President Lech Kaczyński spread an ethos of service to Poland around himself. His Presidential Office was an excellent school for many young officials. Now they are entering great politics
Michał Grodzki and Marcin Wierzchowski have known each other since their childhood. They used to go to the primary school together and belonged to the same scout team in Warsaw Bemow. After their studies they met together in the Presidential Office of the Polish Republic of Lech Kaczyński. They worked in a group organizing visits of the most important person in Poland.
In the morning on 10 April 2010 Michał Grodzki was accompanying the delegation of Polish Republic President on their way to the military Okęcie airport. The plane took off at 7.20. so, Grodzki had free time till the late afternoon when the return of the delegation from Katyń was planned.
A few minutes after 7.00, Marcin Wierzchowski arrived on the area of the airport Smoleńsk-Siewiernyj. On behalf of the Presidential Office of the Polish Republic President, he was to take care of transport of the whole delegation from the airport to the nearby graveyard in Katyń.
Michał Grodzki returned to his flat. At about 9 o’clock he heard a telephone signal. When he looked at his mobile, he saw that Wierzchowski was calling him. –I hardly understood him. I thought that it was a silly joke. However, Marcin did not say anything but was roaring terribly. Finally, I understood that he was not joking - Grodzki says. – First of all, he asked me to phone his parents and said that he was fine.
Near Smoleńsk, beside the presidential couple, 10 people from the presidential office were killed. We knew the half of the delegation quite well. The crew of the airplane, pilots and flight attendants were people with whom we worked every day. We knew officers from the Office of Government Protection, employees of the Fights and Martyrdom Remembrance Protection Council and the Foreign Ministry – Marcin Wierzchowski says to ‘Niedziela’, who, as the first employee of the Presidential Office, got to the place of the catastrophe. He saw personally the national tragedy. – An ordinary man is not prepared for such a sight. It simply was beyond my imagination and I wanted to run away from there as quickly as possible. However, among the others, Jacek Sasin asked me to stay there.
Employees of the Presidential Office organized the visit of the delegation to Katyń, had a syndrome of the saved. Nearly everyone might have been aboard. – A lot of our colleagues resigned because they knew there were a lot of meritorious people who had been waiting for those celebrations their whole life – Marcin Wierzchowski says.
The number of presidential officials was reduced to the minimum. However, some of them had to fly in order to show that for the President’s people that visit was also particularly important. So, on board there were the most important people – the chief of the President’s Office among the others, Władysław Stasiak, the chief of the National Safety Office Aleksander Szczygło, among the others, Paweł Wypych and a few directors, who were responsible for organization of that visit.
The enormity of the tragedy was visible particularly when caravans with coffins were coming to the Presidential Palace. – It was a very difficult time. Our work was mainly organizing funerals. Personally we often met together at a prayer in the chapel, at graves of our friends – says Adam Kwiatkowski, an expert of the Presidential Office for organization of national visits.
On a mine field
From the perspective of years one can say that Lech Kaczyński was lucky in relationships with people. In his Office there was a group which consisted of people who wanted to serve to Poland. – Certainly, there were some exceptions. But people with whom we are in touch at present, as the former employees of the Presidential Office, are people with a complete mission – says Jacek Sasin.
At that time, in Warsaw there was a rumour that officials from the office of the prime minister Tusk were a bit envious of employees’ work atmosphere in the office of president Kaczyński. It was a group of young people who simply liked one another.
The first official of this group was Jakub Opara. What is interesting, he came to work in the Palace earlier than the President. – My first basic task was organizing ceremony of taking an oath on 23 December 2005 – says Opara, a manager in the Office of the Polish Republic President at that time. – In the beginning trustfulness was expressed to me. As a 27-year-old man I was given a director’s post and a very responsible task.
Organizing President’s visits was a very interesting and dynamic activity. Officials were in a rush all the time, travelled round Poland and the world. – Unfortunately, our work reminded of walks on a mine field a bit. All mainstream media waited for all kinds of mistakes, misrepresentation or negligence from us. The President and our group were under a constant control – says Marcin Wierzchowski. – Journalists worked according to a fixed scheme. If something was not successful, the President was ridiculed in main information services. Whereas, if everything was done properly, and a speech was approved of, there was not any mention about a whole visit.
Employees of the Presidential Office accordingly say that work for the Polish Republic President Lech Kaczyński was an honour for them. He spread an ethos of service to Poland around himself. We can say that we are hardened and resistant. Every day we observed a very big divergence between what we saw personally and what appeared in evening news – says Jacek Sasin.
There were even suggestions among advisors that the President should be more careful about what he said because he was unnecessarily exposed to criticism. – It annoyed him. He said that he would not change his opinions because of media and the public opinion. He even said that he might lose the next election but he would be himself. He was a statesman not an actor – says Sasin.
Lech Kaczyński was an example of patriotism or even heroism for his employees. Jakub Opara proudly looked at the President who in 2008 organized an anti-Putin coalition and defended Tbilisi against Moscow. If the President was alive, the current situation in Ukraine would be different. – After all, his pronouncement in 2008 can be perceived today in categories of prophecy becoming real now – he says.
