Courtroom showdown: Kaczyński vs. Wałęsa

The two parties to the libel, Mr Wałęsa and Mr Kaczyński, managed to exchange a few words of private talk in the foyer of the court building waiting for the hearing. Photo: PAP/Adam Warżawa

Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), and Lech Wałęsa, the former President and Solidarity legend, clashed in a Gdańsk courtroom today during a libel case brought to court by the PiS chief.

The case concerns Lech Wałęsa’s allegations that Jarosław Kaczyński caused the Smolensk air crash by insisting his brother, the then President Lech Kaczyński, forced the pilot to land the plane. The plane crash occurred in April 2010 killing all 96 passengers on board. The PiS leader has sued Mr Wałęsa for libel.

The two met in the foyer of the court building waiting for the hearing to start. Mr Kaczyński was terse saying that “this is not a pleasant occasion for me”. Lech Wałęsa sighed: “Why did I make you a minister?” Jarosław Kaczyński hit back saying: “And why did I make you President?”.

This exchange alluded to history between the two men from the late eighties and early nineties. Jarosław Kaczyński was a key figure in the political campaign launched by Lech Wałęsa for the Presidency in 1990. It was Mr Kaczyński who argued during his time as editor of the then influential weekly “Solidarność” that there was a need to speed up reforms and take a harder line against the former communists that the PM of the time, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was willing to adopt.

Mr Kaczyński used the grouping he formed, The Centre Alliance (PC) and the weekly he was editing to create an organisational base of support for the Solidarity leader during the Presidential election that was fought out between Mr Wałęsa and Mr Mazowiecki.

After Mr Wałęsa won the Presidency Mr Kaczyński became the head of the state’s chancellery. The two then fell out over Mr Wałęsa’s refusal to take a harder line against former communists and to alter hard line monetarist policies. Mr Kaczyński left the President’s Chancellery in 1991. The two never reconciled and became enemies.

During the hearing of the libel action Mr Kaczyński denied he had spoken to his brother about landing the plane during their brief conversation during the ill-fated flight. He said that he and his brother had only talked about the serious illness of their mother. During his testimony Jarosław Kaczyński also mentioned that Mr Wałęsa had accused him of being a homosexual back in the 1990s when that was still an insult. He also said that Mr Wałęsa had accused him of being ‘mentally ill” after the Smoleńsk air tragedy. He also resented Mr Wałęsa’s allegations that it was Mr Kaczyński who was behind the documents that have emerged on Mr Wałęsa’s alleged cooperation with the communist secret police in the 1970s.

Lech Wałęsa did not retract his statements. The court’s proposal for the two men to reach a settlement was rejected. Mr Kaczyński is demanding a public apology from Mr Wałęsa and the payment of 30,000 PLN to an oncological hospice in Warsaw.