To many Poles, Lech Kaczynski, who has died in a plane crash at the age of 60, was the epitome of steadfastness. He was a dedicated Catholic and staunch advocate of moral clarity in public life.
But to others, his socially conservative opinions were out of step with a modern Poland.
It was acting where he first found fame, when as a child he starred with his twin brother Jaroslaw in a popular film, “The Two Who Stole The Moon.”
But it was not acting that became his true vocation. Living under the repressive system of communism, Kaczynski decided to devote his life to politics by joining the ranks of the democratic opposition. He completed his higher education at the faculty of law and administration at the University of Warsaw and defended his doctoral dissertation in labor law in 1980.
When in December 1981 the communist regime declared martial law to crack down on the pro-democracy movement, Kaczynski was among those interned for his involvement in the Solidarity organization, where he served as an adviser to a strike committee. He spent almost one year in an internment camp.
As soon as he was released, he returned to Solidarity and resumed his underground struggle against the draconian restrictions on civil liberties.
In 1989, Kaczynski participated in the peaceful negotiations between the weakening regime and the democratic opposition known as “the round table talks,” which eventually triggered the slow demise of the communist system.
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In a free Poland, he continued his efforts to build a country where the Solidarity principles he staunchly stood up for would be firmly entrenched in public life. His political career developed at full speed. He successively served as a senator, president of the Supreme Chamber of Control, justice minister, Warsaw mayor, deputy, and finally president. Together with his twin brother he founded a right-wing conservative party, the Law and Justice party.
He was not always loved by everyone and attracted as many supporters as enemies. His honesty and steadfastness, however, were rarely questioned even by his most bitter political opponents.
When he was elected president in 2005, the Law and Justice party led by his brother had already won the parliamentary elections a month earlier. Jaroslaw Kaczynski became prime minister a year later. For sixteen months the two twins shared power in Poland until the new elections, which Law and Justice lost to Donald Tusk's Civic Platform.
They soon advocated the establishment of a “Fourth Republic of Poland,” which they said would bring about social justice and greater moral clarity in public life.
As president, Kaczynski played an active role in boosting Poland's eastern policy. He strongly supported NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and was a vocal critic of the Kremlin. To demonstrate his solidarity with Georgia when the country was fighting a bitter war with Russia in 2008, he flew to Tbilisi to offer his support and assistance. Such positions would often land him in trouble with some European Union leaders, who feared antagonizing Russia.
But Kaczynski was ready to keep on fighting. In the run-up to an election due this fall, he was expected to announce his decision to run again for president.