Of all of the elements of strangeness and lunacy
surrounding the current formation of Poland's minority populist government, one of the most flummoxing is the case of the new Health Minister: respected cardiologist-turned-politician, Zbigniew Religa. (ZBEEG-nyev re-LEE-ga)
On Monday, Religa was sworn in as Health Minister in the new government - a government he actively worked to prevent.
In 1985 Religa performed the first successful heart-transplant operation in Poland, gaining him his first taste of renown. Later, in the 1990's, he made several failed attempts at gaining political office, until he was elected a Senator in 2001. In 2004, he founded his own party: Partia Centrum - the Party of the Center.
Early in the year Religa's name started to be thrown around as a possible candidate for President of Poland, and polls showed wide public support for his candidacy. Religa did join the race, but was finally forced to withdraw, as his uninspiring campaign ran out of gas. On September 2, the day Religa dropped out, he said:
"To protect my vision of Poland, I believe it is my duty as a citizen to support Donald Tusk in these elections. This is necessary to carry out the vision of a modern Poland." (subscription required)
He added that he was "afraid" of Lech Kaczyński's plan for the Health Service.
Tusk then made a speech laying into Kaczyński's proposal to return to funding the Health Service from the budget, instead of the current National Health Fund (NFZ), calling it "dangerous", "irresponsible" and "radical". Religa stood behind him, silently nodding in agreement the whole time.
Religa was named honorary head of Tusk's election committee. Throughout the campaign, Tusk dropped Religa's name at every opportunity, always harping on the Duck's "radical" plan for the Health Service. Religa continued to support that view.
Tusk of course, lost the race to Kaczyński, who has since not backed away one inch from his "dangerous" plan to fund the Health Service from the budget.
At the first opportunity, PiS showed their political shrewdness, and pulled (another) fast one on PO, eagerly proposing that the man who had so bitterly opposed their plan for the Health Service become their man in the Heath Ministry. Without so much as a grumble, Religa accepted.
So what's going on? There are some who believe that Religa sees this as an opportunity to finally mold Poland's ever-mismanaged health care system in his own (presumably more sensible) image. The more cynical ones posit he simply loves seeing himself on TV, and would jump at any chance to gain a thimblefull of power.
Whichever the case, by joining this government he gives it a legitimacy it doesn't deserve, and makes PO look gullible for wasting their time with him. It contradicts his "centrist" position. It's a move that will damage Poland by giving this government a longer lifespan.
It's betrayal, pure and simple.