The President gave me another important testimony. He treated people of the Church and all religious ceremonies with great attention. Officials who organized his vistis had one additional and untypical task. – Besides coordination of many services and institutions we often had to look for a confessor for Lech Kaczyński, because he always wanted to receive the Holy Communion. It was important for him in order to give a testimony with his attitude as well – says Wierzchowski. – There used to be various situations with it, because some priests were afraid of giving confession to the President. It sometimes must have looked very funny when officials in suits used to walk around a village and look for a priest.
Minister Andrzej Duda came to the Presidential Office as a law expert. His main duty was analyzing act in the light of law and according to the constitution, which were to be signed by the President. He also dealt with creating the so-called presidential acts. – I spent every free moment on reading and studying law. He was always perfectly prepared. In this way he is similar to the late president Lech Kaczyński – says Jacek Sasin.
Next to the office of Duda there was a secretariat and a small room for an assistant. – I remember that when I visited him once in the evening, he was sitting in this little room. For there was no space in his office to put other documents – Kwiatkowski says.
The President and Andrzej Duda understood each other very well. The law professor Lech Kaczyński could discuss with him on the academic level. Everyone in the palace knew that he appreciated dr. Duda a lot and respected his opinion. – Although their visions of Poland were very similar, Andrzej sometimes had a different opinion from the President’s. And, among the others, it was the reason why the chief respected him – says Jacek Sasin. Andrzej Duda was in friendship with, among the others Paweł Wypych. They were at the similar age, had a scout past and common interests. Now he is in friendship with Adam Kwiatkowski. –The catastrophe at Smoleńsk joins us, and, first of all, death of our common friend – Andrzej Duda says.
Kwiatkowski and Wypych had known for a long time. What was common for them was not only work and political engagement. – I was a witness at the wedding of Małgosia and Paweł – says Adam Kwiatkowski. – Now, when Paweł is not among us, I and Andrzej visit Małgosia.
A social movement
In the Presidential Office of Lech Kaczyński there was a very good atmosphere of cooperation because nearly all officials identified with the presidential vision of Poland as a sovereign country respecting its all citizens. Many officials were engaged in the public life. – The President wanted us to be active in local groups – says Wierzchowski.
Many officials are councillors and activists of non-governmental organizations. Adam Kwiatkowski and Jacek Sasin are parliamentarians. Jakub Opara is a coucnillor of the province of Mazowsze and he founded the National Centre of Strategic Studies. Michał Grodzki had a councillor’s seat of Warsaw city and is the chairperson of the group of the Law and Justice Party in Bemow, and Wierzchowski runs a district club of councellors. Their common thing is an activity in the Social Movement named the Polish Republic President Lech Kaczyński. – Wards of the president are people who want to serve to Poland and know very well how to do it – says Sasin. After the catastrophe at Smoleńsk and unsuccessful presidential election of Jarosław Kaczyński, ministers submitted their resignation. These supreme functions are always political and the new president had a right to choose his closest cooperators. But soon redundancies started also among the newly employed people.
– It was more or less at the same time as the conflict about the cross on Krakowskie Przedmieście street. It was the beginning of formal and informal attacks on us to resign from work – says Michał Grodzki.
The office for organizing presidential visits, in which Marcin Wierzchowski worked, was dissolved. The most difficult situation for them was to work with people who had functions of councilors in Warsaw and nearby areas. It was impossible to dismiss them without voting in the council.
– One of our colleagues was dismissed only two months ago. When he lost his councilor’s seat in December 2014, in January the termination of employment was given to him. The current chiefs of the Presidential Office dismiss people very effectively - says Grodzki, who decided to resign from work despite legal protection which he had from the councilor’s seat.
Thanks to work in the Presidential Office, officials saw a lot of politics and mechanisms governing the country. The Smoleńsk catastrophe was a test of the civilian and human attitude. – It may sound pretentious but I feel we owe something to those who lost their life in the catastrophe. We must continue their service to Poland, which was tragically disrupted – says Sasin.
The catastrophe at Smoleńsk is the biggest tragedy in the post-war history of Poland. People who worked in the Polish Republic President’s Office know it very well. – In the human way of understanding, it was a tragedy which is beyond our possibilities. However, as a believer, I know that they support us from Heaven – says Adam Kwiatkowski.
On 8 April 2010 Lech Kaczyński with his cooperators paid a visit to Lithuania. – When we were sitting in a room, the President fixed his eyes at a window. He said that he is aging and his generation would pass away soon. He looked at us and said: ‘But you are the future of the Polish policy and you are going to have a duty of continuing the policy’. Then I and Paweł smiled but when I remembered it after the catastrophe, I got shivers – says Andrzej Duda.
The excellent campaign of Andrzej Duda raised hopes both among the former electors of prof. Lech Kaczyński and people are critical now towards Bronisław Komorowski. A fight about the Presidential Palace is a clash of two visions of Poland, but it is also a rivalry between two different generations.
– Now we clearly see that prof. Kaczyński was ahead with his vision. He was not afraid of giving responsible functions to young and ambitious people. Thanks to it, the authority can be given to somebody who is his political follower – says Sasin. – There are also a lot of experienced and competent people who will be able to support Andrzej when he becomes president.
Andrzej Duda is also supported by Adam Kwiatkowski, who moves in a wheelchair after an accident and it is not known whether he will recover. – I think that everyone who was killed in Smoleńsk would not like us to mourn over them. The best thing we can do for them is to continue their testament, that is, fight for ideals to which they served. I am sure that Andrzej will never disappoint them – Kwiatkowski assures.