Mr Potato Head

Sometime during the group phase of the last World Cup, a lefty German newspaper, the Berlin-based taz, compared Poland’s current president to a potato. I’m sure that there was more to it than that, but the original version has disappeared into pay-per-view is here, and my reading knowledge of Polish isn’t what it was a decade ago. If yours is better, there’s a Polish version is here, do let me know.

Anyway, the satire was part of a series called “Rogues Who Want to Change the World,” and Kaczynski was in there with other figures you’d expect from an alternative daily, including Chancellor Merkel and German President Köhler. Whether the comparison was apt in Kaczynski’s case will be left as an exercise for readers.

I would think that the occasional irritating comparison is part of the price of being president, and you’d probably think the same, but maybe that’s why Mr Kaczynski is president of Poland and we’re not. Plus the matter of being Polish. Because being president means that there’s a law that says insulting you is a crime. Up to two years in the Polski pen, and Warsaw prosecutors are, even as I write this, investigating whether to take out an EU arrest warrant for the Berlin-based satirists. The smart money is on no, but smart has not exactly been the controlling adjective in what has the makings of a good silly-season story. (Quite a number of European states have these “don’t insult the president/state/ruling house/whatever laws,” and they are usually defended with the assertion that they are never used. Well.)

Godwin’s law, of course, has long since been violated, by Poland’s foreign minister no less. The president skipped a meeting with German and French leaders just before they went to the G-8 summit, though he quickly denied any connection with the satire. Said he had stomach trouble. Not due to tubers, surely. And the new prime minister, not coincidentally the president’s twin brother, saw no need to change course. “We haven’t insulted anybody.”

On the other hand, amidst all the foolishness, President Kaczynski did manage a cruel blow. He said, according to the weekly Zeit, “even in the history of this peculiar newspaper” the potato portrait was an unprecedented insult of a foreign head of state and a criminal act. If in thirty-plus years of lefty alternativeness, the taz has never done anything more tasteless than call a jumped-up szlachta a lumpen-potato, they have seriously missed out on one of the perks of being lefty and alternative. I think Kaczynski’s been clever here and cast aspersions on their capabilitieis as caricaturists and satirists. But for all I know, these aspersions will harm their business and professional reputations. Maybe the taz should consider a counter-suit?