By Robert Strybel
WARSAW– A changing of the guard has occurred in Poland’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government two years into its four-year term. Mateusz Morawiecki, 49, its deputy prime minister in charge of development and finance, has become the new government chief. He replaced Beata Szydło, widely equated with the bold Family 500+ benefit program that has all but eliminated child poverty. She is now deputy prime minister for social-welfare.
Highly educated at Polish and foreign universities, Morawiecki is fluent in English and German, knows his way round the world of international finance and is reputed to be a tough negotiator. When PiS won the 2015 election, the father of four left a $1 million a year job as bank president to offer his services to the new government. Over the past two years, he has cracked down on large-scale tax evasion and recovered for Poland billions of dollars which under the previous liberal administration had gone into the pockets of organized crime.
Raised in a patriotic, Catholic, anti-communist family, Morawiecki was a child of the 1980 Solidarity revolution. Already at the age of 12, he helped plaster his hometown, the southwestern city of Wrocław, with the demands of Gdańsk Shipyard strikers. Under martial law, 15-year-old Mateusz was detained and beaten for the first time by the SB (secret police) for duplicating and distributing anti-communist leaflets. He was repeatedly hauled in for questioning and his home was searched, as the regime sought to locate his dad Kornel Morawiecki, one of communist Poland’s “most wanted”. The founder of the radical anti-communist Fighting Solidarity group, Kornel had gone underground to continue his struggle and and managed to evade capture for six years.
Perhaps that background had helped turn the young Morawiecki into a capitalist with a human, pro-Polish face. Previous post-communist governments had created a kind of neo-colonial economy by selling off most of Poland’s industrial assets, inviting foreign banks, supermarket and other retail chains to take over the market. Foreign businessmen often paid their taxes to their home countries and channeled most of their profits there. Unlike his predecessors, Morawiecki hopes to promote native Polish entrepreneurship and provide incentives for the development of modern, innovative industries including the production of a small Polish electric city car.
It remains to be seen how Morawiecki copes with the constant disruptions and provocations of the disgruntled “losers’ club”, the liberal politicians who still cannot come to grips with their defeat at the polls more than two years ago. Rejecting all forms of cooperation and dialogue with the government, the self-proclaimed “total opposition” has done little else but revile and boycott the government at every turn, snitch to the European Union and support its anti-Polish resolutions. The PiS-bashers have staged endless noisy street protests and disrupted parliamentary proceedings by shouting down speakers, stamping their feet and pounding their desks.
It would be difficult to suspect the “total opposition” of any political culture like giving a new leader a period of grace to get his act together. When President Andrzej Duda was entrusting Morawiecki with the mission to form a government, outside the Presidential Palace the “total opposition” was banging, thumping and raising a general rumpus. When presidential limousines were leaving the scene they were pelted with eggs. One female protester wrote on social media that she had been tempted to bring a Molotov cocktail instead.