Twins who charmed Poland as child stars seek high office

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Within the next month Poland will vote twice in contests to elect a Prime Minister and then a new President. In an unusual twist, voters could hand the country's most powerful jobs to men who avoid appearing in public together for fear of causing confusion.

Ever since they charmed the nation in the 1962 children's film Those Two Who Would Steal The Moon, Lech and Jaroslaw, now 56, have promised great things, and the next month could bring them their biggest roles yet.

The brothers - naturally members of the same party - are standing on a centre-right platform, promising to revive a country which cannot shake off corruption and unemployment.

As leader of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jaro-slaw Kaczynski stands a good chance of winning a senior post in a coalition government after elections on 25 September. Depending on the results (his party is currently second in the opinion polls), he could take the job of Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, polls put his brother Lech second in the race for the presidency which will be decided two weeks later. Despite rapid economic growth in the post-Communist era, Poland's electorate is unhappy with its centre-left administration. Unemployment remains high at 17.6 per cent, and many voters are attracted by the tough PiS message, promising lower taxes and a campaign against crime and corruption.

Lech has run a glitzy, US-style campaign, pointing to his record as mayor of Warsaw. Unusually, for a centre-right politician, he calls for the state to take a bigger role in social policy.

Meanwhile, the PiS strikes a populist note with its suspicion of Poland's historical enemies, Russia and Germany, and a wary approach to the EU which the country joined last May.

Though observers believe it unlikely the twins will land both jobs, their campaign has sparked a vigorous debate about the wisdom of entrusting the country's two senior posts to members of the same family.

As cute child stars, the brothers have a place in the affection of a generation of voters. During the 1980s they played a role in the events at Gdansk, where protests sparked by the Solidarity trade union helped unseat the old regime.

Since they swapped seats at school for exams, the brothers have spent a lifetime working together, but they do not seem to believe that being twins is always helpful. In an interview published by Poland Monthly magazine, Jaroslaw said: "It does not make politics any easier but it is obvious for both of us that we want to be and have been in politics for years." Not only is having a double "sometimes seen as funny which is not always desirable in politics", but "a person who is a twin is sometimes suspected of being 'weird'."

"We avoid appearing together because of the strong feelings this arouses. But we do have different temperaments. My brother [Lech] has the temperament of a state activist and he is excellent in this role ... He is also much more sociable, has a wife and daughter, whereas I am single."

Wojciech Roszkowski, an MEP and political ally of the brothers, says that the "twin factor" is having an impact on the campaigns. "On the one hand, Lech's high personal ratings have helped the PiS in the parliamentary elections [and therefore boosted Jaroslaw]. On the other hand, there are some among the Polish people who are reluctant to imagine both positions going to members of the same family."