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Political circus
in Poland takes aim at Tinky Winky

Political circus
in Poland takes aim at Tinky Winky


What do you get when two identical twins who gained fame as impish child actors become president and prime minister of their country? In Poland, political vaudeville.

What do you get when two identical twins who gained fame as impish child actors become president and prime minister of their country? In Poland, political vaudeville.

Ever since Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski won election in 2005, Poland's political scene has become so loony that some humorists are hailing it a golden age of political entertainment.

''Life just surpasses my capabilities as a satirist--very many of the things that have happened in Poland in recent years could not have been thought up by the best satirists,'' said cartoonist Szczepan Sadurski.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski last year brought two unpredictable populist parties into the coalition in an effort to shore up his government--an uncomfortable alliance that was an endless source of political farce until it collapsed this week.

Parliament at one point held a special Mass to pray for rain during a drought. A ruling party official called for investigating the children's TV show Teletubbies because the character Tinky Winky appeared to be gay. And two eccentric cabinet ministers showed up at a news conference with stuffed toy foxes.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski drew ridicule in May for revealing that he has no bank account and instead deposits his money in his mother's account. The prime minister, whose Law and Justice Party won the 2005 election on pledges to fight corruption, said he was afraid someone might deposit money into his account without his knowledge and frame him for corruption.

Predictably, the Kaczynksis, 58, are the butt of jokes just for being twins. One popular Internet game shows pictures of a Kaczynski brother and asks people to guess if it's Lech or Jaroslaw.

Poles also poke fun at their diminutive stature. Why do the Kaczynski twins ride in cars with tinted windows? So you can't see the children's booster seats they sit on. Why did the president and prime minister meet last week at a tennis court? To play volleyball.

On Monday the round-faced, gray-haired brothers stood side by side at Warsaw's Belvedere palace to announce that they were dismissing all four cabinet ministers belonging to the right-wing League of Polish Families and the agrarian Self-Defense Party.

A month earlier, the leaders of the two parties, Roman Giertych and Andrzej Lepper, announced they were forming a new group called ''LiS,'' or ''Fox'' in Polish. Both appeared at the news conference with red and white plush foxes.

Political humorists lampooned the stunt. On its front page the weekly Wprost showed a smiling Jaroslaw Kaczynski dressed as a hunter with a dead fox in each hand.

Some say the Kaczynskis and their allies have nourished a culture of political humor more vibrant than any era since the dysfunctional days of communism, when satire flourished as an outlet for public frustration.

TV skits, political cabaret, blogs, and cartoons abound, while political jokes are e-mailed at a dizzying pace.

One cartoon even poked fun at the explosion of the political humor. The caricature in the Polityka weekly showed a distressed artist from the fictitious "Union of Cartoonists" shouting into a telephone, ''We must bring in satirists from China and Ukraine!!! Our people can't keep up!''

In May, Ewa Sowinska, the ombudsman for children's rights and member of the League of Polish Families, announced she would ask psychologists to look into whether the Teletubbies might have ''hidden homosexual undertones'' because the character Tinky Winky appears to be male yet carries a red handbag.

A similar controversy erupted in the United States in 1999 when a publication belonging to evangelical leader the late reverend Jerry Falwell suggested that Tinky Winky was gay.

Gay rights activists condemned Sowinska's remark, and she quickly dropped the plan.

But humorists pounced. A joke circulated on the Internet juxtaposing Tinky Winky--a little purple figure crowned by a TV antenna--with a Polish version: a purple figure in a priest's collar, with a cross on its head and a censor in hand.

Private news channel TVN24 recently ran sound bites of politicians commenting on the crumbling governing coalition and the likelihood of early elections.

The station added no verbal commentary--only circus music. (Vanessa Gera, AP)

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