A few weeks ago we hosted a review of President Tusk’s book Solidarność i duma. We continue our exploration of the president’s bibliographic trail with Wizerunki medialne polityków: Lech Kaczyński, Donald Tusk, Bronisław Komorowski. The book was published in 2014 by Krzysztof Obremski (a former Solidarnosc activist, and now a professor in the department of languages at Nicolaus Copernicus University). We had it reviewed by Agnieszka Luiza Sztajdel (see her tweets @ASztajdel), a PhD candidate in the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute, with a research interest in political communication. Agnieszka viewed the book through a rigorous, academic lens. Here is her text:
Krzysztof Obresmki’s Wizerunki medialne polityków: Lech Kaczyński, Donald Tusk, Bronisław Komorowski looks at three important political figures in Poland: the late President Lech Kaczyński, who died in the Smoleńsk air crash, former Prime Minister and President of the European Council Donald Tusk, and current President Bronisław Komorowski. The aim of the book is to show the image of politicians as created in the media, often as the result of a PR strategy.
Obremski’s analysed them during milestones such as the Smoleńsk catastrophe in 2010, the presidential campaign in the same year, the signing of the Lisbon treaty, and the anti-Russian speech of Lech Kaczyński in Tbilisi. Rather than analyzing utterances, the author focuses on appearance and body language; readers will therefore often have to rely on the author’s impressions, as in “a dynamic prime minister”, or “Tusk sits like a boxer, with his hands in a low guard position”.
The book is divided into four parts. The first, and longest, is devoted to former President Lech Kaczyński’s media image, and aims to answer the question why Kaczyński divided Polish society so deeply, with media displaying what we can call a ‘symmetry of opinions’, evenly divided between positive and negative. The second is a comparison between the media images of Lech Kaczyński and Donald Tusk. The third part dwells on the image of the current president, whereas the fourth is an interesting account of the ‘Smoleńsk religion’, i.e. the period of mourning after the disaster.
This review will focus on the second and shortest part of the book. The critical reader will soon find that a comparison between Tusk and the other Kaczyński twin, Jarosław, would have made more sense. After all, Jarosław is – like Tusk – a former prime minister and a party leader. However, contrasting the public images of Tusk and Lech Kaczyński is functional to Obremski’s enquiry, as both were in office at the time of the Smoleńsk catastrophe.
The description of Tusk’s media image is based on visual data from two books: Daleko od miłości (Far away from love) and Daleko od Wawelu (Far away from Wawel). According to Obremski, media pictures of Donald Tusk show him as if he was crouching, focused, and waiting for a possible strike. However, Obremski also argues that there is no consistent image of Tusk: sometimes he acts natural and spontaneous and at other times he appears to be a “product of his PR office”. Tusk uses strong language and plays football, but is also portrayed as a sophisticated intellectual. Comparing Tusk’s image as a technocratic leader to Kaczyński’s messianic image and references to religious values, Obremski deems Tusk’s image to be more effective. This short chapter makes for enticing reading, but the analysis based on only two books, rather than primary sources, remains inadequate.
The book provides, above all, interesting insights into Polish political culture, and especially into what the author calls the “Polish-Polish war” (i.e. not just the political conflict between Kaczyński’s Law and Justice and Tusk’s Civic Platform, but a fundamental dispute over the ideological form of the state, one that cannot be settled) and “Polish Messianism”, i.e. the idea of Poland as a chosen nation that had to suffer in order to achieve its political resurrection.
Despite the rather superficial analysis, couched in quasi-academic and slightly verbose language, the author draws convincing sketches of the politicians and provides insight into their use of symbolism rooted in Polish culture. I would recommend the book for those who are not familiar with the modern version of “Polish Messianism”, or those who doubt that symbolism is being used to shape politicians’ imagoes in the media.