Europhile Trzaskowski has sights on Polish presidency

by Bernard OSSER
Rafa? Trzaskowski, the main challenger bidding to defeat right-wing President Andrzej Duda

The main challenger for the Polish presidency, Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, is a europhile liberal with an easy smile who has been rising fast in the polls.

A former deputy foreign minister, the 48-year-old is also the son of a jazz pioneer and great-grandson of the man who created Poland's first schools for girls.

Trzaskowski only joined the race against right-wing President Andrzej Duda at the last minute, after the vote was delayed in May because of the virus pandemic.

He is the candidate of the liberal opposition party Civic Platform against Duda, backed by the governing Law and Justice Party, in the June 28 election.

Polls indicate he could force Duda into a run-off on July 12, although the incumbent is still ahead.

- Volunteer in 1989 -

Trzaskowski comes from an intellectual, socially-engaged Warsaw family.

His father Andrzej was a famous pianist during the 1950s when jazz was considered "enemy" music.

Trzaskowski himself started out in politics in a seismic year for the former Soviet bloc -- 1989.

Just a teenager at the time, he quit school and worked as a volunteer campaigning during the first free elections in Poland which marked the end of the communist era.

He graduated from the University of Warsaw, where he later earned a doctorate with a thesis on the reform of decision-making processes in the European Union.

He has also studied in Oxford, Paris and at the College of Europe outside Warsaw.

He speaks English, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish and worked for a time as an English teacher.

In 2000, he worked on Poland's accession to the EU and then became an adviser to the Civic Platform delegation in the European Parliament.

He became an MEP in 2009 and in 2013 joined the government of then prime minister Donald Tusk, who went on to become president of the European Council.

Trzaskowski first served as technology minister and then deputy foreign minister.

As a member of the Polish parliament for Civic Platform between 2015 and 2018, he was elected vice president of the European People's Party in 2017.

- 'Pro-Semitic' -

The elegant, well-spoken politician, who is married with two children, was elected mayor of Warsaw in 2018, winning over city residents with an inclusive campaign under the slogan "Warsaw For All".

His record as mayor has been mixed and critics say he has failed to do much while in office.

In a light-hearted Facebook post when he was elected, he described his love of old books and stated that he had smoked marijuana in his youth although only "rarely".

Trzaskowski said the post was intended to defuse the "denigration campaigns" being waged by supporters of the Law and Justice Party, who he defined as "haters".

In the same post, he also "admitted" he had received a scholarship from George Soros, a US-Hungarian billionaire of Jewish descent who is a favourite target of populist campaigners around the world.

Trzaskowski, who described himself as "pro-Semitic", has in recent days come under attack in a report on Polish public television accusing him of failing to defend the national interest by not ruling out Jewish compensation claims from the Holocaust.

On gay rights, another hot-button issue in Poland, Trzaskowski has said he is open to the idea of civil partnerships between same-sex couples -- something which is currently banned in mainly Catholic Poland.

When he was elected mayor of Warsaw, he signed an "LGBT+ Declaration" promising to protect gay people, angering the country's right-wing nationalists who campaign against a perceived "LGBT ideology".

Rafa? Trzaskowski, the main challenger bidding to defeat right-wing President Andrzej Duda