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Mateusz Morawiecki, a 49-year old former bank executive, is currently the finance minister. Last Thursday, as part of a cabinet reshuffle, the ruling Law and Justice party chose him to replace Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who has been in office since 2015.
In his first interview since his appointment, Morawiecki told Catholic media outlets on Friday, “We want to change Europe. My dream is to make it Christian again, since unfortunately, in many places, people no longer sing Christmas carols, the churches are empty and are turning into museums, and this is very sad.”
Morawiecki revealed his Jewish roots earlier this year at a ceremony to honor Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The ceremony took place at the Warsaw Zoo, because the couple who ran the zoo during World War II hid Jews there to save them from the Nazis.
“Always at such ceremonies I begin reflecting on my family’s own story,” Morawiecki said on that occasion. “My aunt Irena was a Jew, she survived the war and as a child of 10. Until she was 16, she stayed with a Polish family who rescued her,” aided by a few dozen other non-Jewish Poles who risked their lives.
He also said that none of his Aunt Irena’s rescuers had been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial.
Another of his aunts, Roma, survived the Holocaust by fleeing Poland and now lives in Israel, he said.
The Law and Justice party, on whose behalf Morawiecki will serve, has adopted conservative, nationalist policies on many issues, including that of the country’s historical memory. It has sought to replace the narrative that many Poles were anti-Semites who collaborated in some fashion with the Nazis with the narrative that the Poles were victims of the Nazis who helped the Jews en masse.
It has also submitted legislation, which was approved by the Polish parliament a few days ago, to allow the government – that is the Law and Justice party – to control judicial appointments, including to Poland’s Supreme Court. The government claims the bill is necessary to speed up legal proceedings and break what it terms “the hold of a privileged caste” comprised of lawyers and judges. But critics say the legislation will undermine judicial independence, and a coalition of civic organizations warned that if it is approved by the Senate and the president, and thereby becomes law, Poland “will cease to be a democratic state governed by the rule of law.”
This isn’t the first time the government has submitted legislation aimed at giving it control over the legal system. But the earlier bill, which was also approved by parliament, was killed in July due to mass demonstrations and President Andrzej Duda’s surprise decision to veto it.