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May 18, 2024

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Poland’s New Prime Minister?
Beata Szydlo

Rewarded for helping Andrzej Duda win the presidency
As government chief can she avoid “back-seat driving”?

WARSAW – “My name is Szydło. Beata Szydło!” Those were the first words of the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s prime-ministerial nominee at a recent convention, and it unleashed a storm of laughter and applause. Every delegate immediately recognized the familiar intro of Her Majesty’s Agent 007 – James Bond. But in the shorthand of Poland’s political circles it could also refer to Bond’s dynamic initiative, coupled with his unswerving loyalty to the Crown.

In a sense, Szydło has achieved the nearly impossible. Herself a relative unknown on the national scene, she headed the campaign of a political newcomer, college law professor from Kraków about whom earlier this year the average Pole would have responded with “Duda who?” PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński praised her for the presidential victory and described her as prudent, hard-working and energetic as well as possessing team-building skills and an ability to work with others. “She’s got what it take to lead us to the overhaul of the Polish Republic,” he emphasized.

Commentators couldn’t help but wonder how she would hold up under the rule of the rather authoritarian and often abrasive Kaczyński who might end up running the government from the back seat. They also recalled PiS’ last election victory in 2005, when Kaczyński made an unknown politician Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz prime minister, only to boot him out and take his place nine months later.

So far Szydło has managed to reconcile Bondesque loyalty and individualism. After Duda’s victory was announced, Szydło modestly said: “This victory is the result of teamwork”, adding: “It was the political genius of Jarosław Kaczyński that caused Duda to be president today.” Repeatedly asked by journalists if she wasn’t afraid of being driven from the back seat by Kaczyński, she insists she is “her own woman” who knows her mind. “I’m a stubborn lady. If you don’t believe me, ask my husband!”

Szydło, 52, he was born in the southern town of Oświęcim, notorious for the Auschwitz death camp, set up there by the Germans during World War II. She got her Masters degree in ethnography (the study of culture and folkways) from Kraków’s Jagiellonian University and became an expert in culture and museum management. She served for seven years as mayor of the small southern coal town of Brzeszcze before getting elected to parliament in 2005 on the PiS ticket and re-elected on two more occasions.

The prospective prime minister is a pleasant-appearing but rather average-looking middle-aged lady who could easily get lost in the crowd. “Until recently I really hadn’t heard of her. She’s not the kind of woman you’d notice on the street,” one Warsaw taxi driver told this reporter. She and her husband of 28 years Edward have two sons – Tymoteusz (Timothy) and Błażej (Blaise). “I am not a political celebrity,” Szydło insists, but it seems unlikely that tabloid journalists and paparazzi will allow her to remain a private person too much longer. In fact, they are already hot on her trail during her current campaign tour of Poland.

By Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent