Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died on 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 defence 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 neighbours 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 order.
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 Mr. Walesa’s presidential bid in 1990 and became the chief presidential adviser on security issues. His cooperation with Mr. 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 Poland’s capital.
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, Jadwiga.