UK media on Lech Kaczynski
The late Lech Kaczynski. Photo Office of the President.
In Memoriam: Lech Kaczynski
The death of Poland’s president carries a terrible echo of his country’s past
He was a man of unquestioned, almost painful, integrity. In 2005 he moved to the presidential palace not from one of the palatial homes favoured by most mainstream Polish politicians, but from the shabby flat in Warsaw in which he and his wife, Maria, had lived for decades. His values, attitudes, habits and behaviour were those of the pre-war Polish middle class: a culture so strong that it survived decapitation and evisceration under Soviet and Nazi occupation, and the regime installed at gunpoint after the war.
Yet the socially conservative, prickly, ethics-conscious and patriotic constituency that voted for Mr Kaczynski will not go away. And neither will the political ideas and values for which Law and Justice stands. Poland’s liberal-minded urban elite, exemplified by Civic Platform, have many qualities. They are able, cosmopolitan and flexible. But the lingering suspicion remains that the country’s old communist elite and their children have morphed into a new nomenklatura. Poles call this idea the “Układ”, an all but untranslatable word meaning something like “deal” or “arrangement”. The price of the communist regime’s surrender in 1989 was that members of the elite were able to turn their power into wealth, using their connections, slush funds and privileges to gain a head start in the country’s shift to capitalism.
Obituary: Lech Kaczynski
Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who has been killed in a plane crash at the age of 60, was a controversial figure on the world stage.
But his right-wing stance on many issues found ready reception among many Poles, especially traditionalist and rural voters.
Throughout his political career, he was not afraid to appeal to populist sentiments. As mayor of Warsaw, he twice banned gay parades and spoke in support of reintroducing the death penalty.
He said post-communist Poland, often called the „Third Republic”, needed radical transformation into a „Fourth Republic”, based on social justice and a strong state.
Lech Kaczynski’s legacy may be an end to Polish cycle of tragedy
The twins’ high point came in 2005-07, when Lech cohabited with brother Jaroslaw’s governing Law and Justice party. It was an unhappy and salutary experience characterised by paranoia, prickliness and troublemaking at home and abroad. Were it not for yesterday’s tragedy, the political demise of the Kaczynskis would probably have been sealed in October when Bronislaw Komorowski, a patriotic liberal, looked likely to unseat Lech as president. As parliamentary speaker, Komorowski is now acting president and looks like a shoo-in for the early presidential election in June.
The Kaczynskis embody a large and legitimate constituency in Poland: chippy and prickly, wary of Germany, hostile to Russia, Eurosceptic and staunchly pro-American, obsessed with „moral renewal” at home. Given the history, it is no surprise. But their emphasis on righting history’s wrongs is backward-looking, while the young, the cities, and the elites of Poland live in the present, relishing a better future for their children.
President Kaczyński is killed in a plane crash: Poland’s tragedies continue
Reports in Britain will no doubt describe President Kaczyński as “a controversial figure” (the BBC has already started). Leftists resented him for pursuing a policy of lustration: that is, of requiring public servants to declare whether they had played a role in the previous Communist regime. These critics applauded a similar policy when it was imposed on former fascist countries after 1945 and, indeed, generally support the Spanish government in its attempts to reopen what happened under Franco but, for whatever reason, consider it tasteless to apply the same standard to former Communists.
In fact, Lech Kaczyński was a patriot: a man who never collaborated with the dictators or accepted the occupation of his country by the Red Army. Some Polish politicians, who had made occasional compromises – muting their criticism in return for being allowed to take up foreign postings, for example – found his purism uncomfortable. But ordinary Poles admired Kaczyński, and elected him with a handsome majority.
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