WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s conservative ruling party unveiled a new campaign ad Monday that portrays German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in an unfavorable light, drawing criticism from opposition parties and ridicule on social media.
The Law and Justice party has governed Poland since 2015 and is seeking to keep power in parliamentary elections on Oct. 15.
In the new campaign spot, party leader and Poland’s most powerful politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski pretends to reject a call from Scholz suggesting that Poland should raise the retirement age, which is one of the topics of a voter referendum taking place at the same time as the election.
The question targets the main opposition party, Civic Platform and its leader, Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and European Union president who was on good terms with Germany. Civic Platform raised the retirement age before Law and Justice came to power.
In the spot, Kaczynski speaks into a cellphone and tells a pretend employee of the German Embassy in Warsaw: “Please apologize to the chancellor, but it will be the Poles who will decide the (retirement age) matter in the referendum. Tusk is no longer here and these practices are over.” He pretends to hang up.
The gesture implies that Tusk followed suggestions from Germany as Poland’s prime minister and that the current nationalist government does not come under outside influences. Law and Justice’s voter base includes older adults who may hold hard feelings over Germany’s brutal occupation of Poland during World War II.
Although the spot drew outrage and ridicule on social media, Kaczynski, who is deputy prime minister, appeared in public and made a statement in support of the campaign ad.
From his podium he displayed a document, saying it included notes from then-prime minister Tusk’s meeting in 2011 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in which Merkel allegedly suggested that Poland’s minimum retirement age should be raised. He alleged these were Merkel’s “instructions” for Tusk.
“I want to say it very clearly that these times are over,” Kaczynski said. “Our government is that of a sovereign state and neither German nor any other suggestions will influence issues that relate to all Poles. ”
There was nothing, however, in Poland’s current relations with Germany to suggest any attempts at such influence.
The German Embassy press office said it was not commenting on the “current internal political debate in Poland.”
“Germany and Poland, as partners in the center of Europe, bear joint responsibility for good-neighborly relations and for a positive trans-border and European cooperation,” the embassy press office said in an email to The Associated Press.
Party opponents used parts of the spot to ridicule Kaczynski, pretending to call him with questions about inflation, women’s rights or European Union funds and getting his negative answers. Some used short clips from popular movies to amplify the comic effect.
One user, Dandris, compiled a brief video in which he calls Kaczynski to ask “will there still be freedom and democracy in Poland?” and getting his answer from the spot “these practices are over.” Dandris posted on platform X, the former Twitter.
Tusk’s government provoked resentment in 2012 when it raised the minimum retirement age to 67, saying the pension system would be overburdened otherwise.
After it came to power in 2015, Law and Justice lowered the age to 60 for women and 65 for men, but at the same time encouraged people to work longer to be eligible for higher pensions.
The upcoming referendum will ask Polish voters, among other things, if they favor increasing the retirement age.
“It is evident to a large part of the society that the Poles merit the possibility to retire at the age of 60 and 65 and not be forced to work longer,” Kaczynski said.
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