Obituary: Lech Kaczyński, 1949 – 2010

Poland’s president Lech Aleksander Kaczyński died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia, this morning. Reuters quotes Smolensk regional governor and the Polish state news agency PAP as saying that there were no survivors. Kaczyński’s wife Maria Kaczyńska and several senior Polish government officials were also on the plane, including the chief of Poland’s military Franciszek Gagor and deputy foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

Kaczynski had been flying to Katyn, near Smolensk, to commemorate Russian and Polish victims of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Lech Kaczyński, along with his twin brother Jaroslaw, had been a child actor in cinema films of fairytales, writes the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung. In 2001,  they co-founded the national-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) which governed until 2007. Expanding Poland’s close alliance with America – a matter near to Kaczyński’s heart – and workable relations with Germany and Russia – from a sceptical personal attitude, on account of the historical record of this neighborhood -, were cornerstones of his foreign policy. His father, also named Lech Kaczyński, was a World War II resistance fighter, writes the BBC.

India’s IANS news agency describes Lech Kaczyński as a great admirer of Indian democracy and a major critic of China who also had a soft corner for the Dalai Lama and always met him when the Tibetan spiritual leader came to Poland.

Kaczyński’s domestic agenda was conservative, Catholic, and on occasions reactionary. In his inaugural speech, he  emphasized a combination of modernisation with tradition and remembering the teachings of Pope John Paul II. , and was a favorite European bête noire for German conservatives (again on historical accounts), leftists (for his international policies) and for German liberals (for his domestic agenda). In 2006, Germany’s green-ecologist daily taz (Die Tageszeitung) dubbed him Poland’s New Potato (“Polens neue Kartoffel”).

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