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Poland's Andrzej Duda: From boy scout to president

Andrzej Duda, Poland’s new president, is young, smart, dynamic - and relatively unknown. But he has a well-known backer: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the conservative head of the Law and Justice Party.

In the work experience section of Andrzej Duda's resume, the first line reads: "In 1984, I joined the Boy Scouts in Krakow, and after a few years, became group leader." Duda often refers to his years with the Boy Scouts - and with noticeable pride. It begs the question if the experience is really of such significance for a top politician?

In Poland, at least, the answer is yes. There, the term "boy scout" is associated with a mythical grandeur, and not just in the country's conservative circles. It's synonymous with characteristics such as patriotism, honesty, and self-sacrifice. Many scouts were still children when they fought and died during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 - a defining moment for Polish patriotism.

The aura of heroism lives on today, and Duda used it cleverly during his election campaign. Voters wanted a patriot who would take care of them, and do anything he could - both for them and for Poland.

Rapid rise

The 43-year-old lawyer was quiet when he first entered the political scene. At the turn of the century, he began working for the liberal Unia Wolnosci (Freedom Union). But it's hard to detect traces of that era in Duda today. Polish "Newsweek" even wrote that Duda has carefully been trying to cover up his past association with the UW.

Then came 2005. Duda graduated from Jagiellonian University in his home city of Krakow, started his own firm, and went from being a member of the national conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) to its legal expert following a parliamentary election victory in September 2005. He climbed the rungs rapidly after that: A post as deputy justice minister, then as an aide to Lech Kaczynski during his presidency. He changed positions with breathtaking speed. One year here, two months there. It was a steep, promising political career under Kaczynski's guidance.

Polen / Andrzej Duda nach Wahlsieg

Duda celebrated his victory with supporters

It carried on like this until April 2010, when President Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash near Smolensk. Duda retreated and returned to Krakow after Bronislaw Komorowski was elected to be the new Polish head of state. He was still a member of parliament and press spokesman for the PiS, but no one took much notice anymore. His stint in the European Parliament in the conservative/reform faction was equally quiet.

But at the end of 2014, party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of Lech, made the surprising announcement that Duda would run as the presidential candidate for the PiS. He himself had decided to remain in the background. Duda announced that he wanted to carry on as Lech Kaczynski's "spiritual heir."

Big promises

The PiS, which has been Poland's strongest opposition party since 2007, was founded by the Kaczynski brothers in 2001. The party sees itself as the protector of Poland, the representative of the little man in the fight against the supposed self-aggrandizing government and defender of Christian Democratic values, such as honesty, love of country, but also worldliness, as long as it doesn't hurt the homeland. The party stands for the "three pillars of a healthy society" - family, jobs, and security. They are exactly the values on which Duda campaigned.

"We cannot divide Poles into rich and poor," he announced. And he made big promises: to reindustrialize the country, strengthen agriculture, and uphold social justice. He said that under his leadership, he will "give people back their self-worth and self-confidence."

And there were many other promises as well, such as free daycare for all children, and the abolition of fees for radio and television programs. He treaded softly around sensitive issues for his party, such as gay marriage or artificial insemination. They may be issues where he could score points with Catholic voters, but at the same time, he wanted to attract undecided voters from the center.

Duda was also clever in his positions on European issues. For example, he said that the euro will only be introduced in Poland "when all Poles are earning as much as people in the West." The Polish president sees himself as a European, and carefully avoids any direct attacks on the EU. He has nothing against the union, as long as it doesn't hurt Poland's national interests. That means: Yes to Europe, as long as Poland is a "strong, powerful country at the heart of a unified Europe." For Duda, politics is a service, a duty to his people and his country.

Polen: Wahlsieger Andrzej Duda mit Familie nach seinem Triumph

Boy Scout and family man: Duda with his wife and daughter

Scout's honor

Duda's only guarantee on his promises is that he's a man of his word. "My word is everything," he said while wrapping up his campaign. Duda's wife, Agata, also vouched for his reliability.

The couple, who have a 20-year-old daughter, have been married for 20 years. They met while at school in Krakow - the same school where she continues to work today as a German teacher. Before the presidential election, the only famous member of her family was Agata's father, the poet and professor Julian Kornhauser.

Duda is also proud of his family tree, and especially of his grandfather, who "as a cavalryman, rode against the Russians in 1920 and against the Germans in 1939," Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. Duda, the paper said, is "a man with the perfect conservative biography."

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