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Lech Kaczynski Sworn in as Poland's New President

  • Stefan Bos

Conservative Lech Kaczynski was sworn in as Poland's president on Friday, promising to improve his country's political and economic performance as the biggest newcomer in the European Union. Mr. Kaczynski, a staunch Catholic, has pledged to end corruption, speed up reforms and break with the post-communist past.

As his mainly Catholic nation prepared for Christmas, the 56-year-old Lech Kaczynski received arguably the biggest present in his political career, the presidency.

Mr. Kaczynski succeeds former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, sealing a swing to the right after the conservatives, led by his identical twin Jaroslaw, won recent presidential and parliamentary elections.

In his inaugural speech, the new president told both houses of parliament that he wanted to overcome the post-communist era by ending what he called "sleaze and botched reforms" as Poland has the European Union's highest unemployment rate of 17 percent.

Mr. Kaczynski listed three conservative values on which he hopes to build his nation.

"They may be summed up in the words: justice, solidarity and honesty," he said. "There can be no justice without solidarity. And there is no mechanism that would allow to translate into life the principle of solidarity without honesty, in particular the honesty of those who take decisions relating to other people."

He said Poland's close ties with France and Germany was a good beginning for future cooperation of between the EU heavyweights. But he warned Berlin's plans to commemorate its World War II deportees and to build a gas pipeline from Russia that bypasses Poland remains problematic.

However he made clear that Poland will also strengthen ties with its eastern neighbors Russia and Ukraine.

Mr. Kaczynski also spoke of closer cooperation with Washington.

Despite his pledges, people in Warsaw have mixed opinions on whether Mr. Kaczynski will be able to run the country.

"I do have some doubts," says a man. "I think he is a too conservative man. But perhaps he will be flexible and things will get better."

"I am not really happy," says a women. "I think we will see what he is going do. Let's give him a chance."

The former Warsaw mayor, who like his brother, was a member of the 1980s pro-democracy Solidarity movement, is little known on the world stage. He attracted attention only by banning gay pride parades in the Polish capital, and suggesting that homosexuals should be barred from teaching.

Mr. Kaczynski started his five-year term with elaborate ceremonies including a mass in Warsaw's cathedral, where Polish kings were once crowned, and a ceremony at the Royal Castle.