Poland Mourns Its President and Senior Officials Posted by Anna on Apr 11, 2010 in Culture
By Adam and Anna:
Polish President Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria and dozens of senior politicians died in a plane crash (katastrofa lotnicza) on April 10, 2010.
President Lech Kaczyński was born in 1949 in Warsaw to an affluent and deeply patriotic family. His father was an engineer and former soldier of the Home Army, his mother was an academic teacher of Polish language and literature. He had a twin brother Jarosław, also a politician. At the age of 12 Lech and Jarosław became child-stars after their leading-roles in a film adaptation of Kornel Makuszyński‘s novel “The Two Who Stole The Moon”.
Lech Kaczyński graduated from University of Warsaw with a law degree, and became an academic specializing in labor laws. In the 1970s he became involved with the pro-democratic opposition, giving lectures to workers on labor law and history for the opposition Workers’ Protection Committee (KOR). He published for the underground magazine “Robotnik Wybrzeża”. During the strikes in August 1980 he was an adviser for the strike committee. He was arrested and interned during the martial law. In the second half of the 80s he became a close adviser to Lech Wałęsa, the leader of the democratic opposition. He took part in the Round Table Talks between the communist government and the opposition, and had his part in Lech Wałęsa‘s victory in the presidential election in 1990. Later, after a fallout, Lech Wałęsa and Lech Kaczyński became fierce enemies. Wałęsa even sued President Kaczyński for his claims that Wałęsa was an agent of the communist secret service.
Mr Kaczyński continued his service as a politician through the 90s and 00s, serving as an MP, president of the Highest Chamber of Control, and Minister for Justice. In 2002 he was elected the mayor of Warsaw.
Many criticized his understanding of democracy and human rights. Lech Kaczyński, during his service as the mayor of Warsaw, banned Gay Pride Parades twice. Laws on which the ban was based, were subsequently lifted by the Constitutional Court. Many saw him as a person supporting the right-wing nationalistic and Catholic agenda. Although, at the same time, he was often criticized by the right-wingers as a “liberal”.
Mr Kaczyński became president in 2005, after the electoral victory over Donald Tusk, the current Prime Minister. The President, according to the Polish constitution is a largely ceremonial role with limited powers. The President has the right to veto new laws, however this veto is subject to a Sejm (parliament) vote. The President has a say in foreign policy and security, and can influence who takes some major offices. Mr Kaczyński‘s popularity plunged soon after he took the office, and he soon became a deeply unpopular and controversial figure. In 2006 his twin brother took the role of Prime Minister of Poland. The President was criticized for following his identical twin brother’s party-line too closely. After the 2007 elections, when Donald Tusk from the Civic Platform party took the role of Prime Minister an era of rows between the two officials has begun. Lech Kaczyński aimed to stand for re-election, elections previously anticipated for September 2010, although opinion polls suggested he had no chance of winning.
On 10th of April 2010, Lech Kaczyński died in a plane crash in Russia, along with his wife Maria and many other senior officials: all top army generals, the Ombudsman, the head of the Central Bank, several MPs, deputy Foreign Minister, deputy Minister of Culture, head of the Polish Olympic Committee, rector of the Wyszyński University, vice-chairmen of Sejm and Senate. They were on their way to a memorial marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyń Massacre, where thousands of upper-class Polish POW soldiers were murdered by the Soviet. It is reported that the military airport in Smoleńsk, where the tragedy took place, was in thick fog, and that the airplane crashed on its 4th landing attempt after the tower advised the pilots to land elsewhere.
Some people remember another flight incident involving Mr Kaczyński. During his visit to Tbilisi, Georgia, the pilots refused to land in dangerous conditions. This flamed Mr Kaczyński‘s fury, as he was late for his appointments, and he was said to demand the military to dismiss the pilots. Some say it needs to be established whether this current situation was not similar. Many also point to the unfortunate situation, when many senior officials take the same flight, which might leave a void in their respective institutions.
According to the Polish constitution, the Constitutional Tribunal has passed presidential duties to the Speaker of Sejm – Mr Bronisław Komorowski, who announced a week of mourning. Presidential elections will have to be scheduled within the next 75 days. The Speaker of Sejm will have to appoint a new head of the Central Bank and chiefs of the army. The Parliament will appoint the new Ombudsman. MPs will be replaced by those with lower number of votes in each constituency.
With our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of those who perished:
Anna and Adam of the Polish Blog