Polish President Lech Kaczynski, a former anti-communist dissident who came to power with his twin brother in 2005 promising a “moral revolution,” died in a plane crash in Russia. He was 60.
Kaczynski was killed during a landing near Smolensk, Russia, where he was to pay tribute to more than 4,000 Polish military officers massacred by Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest. His wife, Maria, and central bank Governor Slawomir Skrzypek also lost their lives.
“Five years ago I experienced the death of the Holy Father,” Roman Catholic Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz said at a news briefing carried live on Polish public television, referring to the late Pope John Paul II. “Now we have a similar tragedy. This is a great tragedy for the Polish nation.”
Kaczynski was elected in October 2005, the month after the Law & Justice party he co-founded with his brother Jaroslaw won a parliamentary election. Jaroslaw later became the prime minister, giving the identical twins control of both the presidency and the government.
The brothers pledged to stamp out corruption and break up “the system,” which they saw as rife with communist-era officials who controlled politics and business in the country of 38 million people. Their goal suffered a setback in 2007 when voters kicked Jaroslaw out in early elections after his governing coalition fell apart. Poles then voted in current Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who had lost the presidency to Lech Kaczynski in 2005.
After Tusk took office, he and Kaczynski clashed over the president’s role in foreign policy, on issues including the U.S. missile defense program and the appointment of a NATO secretary general.
In 2008, Kaczynski chartered his own plane to attend a European Union summit in Brussels after Tusk’s government said his presence at the summit would make Poland’s work “too difficult” and refused to allow him a government aircraft. He was endorsed by Law and Justice for a presidential election due later this year, for which he was trailing in opinion polls. He was expected to announce his bid for reelection next month.
Lech Kaczynski was born on June 18, 1949. His father, Rajmund, served in Poland’s Home Army resistance during World War II, fighting in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
Lech and Jaroslaw became child stars in 1962 when they appeared in “The Two Who Stole the Moon,” a film about troublemaker twins who decide to steal the moon and sell it so they wouldn’t ever have to do any work.
Lech Kaczynski became involved in Poland’s anti-communist opposition in 1976, according to a biography on the presidential Web site. He was jailed in the 1980s for his work with the anti- communist Solidarity trade union founded by Lech Walesa.
Walesa was elected Poland’s first post-communist president in 1990 and the Kaczynski brothers broke with him in 1991, feuding publicly with the Nobel laureate.
Kaczynski returned to politics in 2000-2001, serving as minister of justice, and was elected mayor of Warsaw in 2002- 2005, where for two consecutive years he refused to let gay- rights activists hold an “Equality Parade.”
Kaczynski earned a doctorate in law at the University of Gdansk in 1980, writing a dissertation on labor law.
Kaczynski and his wife are survived by a daughter, Marta, and her two daughters, Ewa and Martyna.