fighting for the soul of Poland. In the blue corner, Donald Tusk, the former prime minister who fought for a vision of a democratic, modern, European future and was president of the European Council before returning to politics as leader of the opposition; in the red corner, Jarosław Kaczyński, who played to the traditionalists, conservatives and nationalists. Both had a chance to shape Poland in their own way, but this time the wind blew from the blue side. After eight years of nationalist-conservative government, Poland is on the verge of another “Tusk era” and the winds of change are blowing once again.
The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) won the general elections held in Poland in October. However, their 36.8 percent of the vote was not enough to become the sole ruling party. President Andrzej Duda first gave the task of forming a government to PiS leader Mateusz Morawiecki, but Morawiecki’s government failed to receive a vote of confidence from the parliament, and then Donald Tusk, the leader of the Civic Coalition (KO), who received 31 percent of the votes in the elections, became Poland’s new prime minister.
How did his story begin?
Donald Tusk was born on April 22, 1957 in Gdańsk, Poland. His father was a carpenter and his mother was a nurse. Tusk studied history at the University of Gdańsk. Despite protests, he successfully completed his studies in 1980 and joined the Independent Solidarity Trade Union Movement. When the communists declared martial law in 1981, Tusk continued his political activities, writing pamphlets on the ideas of liberal economist Friedrich von Hayek and the concept of private property. Tusk idolized former US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Tusk’s political career began when he was one of the founding members of the Union of Liberal Democrats (Unia Wolności). His hometown is also politically important. Gdańsk was the birthplace of the Solidarność Movement in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which shook the foundations of the Socialist regimes of the time. Solidarność, which means “solidarity” in Polish, developed under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa, the leader of the workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk.
As a student, Tusk supported the Solidarność Movement, which pioneered democratic changes in Poland and contributed to demands for democracy in countries under Soviet influence. He participated in workers’ demonstrations and supported their demands. After Poland’s transition to democracy, Tusk parted ways with the movement. Because Tusk’s views had matured, but the fighting in Solidarność was not over.
Tusk, who wanted to make liberal social life dominant in Poland, worked to bring a new voice, a new hope to Poles. The Civil Forum Movement, which he helped found in 2001, came to power with 41.39 percent of the vote in the 2007 elections.
Breaking moment 2005
To understand Tusk, we need to go back to 2005. Tusk was the liberal and democratic candidate in the 2005 elections. His opponent was Lech Kaczyński, the nationalist-conservative candidate. Lech is the twin brother of Jarosław Kaczyński. They both came from the Solidarność Movement, which Tusk once supported. At the end of the 90s, the brothers left Solidarność and formed their own party. The first major clash between the brothers, who had their roots together in Solidarność but parted ways over time, took place in 2005.
An allegation that emerged during the election atmosphere changed everything: Tusk’s grandfather Jozsef had served as a Nazi officer during the Second World War. Although the allegation was later denied, Tusk’s public perception plummeted. Lech won the elections.
Accident or assassination?
Moving on after his electoral defeat, Tusk used the momentum of his campaign to promote his party and his views. With 41.39 percent of the vote in the 2007 general elections, Tusk came to power and became prime minister. Tusk’s premiership was also the first years of Poland’s accession to the EU.
During Tusk’s premiership, an event shook Poland to its core. On April 10, 2010, a plane carrying 96 people, including President Lech Kaczyński, crashed in Smolenski, Russia. There were no survivors and investigations in both Russia and Poland have yielded no results.
According to his brother Jarosław, who wore black since the accident, it was not an accident but an assassination. These statements, made without any concrete evidence, traumatized Polish society and Tusk took the next elections. Since 2014, Tusk has distanced himself from Polish politics and has held a number of positions within the EU, including two terms as president of the European Council.
What are Tusk’s views?
Following the example of Reagan and Thatcher, Tusk’s economic policies are pro-business. Tusk is trying to win back more than a million Poles who left the country to work in other EU countries after Poland joined the EU in 2004 and aims to reintegrate Poland into the EU.
An avid soccer fan and described as a “promising striker” by his friends in his youth, Tusk is married to historian Malgorzata. He has two children, Kasia and Michal.