Donald Tusk, the most successful Polish politician of recent decades, who made a brilliant career in the European Union, but returned to his homeland to put an end to the ultra-conservative course of the ruling Law and Justice party, returns to the post of Prime Minister of Poland. has collected everything that is known about Donald Tusk, his political career and support for Ukraine.

"Kashub, Pole and European at the same time"

Donald Tusk was born in 1957 in Gdansk, a major port city, where in the 1970s he sprouted, and in the early 1980s, the anti-communist trade union movement Solidarity exploded in full force, which eventually changed the history of Poland.

In numerous interviews, Tusk has repeatedly emphasized the impact that the experience of his city and his family had on him — the politician always reminds that he comes from a Kashubian family. This West Slavic ethnic minority, whose members live mostly in northwestern Poland, has its own language and more than a thousand years of history. So Tusk prefers to call himself a Pole, a Kashubian and a European at the same time.

"Gdansk was a typical frontier city. Here one could see many boundaries between ethnic groups. As a child, there were so many cemeteries around my house: Muslims, Jews, Germans, Poles, Orthodox," he recalled in an interview with the Financial Times.

In the family, Tusk heard stories of how both of his grandfathers were sent to labor camps after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, as well as of relatives who died on refugee ships sunk by submarines.

"I remember, even at the age of 12, I felt that nothing was simple in life or in history. Even as a child, I was "immune" to any simplifications. And as an adult, as a politician, I realized that it is best to be immune to any orthodoxy, ideology and, most importantly, nationalism," Tusk said.

Youth, anti-communist movements and arrest

When the first mass protests broke out in Gdansk in 1970 after a sharp increase in food prices – a discontent that would later develop into a political movement – Tusk was 13 years old. He recalls how he was then impressed by the harsh suppression of protests "literally under the window of our house."

"I've seen it all [...] I remember every hour," Tusk recalled in an interview with the FT in 2014. "I saw the cops shooting at people, the soldiers shooting at people. I remember this feeling very well: there was no doubt who was on the side of truth and who was on the bad side. From that moment on, I knew that almost always the people who get hit are right. And the people who beat are wrong. At that moment, it was very obvious."

He also admitted that the worst things about his teenage days in communist Poland were not even terror and poverty, but monotony and the absence of any hope for change. "It was tempting to break this monotony," Tusk said of one of his motivations to pursue political activity in an era when Poland was trying to free itself from Soviet snares.

The future prime minister took the first steps on this path while studying at the University of Gdansk, where he studied history. He formed a student committee in support of the anti-communist trade union movement, which rallied around Solidarity.

Tusk actively supported the famous strike of Gdansk shipbuilders in 1980, and in the same turbulent period for Poland in the 80s, he gained experience of a direct clash with the communist regime. Shortly after co-founding the underground journal Political Review, in which he insisted on the benefits of a market economy and economic liberalism, he was arrested. However, the future politician was lucky: three days after his arrest, an amnesty for political prisoners was announced and he was released.

The beginning and formation of a political career

Tusk began his political career in the 80s from his native Gdansk. Here he headed a small opposition cell, which distinguished his interest in economic liberalism from the broad underground Solidarity movement.

In the late 1980s, this branch formed the Liberal Democratic Congress, a Polish center-right political party with a liberal character. Donald Tusk was an important person in this party, and in 1991 he became its leader. In the same year, the party entered the Sejm, and with it the young politician became a deputy for the first time.

In the next parliamentary elections, Tusk's party lost, but Donald and Poland's first democratic prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, joined forces to create another party, the Freedom Union. At the same time, Tusk took the post of Vice Marshal of the Senate. And in 2001, together with like-minded people, he founded the Civic Platform, which he headed two years later.

The turning point in Donald Tusk's political work was 2005, when he participated in two elections in Poland at once: parliamentary and presidential. At the parliamentary elections, the Civic Platform took second place and went into opposition to Law and Justice (PiS). And in the first round of the presidential election, Tusk took first place with 38% of the vote, while in the second round he lost the number of votes to Lech Kaczynski.

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Tusk vs. Kaczynski

The confrontation between Tusk and Kaczyński is a completely unique phenomenon on a European, and perhaps global scale. The ideological lines of the conflict, which has been going on for almost twenty years, are intricately intertwined with personal ones.

Tusk met the Kaczynski brothers back in the 1980s, during the time of the anti-communist opposition. The relationship between them was unequal. Donald Tusk said that once in the 90s, Jaroslaw Kaczynski took a pistol out of his pocket in the elevator of the Polish Sejm, showed it to him and said: "For me, killing a person is just spitting" (Kaczynski stated that he did not remember this).

