Lech Kaczyński, the leader of the Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice) conservative party and acting mayor of Warsaw, won the second round of the Polish presidential race on October 23, 2005. With almost 55 percent of the vote, he defeated Donald Tusk of the pro-market Civic Platform party.
The newly elected President, a socially conservative politician who strongly believes in capitalism with a safety net, is also a long-term supporter of the Polish cooperative savings and credit union movement. Since the rebirth of the Polish movement in the early 1990's, he has been actively involved in the development and strengthening of the country's credit union system, with the goal of building a financial network which would provide Polish citizens with access to affordable, high-quality financial services.
President Kaczyński's relationship with credit unions first began in 1989 when he was a direct report to Lech Walesa, the former leader of Solidarity. A Polish nationalist movement, Solidarity had long struggled with the Marxist regime. Kaczyński charged one of his staff members, Grzegorz Bierecki — who is now the CEO of the national association for credit unions in Poland and a World Council board member — to find United States banks that would open in Poland. At the time Poland needed assistance with the improvement of the financial services sector. Banks in the United States were not interested, but suggested Bierecki meet with credit unions.
In 1991 World Council met with members of Solidarity, including Lech Walesa and Kaczyński, the Ministry of Finance and the Catholic Church to talk about the differences that credit unions could make in the lives of Polish and assist in the development of their country. World Council conducted credit union development programs in Poland from 1992-1999, which played a large role in the formation of the vibrant Polish credit union system of today.
Between 1990 and 1991, Lech Kaczyński was the president of the Supervisory Board of the Foundation for Polish Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions created by World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. (WOCCU) upon request from Solidarity.
Since then, Lech Kaczyński has been committed to the development and strengthening of cooperative savings and credit unions in Poland, a commitment he has maintained throughout the years while holding various local and national government offices, such as those of a senator, a minister in the cabinet of the president of the Polish Republic, the president of the Supreme Chamber of Control, the minister of justice and, since 2002, the mayor of Warsaw.
He also participated in many national conferences organized by the Polish cooperative savings and credit unions. In 1995, in recognition of his long-term support of the cooperative savings and credit union movement, Lech Kaczyński received the Feniks Award, the most prestigious award of the Polish Cooperative Savings and Credit Union Movement, awarded annually for exceptional service.
Lech Kaczyński is also a distinguished professor of law, whose academic work involved issues related to credit cooperativism.
From the perspective of the Polish credit unions, the recent election of Lech Kaczyński as President of the Republic of Poland is the election of an individual who represents the values that mirror those of the credit union movement.
Since the 90's, Poland's credit union movement has grown rapidly and is becoming the country's largest network of financial services. By 2005, Polish credit unions have accumulated more than $1 billion USD in consumer savings. Over seventy-seven credit unions with more than 1,500 branches serve more than 1.2 million members. Savings of credit union members are insured up to 22,500 Euros, which is better protection that that offered by banks. Today, the Polish credit union system is one of the fastest growing credit union movements in the world.
"We are pleased that President Lech Kaczyński, a long-time supporter of credit unions and their initiatives, will be leading our member country into an era filled with hope and challenge. We wish him great success in his new office," noted Pete Crear, CEO, World Council of Credit Unions.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.