Poland’s international relations could suffer turbulence after a controversial politician who believes Russia assassinated the Polish president in a 2010 air disaster and that the current president of the European Council may have worked for the East German secret police was appointed as the country’s new defence minister.
Antoni Macierewicz will take up the post following his appointment by the leaders of Law and Justice, the victorious party in last month’s Polish general election.
The decision to elevate Mr Macierewicz to such a lofty position has raised eyebrows in Poland.
He has long been regarded by his critics as an eccentric politician with a disturbing penchant for seeing conspiracies theories and enemies where others fail to. As deputy defence minister from 2005-7 he destroyed Poland’s military intelligence agency on the grounds it was riddled with communist-era spies.
His defenders argue he is a stalwart patriot determined to root out threats to the Polish state and stand up for Poland’s security.
Mr Macierewicz has argued President Lech Kaczynski, the twin brother of Jaroslaw, the Law and Justice leader, was killed when an explosion destroyed his aircraft as it came into land at Smolensk airport in western Russia in 2010, killing all 95 on board.
Although he has produced no evidence that it was an assassination and his theory contradicts official Russian and Polish reports into the disaster that said the plane crashed due to a combination of factors such as pilot error, he has stood by claims.
“What happened at Smolensk on April 10, 2010 was not accident nor was it caused by pilot error,” he said earlier this year. “It was an operation that was prepared for over a long time and one that was the first shot in a war in Eastern Europe that continues to this day.”
His contentious and forthright view that Vladimir Putin is responsible for death of the Polish president could add a new and edgy chapter to Poland’s relations with Moscow, already strained by the Ukraine crisis.
Adding to the possibility of that happening is that others in Law and Justice also believe in the conspiracy theory, and as a result the new government could push for an investigation into the disaster that could place further pressure on Polish-Russian relations.
Witold Waszczykowski, the incoming Polish foreign minister, who is regarded as another hawk, said yesterday the new government will take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights to get the wreck of the plane destroyed at Smolensk back on Polish soil. He also said any improvement in ties between Russia and the West will have to be initiated by Moscow because Russia is to blame for the current tensions.
Mr Macierewicz has also turned his ire on Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, a former Polish prime minister and his political foe.
During campaigning for the election he suggested Mr Tusk had been an agent for the feared East German secret police, the Stasi, although he produced no evidence. In earlier speeches the incoming minister has also said he holds Mr Tusk responsible partly for the death of President Kaczynski.
Suggesting the new minister’s behaviour might be caused by some “personal paranoia”, Aleksander Smolar, a respected political commentator in Poland, said Mr Macierewicz “wants to stimulate a collective paranoia in Polish society”.