On the other hand, before the 2005 parliamentary elections, Tusk's Platform and the Kaczyński brothers' Law and Justice openly negotiated coalitions and discussed how they would jointly reform Poland.

The turning point in their relationship was the Smolensk disaster, in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski died. His brother Yaroslav has repeatedly accused then-Prime Minister Donald Tusk of having led to the disaster.

The Smolensk Disaster / X (Twitter)

Kaczynski's sense of political rivalry then turned into personal hatred, and this emotion was largely transferred to relations between members of their political camps.

Even after Tusk left Poland for Brussels and Kaczynski's political camp came to power in the country, Law and Justice attributed any of its difficulties and mistakes to the antics of Tusk, who entered into an anti-Polish conspiracy with either Germany or Russia, or both. In 2019, Poland was the only EU country that did not support Tusk's re-election as president of the European Council.

Until recently, Tusk was the main anti-hero of the news on state television. The phrase "Tusk is to blame" became a meme in Poland many years ago: it is even dedicated to a poem by satirist Wojciech Mlynarski, in which Tusk is credited with being blamed for late trains or bad weather. On the other hand, constant criticism in the state media has led to the fact that Tusk now has a huge anti-rating: even today, only about 30% of Poles believe that he will be a good prime minister.

The main actors of Polish politics still do not spare sharp words addressed to each other.

"Don't forget about this redhead, because he is now the biggest threat to Poland," Jaroslaw Kaczynski told his supporters at one of the election rallies. "Tusk is pure evil," he said at another meeting with voters.

"An immoral cynic," Donald Tusk said of Kaczynski in one of his books. "Kaczyński took us all hostage to his obsessions," Tusk said of him during one of his meetings with voters.

PiS tried to brand Tusk as an "agent of Germany"

The years of Tusk's European career gave his Polish opponents a reason to accuse the former prime minister of allegedly betraying Warsaw's interests. In particular, representatives of the Law and Justice party and the Polish government have repeatedly accused Tusk of supporting Brussels' decision to block funds for Poland from EU funds due to problems with the rule of law in the country. The Polish authorities also opposed Tusk's re-election as president of the European Council.

In the end, this did not prevent Tusk from returning to Warsaw in 2021 and resuming an active role in Polish politics as the leader of the Civic Platform. In the 2023 elections, the ruling PiS party built its campaign on scathing criticism of Tusk.

Kaczyński's fellow party members tried to portray him as a foreign puppet, claiming that his party was acting in the interests of Germany and Brussels, not Poland, and that Tusk himself was complicit in the EU's attempts to allegedly encroach on Poland's sovereignty.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski / Photo: Associated Press

When Tusk was reappointed Prime Minister of Poland on December 11, 2023, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski could not resist the opportunity to personally express his dislike to him. Unexpectedly for everyone, he went up to the rostrum of the Sejm to say into the microphone to Donald Tusk: "You are a German agent!"

"President of Europe"

How did his Brussels trip affect Tusk? On the one hand, thanks to him, Tusk has become a politician of a truly planetary scale. "Tusk has matured a lot politically, in the seven years he spent in Brussels. As President of the European Council, he negotiated with major world leaders, participated in the resolution of many crises... Thanks to this, he has become a political heavyweight who navigates the most important challenges of the modern world," writes the Polish Newsweek.

"Tusk is head and shoulders above the entire Polish political scene," echoes this assessment of the weekly Polityka.

On the other hand, in his recently published book "Sincerely" – the diaries he kept as president of the European Council – Donald Tusk mentions several times that he repeatedly returned to the idea of whether he did the right thing by leaving Poland. Maybe if he had stayed, the Platform would not have lost the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections, and there would have been no Law and Justice era in Poland.

One way or another, the first negotiations on the appointment of Tusk to the post of "president of Europe" — it is rumored that his main lobbyist was Angela Merkel, and the United States was not against the Pole in this position — began back in 2012. In the end, Tusk, who might well have found political Warsaw cramped, agreed.

In his book, he describes a significant moment: flying from his native Gdansk to Brussels, already for good, Tusk accidentally meets the first president of free Poland, Lech Walesa, at the airport and listens to his instructions: "Pay attention there, because I'm afraid that the EU wants to divide, and the Pole was taken there so that there would be someone to blame for."

For Tusk, a staunch supporter of European unity, these words meant a lot.

