WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died
Saturday in a plane crash in Russia, was a one-time anti-communist
activist who teamed up with his twin brother to take his country in
a nationalist, conservative direction.
Kaczynski, 60, pursued a strongly pro-U.S. line in foreign
relations, in accordance with a cross-party consensus that has
grown in Poland since the fall of communism. He was an enthusiastic
backer of plans to site a U.S. missile defense facility in the
country, the largest of the European Union's new eastern members.
However, the prickly nationalism of Kaczynski and his identical
twin brother, Jaroslaw - who served for a time as prime minister
and is now opposition leader - sometimes complicated ties with
European neighbors and Russia.
The president, for example, long held out against the EU's
so-called Lisbon reform treaty before signing it last November.
Still, his appeal at home rested partly on his forthright
representation of Polish views and his tough stance on law and
Kaczynski first rose to fame as a child movie star alongside his
identical twin in a hit movie in 1962, "Two Who Stole the Moon,"
about two troublemakers who try to get rich by stealing the moon
and selling it. That was the end of their film career, however.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Kaczynski brothers were activists in
the anti-communist opposition and went on to serve as advisers to
Solidarity founder Lech Walesa.
Kaczynski supported Walesa's presidential bid in 1990 and became
the chief presidential adviser on security issues. His cooperation
with Walesa later ended in acrimony over political differences, and
Walesa was defeated in 1995 by ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Kaczynski served as Poland's justice minister in 2000-2001, and
his tough stance against crime laid the foundations for the
popularity that would fuel his later rise to the presidency.
He became mayor of Warsaw in 2001, and won respect for a
no-nonsense style and plain-speaking reputation.
His opponents, however, viewed him as narrow-minded, provincial
and overzealous in his drive to cleanse the country of the
influence of former communists. And he drew criticism from human
rights groups for trying to stop a gay-rights parade through
In seeking the presidency in 2005, he made clean government a
key pledge - a promise that resonated after a string of corruption
scandals that saw ex-communists swept from power.
"Our country needs renewal, the renewal of public life,"
Kaczynski has said.
Kaczynski's popularity declined as head of state, however. In
2007, his identical twin brother was voted out as prime minister
after a two-year stint in which he failed to hold together a shaky
coalition with small, unpredictable populist parties.
The government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk - the man Kaczynski
beat for the presidency - has gained respect for avoiding a
recession at the depths of the economic crisis and for a smoother
foreign policy. Kaczynski faced an uphill struggle to win
re-election later this year.
Kaczynski was a firm friend of Poland's Jewish community, which
has enjoyed a revival in recent years after it was nearly wiped out
in the Holocaust and later suffered from communist-era repression.
In 2008, he became the first head of state to attend a religious
service at a synagogue in Poland. As mayor, he promoted a planned
museum on Jewish history by donating city land to the project.
Kaczynski was killed along with wife, Maria, an economist. He is
survived by the couple's daughter, Marta; two granddaughters, Ewa
and Martyna; his twin brother, Jaroslaw; and the twins' mother,
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson contributed to this report
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)