Warsaw’s Old Town Square is a place of red-roofed 18th century facades meticulously rebuilt from the rubble and ash left by Nazi Germany. Slawa Szewczyk contemplates Poland 's weekend elections being here.
One thing matters to her above all else: Electing a party that will never let Poland suffer like during Third Reich again - and that means Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's ruling party, which promises to stand up both to Germany and Russia, the traditional foe to the east.
"We suffered a lot in the past. We are a wise nation yet everyone hurt us," the 67-year-old retired preschool teacher said.
Poles face a choice between Kaczynski's defiantly patriotic Law and Justice, and the pro-business, European-oriented Civic Platform of challenger Donald Tusk - both conservative parties rooted in the anti-communist Solidarity movement, yet with starkly different visions of what dangers face Poland today.
In Kaczynski's view, Poland still has much to fear from Berlin and Moscow, and the party has taken a truculent tone with these two neighboring powers, straining ties both to the east and the west during its two years in power. At home, Kaczynski believes the country is in the grips of a dark network of ex-communist secret agents and gangster businessmen using their connections to siphon money from the state, cheating honest, hardworking Poles.
Tusk, on the other hand, advocates closer ties to the EU and more capitalism to create wealth and reverse a brain drain of young, educated Poles to Britain and Ireland.
He also says Poland, though now freed from Cold War domination by the Soviet Union and secure in NATO and the European Union, has been marginalized within Europe by Kaczynski's pugnaciousness and risks being sucked back into a morass of eastern European chaos.
Poles must choose "between the civilization of the West and Eastern political disorder," he said.
If he were to win, though, his government's legislation would be subjected to the veto power of President Lech Kaczynski, the premier's twin brother. The veto could be overturned, but only with a three-fifths majority in parliament.
Law and Justice had pushed for this early election - two years ahead of schedule - after the collapse of a shaky coalition with a right-wing party and agrarian populists. In a huge gamble, Jarowslaw Kaczynski risks giving up two more years of power for the chance to strengthen his hold over the EU's largest new member state and push through an agenda of what he calls moral renewal.
Polls show only two other parties with enough support to make it into parliament and possibly serve as kingmakers in a coalition: the Left and Democrats, a new alliance of ex-communists and some anti-communist dissidents, and the moderate Polish Peasants Party, a pro-EU, farm-based party
But for now the drama focuses on the Kaczynski-Tusk contest.
In one of the ironies of this race, the two parties - despite their shared history in the Solidarity trade union that helped defeat communism - clash bitterly over how to deal with the former communists who were once their oppressors.
Kaczynski favors a ruthless purging of all one-time communist officials, a reckoning deliberately avoided in the peaceful handover of power from communists to democrats starting in 1989. His government passed ambitious legislation calling for the vetting of up to 700,000 Poles with public positions in this nation of 38 million - including teachers and journalists - for past collaboration with the hated communist-era secret police.
That legislation was struck down by the constitutional court this year, leaving Kaczynski looking for a new way to punish the one-time collaborators.
Tusk and his people, however, say Poland is sacrificing its future by looking to the past, and that it should instead focus on using EU subsidies to modernize dilapidated roads and other infrastructure.
"Now that we're in the EU, we can't just keep looking back to the past," said Katarzyna Epelbaum, a 23-year-year old law student who supports Civic Platform. "It's not the way to develop Poland."
Many Civic Platform voters accuse Law and Justice leaders of exaggerating the influence of ex-communists to scare voters into supporting their heavy-handed tactics at cleansing the state. While in office, Kaczynski's party set up an anti-corruption agency that has faced broad accusations of abuse of power. Critics say it strayed from the fight against corruption to dig up dirt on political enemies.
"This is really a beautiful country and people are optimistic," said Artur Malinowski, 24, a graduate student in international relations holding a party banner at a recent Civic Platform rally. "But Law and Justice is trying to make people believe that we all take bribes and that we all steal - so that they can control everything."
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