Indeed, for most of Tusk's term in office, he had to deal with crises, each of which potentially threatened, if not the collapse of the European Union, then serious tests for its unity. Brexit, the war in Syria, the migration crisis, the cooling of relations between Europe and the United States under President Trump...

"I understand that my function is to continuously build compromises. I offer (the European Union) goodwill, a little imagination, interesting Eastern European experience and a lot of faith that Europe makes sense," Tusk said at the first press conference after being elected to the post.

He spoke it in Polish, and it was immediately criticized by the British and French press.

Tusk joked in his own style: "I will polish my English" (a play on words: "I will polish my English"), but, quite seriously, even Polish journalists accredited in Brussels wrote that it was precisely because of his lack of knowledge of languages that he could hardly count as an asset for his first months in office. It was only after learning the language and settling into the corridors of the Brussels bureaucracy that Tusk was able to demonstrate his talents as a communicator.

In his book, he mentions the first truly serious challenge in office: the Greek crisis, which could well have turned into a "grexite."

Donald Tusk / Photo: Associated Press

To prevent this from happening, Tusk used a method that proved effective in the election of the Pope: after a night of fruitless negotiations at 12 a.m. on July 2015, <>, he locked himself in a room with François Hollande, Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras and announced that he would not let them out without a decision. In the morning, announcing the compromise, Tusk called it "agreekment".

Tusk and Ukraine

From the very beginning, he called the war a war

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Polish prime minister has called it a war. Tusk He called on Europe to understand that there is not a conflict going on in Ukraine, but a war.

"We must say loudly that no one can block our initiatives aimed at the successful operation of NATO. Today, looking at the tragedy of Ukrainians, looking at the war — because we have to use this word — we know that September 1939 cannot be repeated," Tusk said at the time.

He advocated the introduction of sanctions against Russia, considering them one of the best tools to support Ukraine.

Regarding military support

Since the beginning of a full-scale war, Donald Tusk has been advocating for the provision of enhanced military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and its increase, because Ukraine's victory is in the interests of Poland.

"It is in Poland's national interests to win Ukraine. This will affect both the economy and the issue of refugees. The Polish state should not move on this issue, military support for Ukraine should not be questioned," the politician stressed.

Regarding the border blockade

After the aggravation of the situation on the Ukrainian-Polish border, Tusk criticized the inaction of the Morawiecki government and said that he would "immediately" take up the problem of blocking freight traffic on the border of Poland with Ukraine after his appointment as prime minister.

According to Tusk, he will act in the interests of Polish carriers, but will seek to resolve issues so that the blockade of the border is stopped.

"We need to live in friendship and support with Ukraine, but at the same time not neglect Polish interests," he said.

Regarding the Ukrainian issue in the EU

The leader of the Civic Platform assured that he would be firm at this week's EU summit, where important issues related to Ukraine will be discussed.

"I am convinced that from now on, most leaders will take Polish opinion into account when it comes to Ukrainian issues and when it comes to Hungary and Orbán," Donald Tusk said.

He also said that he would use various arguments and methods "to at least eliminate the negative consequences" of the attitude of Orban, who is against the start of negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU.

However, according to Tusk, the Hungarian government has completely switched to "Russian positions", and relations between Orbán and Putin have become "organic".

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has already congratulated Donald Tusk, saying that "the future of Ukraine and Poland is in unity, mutual support and strategic partnership to defeat the common enemy."

Numerous awards, a sense of humor and 45 years of experience in marriage

In 2010, Donald Tusk received the International Charlemagne Prize in Germany, which is the most prestigious European award for his contribution to the unification of Europe. He dedicated it to the victims of the 2010 Smolensk plane crash, which killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and the country's top military leadership.

Tusk has been awarded high political honors on almost every continent — from the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit and the Ukrainian Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, 1st class, to the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun and the Peruvian Order of the Sun.

However, Tusk is known for his keen sense of humor and sometimes speaks ironically about his political achievements. In one of the interviews, he answered the question of how much he had to sacrifice in his career, in particular to become the prime minister of Poland for the first time: "I don't feel like some kind of missionary. It's just a job. For the past 30 years, when I say, "It's hard, it's so hard," my wife tells me, "Change your job!" And she's obviously right."

And a few days before Americans elected Donald Trump president of the United States in 2016, Donald Tusk tweeted an eloquent, sarcastic comment: "My wife's new comment: one Donald is more than enough."

Tusk has been married to his wife Małgorzata Sochatska since 1978. The couple has two children: son Michał (born in 1982) and daughter Katarzyna (born in 1987).