Saturday, April 10, 2010
The Death of Lech Kaczynski: A Tragedy for Free Men and Women Everywhere.
The Soviet massacre of Free Poles in the Katyn Forest claims more victims.
Kaczynski Often a Source of Tension Within E.U.
By JUDY DEMPSEY
Published: April 10, 2010
Lech Kaczynski, the president of Poland, died Saturday after his plane crashed on route to Katyn, in western Russia, where he was due to commemorate the murder 70 years ago of thousands of Polish officers, according to the Polish foreign ministry. He was 60 years old.
Mr. Kaczynski was elected president in 2005 as his twin brother, Jaroslaw, was swept into power as leader of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice government. This unique constellation of power, led by identical twins, often put Poland on a collision course with its European Union partners and Russia.
As soon as he took office in the presidential headquarters in the center of Warsaw, Mr. Kaczynski forged very close relations with Ukraine and Georgia, determined to bring them closer to NATO and eventually have them admitted to the American-led military organization.
But his staunch defense of these two countries often upset leading members of the E.U., especially Germany, which was concerned that an expanded NATO would threaten Russia, or lead to new East-West tensions.
Mr. Kaczynski, however, believed passionately that a strong NATO would prevent Russia from reasserting its influence over Eastern and Central Europe.
When Poland joined NATO in 1999, becoming with Hungary and the Czech Republic part of the first bloc of former communist countries to join the Alliance, the move increased Poland’s sense of security.
“It was obvious to us that this was the only tough security structure there was in the world and that the membership of NATO would only mean benefits for Poland,” Mr. Kaczynski told the International Herald Tribune in an interview.
But Mr. Kaczynski said that did not mean that Russia’s leaders had “abandoned their ideas to regain influence, like using natural resources, natural gas as a weapon and trying to influence politicians.
“Indeed, back in the early 1990s, my impression was that Poland’s entry into NATO would finally resolve those questions. And here I must admit I was wrong.”
Mr. Kaczynski’s deeply ingrained suspicion of Russia, and of Germany’s close relationship with it, often created tensions among Warsaw, Berlin and Moscow.
He lobbied hard for the United States to deploy part of its controversial anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland, believing it would add to Poland’s security vis-à-vis Russia. Such plans, supported by President George W. Bush, were scaled back by President Obama.
He was also much more comfortable dealing with the U.S. than the E.U., which Poland joined in 2004. Indeed, Mr. Kaczynski was regarded as a skeptic of the union. He was determined to protect Poland’s sovereignty against Brussels but equally determined, as a devout Catholic, to protect Poland’s traditional and conservative values.
His suspicions of Russia and Germany and the E.U. had much to do with Mr. Kaczynski’s own life. His father Rajmund, an engineer, and his mother, Jadwiga, who studied linguistics, had been active in the Polish resistance against the Nazis. He and his brother were born on June 18, 1949, when Warsaw was in ruins.
They both joined the underground Solidarity movement during the 1980s and were close, at first, to Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity and who was later elected president.
But the Kaczynskis fell out with the Solidarity movement during the 1990s, claiming that the intellectuals, led by Adam Michnik, had made too many compromises with former communists and the secret police. While the Kaczynski twins wanted a complete break with the past by vetting the civil service and the media, other Solidarity officials opted for compromise. They attempted to embark on such a policy once Lech became president and Jaroslaw, leader of the Law and Justice Party, became prime minister in 2005.
Mr. Kaczynski was due to stand again for president later this year.