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The Kaczynski twins are doing Poland no favours

The Kaczynski twins are doing Poland no favours

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has many attributes, but the figure of a Playboy centrefold is not among them.

So when the Polish magazine Wprost mocked up a cover of a bare-breasted Merkel suckling Poland's ruling twins, Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, it was bound to cause a stir.

The magazine's point, it seems, is that Merkel now bosses Poland around like an evil stepmother. "Germany used to be Poland's principal partner in the West," it noted. "Now it has become our prosecutor-in-chief." Childish? There's more.

A German newspaper labelled the Kaczynskis "poison dwarves" for exploiting the Second World War as a negotiating tactic in the EU summit.

The summit was bad news for Poland, which will lose clout under a tortuously negotiated system that ties voting power to population.

The scheme prompted Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, thought to be more influential than his president brother, Lech, to point out that Poland's population would be a lot bigger if so many hadn't been killed by the Nazis.

It outraged the rest of the EU, but in Poland things are different. There, the Kaczynskis have been seen to stand up for Polish interests. While they may be portrayed as bumpkins on the international stage, beating the nationalist drum plays very well to their domestic audience.

Dragging up the war may have broken the unwritten code of EU summitry, but, in Poland, diplomacy is always trumped by history.

"Even for average Joe Pole, history is an almost sacred thing," a seasoned Warsaw commentator told me yesterday. "For the Kaczynskis, that is even more true." Indeed, since their Law and Justice party came to power in 2005, the Kaczynskis have ostentatiously struck out at the neighbours whose twin tyrannies shattered their country.

Most notoriously, they introduced measures to strip jobs from those who aided and abetted the Soviet regime that dominated the country until 1989. This so-called lustration law has been called a "purge", indiscriminate and destructive.

For the Kaczynskis, however, it is only fitting: a just retort to the decades of Russian dictatorship and the secret police methods it employed to stay in power.

And the events of the past few days are not the first time that Poland's rulers have lashed out at Germany.

They hate the fact that former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder signed an energy deal with Russia that bypassed Warsaw. They loathe a small band of "Prussians" who demand compensation for losing homes - now in Poland - after the war.

"For them, the energy deal is just the [1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression] Molotov-Ribbentrop pact all over again," said the Warsaw observer, "while fears over German territorial claims to Poland need no explaining."

Indeed, the Kaczynskis, whose father fought in the 1944 Warsaw uprising, which was crushed by the Nazis as Soviet troops stood by, may be justified in their lasting suspicion of both Poland's hulking neighbours.

But continuing to fire barbs both east and west is not in their country's interests. Germany has grown tired of the spat with Poland and is keen to kiss and make up. Merkel is no Schröder, with pally ties to the Kremlin.

Indeed, Germany and Poland have fundamentally good relations. German companies have invested huge sums across their eastern border. Polish workers pour westwards looking for jobs, often passing queues of German holidaymakers at the border heading the other way.

For two countries apparently on the brink, it seems that, in practical terms, the entente is still pretty cordiale.

No, the Kaczynskis should be worrying about their eastern frontier. Vladimir Putin should give them, as he gives so many others within the former Soviet orbit, far more cause for concern.

Poland is in the middle of a trade dispute with Russia over meat exports. It is in the middle of a defence dispute with Russia over the American missile defence shield.

When it comes to Russian threats to switch off energy supplies, it is on the front line. These are the reasons why Poland needs to be part of the EU.

"It is good they [the Kaczynskis] are fighting for a strong Polish position in the EU," noted Poland's big-selling Gazeta Wyborcza before last week's summit. "But it is equally important for the EU to be strong. Ultimately, it is worth remembering that the EU will manage without Poland. The question is: will Poland manage without the EU?"

Polish people know this is true. They are the least Euro-sceptic people, with latest polls showing 89 per cent supporting EU membership.

The Kaczynskis, who have undoubtedly burnt a lot of bridges already in Brussels, must listen to them. If they stop trying to throttle the mechanisms that make the EU work, they may discover that Europe can defend Poland's interests in the future - just as Europe has so often failed to defend Poland's interests in the past.