President of Poland
Born June 19, 1949, in Warsaw, Poland; son of Rajmund (an engineer) and Jadwiga (a professor of literature) Kaczynski; married Maria Mackiewicz (an economic researcher), 1978; children: Marta. Education: Earned degree in law and administration from Warsaw University; Gdansk University, Ph.D., 1976.
Addresses: Home —Warsaw, Poland. Office —c/o The Embassy of The Republic of Poland, 2640 16th St. NW, Washington DC 20009.
Professor at Gdansk and Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski universities; advisor to the Solidarity strike committee, Lenin Shipyards, 1980; advisor to Lech Walesa, 1988; vice-chair, Solidarity trade union; elected to Polish Senate, 1989; elected to parliament, 1991; served as Security Minister under President Lech Walesa, 1990–93; President of the Supreme Chamber of Control, February 1992–May 1995; Minister of Justice and Attorney General, June 2000–July 2001; co-founded political party Law and Justice, 2001; elected mayor of Warsaw, 2002; elected president of Poland, October, 2005.
In October of 2005, Lech Kaczynski became Poland's third elected president since the end of its Communist era. A political activist in the 1970s and '80s, Kaczynski once served as a key advisor to Lech Walesa, the labor activist who played a major role in the ouster of Poland's Communist regime. Several months after taking office, Kaczynski took the unprecedented step of appointing his twin brother, Jaroslaw, as prime minister. Their rise has caused some political analysts to worry that Poland, a recent entrant to the European Union, has made a genuine shift to the right thanks to the support the brothers have received from older, conservative, and often rural voters in this staunchly Roman Catholic country.
Kaczynski and his brother—his elder by 45 minutes—were born in 1949, four years after the end of World War II in Poland. The war was a traumatic event for the nation, caught as it was between two longstanding enemies of its independence, Russia and Germany. Their engineer-father had served in the resistance army, and their mother was a war nurse who later went on to a professorship in literature at the Polish Academy of Sciences. In the early 1960s, the blonde twins achieved renown as the stars of the film adaptation of a popular children's story, The Two Who Stole the Moon .
Neither twin pursued film careers afterward, and Kaczynski earned a degree in law and administration from Warsaw University. He went on to a doctorate at Gdansk University, and finished in 1976.
He held teaching posts both there and at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. By the late 1970s, however, there was growing dissatisfaction in Poland under Communist Party rule, in place since the Soviet occupation of Poland that immediately followed World War II. Kaczynski joined the burgeoning underground anti-Communist movement, including the Workers' Defense Committee, which had been established to aid families of those jailed in a series of 1976 labor strikes.
Dissent grew steadily in several cities until workers walked off the job at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, a Baltic Sea port, in August of 1980. A month later, the Solidarity trade union federation came into being in Gdansk. It was ardently anti-communist, and led by an electrician named Lech Walesa; Kaczynski served as an advisor to the strike committee. The Polish government declared martial law at the end of 1981 in an effort to quash the Solidarity movement, and Kaczynski was jailed in a crackdown on activists. Finally in 1989 a faltering Polish government permitted multi-party elections, and a Solidarity-led coalition won office. Kaczynski won a seat in the Polish national senate that same year, and two years later was elected to parliament. By then he had also risen to the post of vice-chair of the Solidarity trade union.
After Walesa was elected president in December of 1990, Kaczynski served as one of his top advisors as well as the minister for security. In 1993, however, the two men had a falling-out over a political dispute in the prime minister's government, and Kaczynski was fired as minister. He retained another post, that of president of the Supreme Chamber of Control, a government oversight body, until 1995. He later aligned with another former anti-communist activist, Jerzy Buzek, and after Buzek was elected prime minister, he appointed Kaczynski minister of justice and attorney general in 2000.
Out of office again by mid-2001, Kaczynski teamed with his brother to form Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc , or the Law and Justice Party. Its main focus was on the rooting out of corruption in Poland's government, which had reached epic levels by then. A year later, Kaczynski won election as mayor of Warsaw, Poland's largest city and capital. He held office from November of 2002 until February of 2006, and gained a measure of infamy for banning an annual gay pride march in 2004 and 2005, claiming that it was offensive to the city's public morals.
In March of 2005, Kaczynski announced his candidacy for the presidency of Poland. The following September, the Law and Justice Party—headed by Jaroslaw—did well in parliamentary elections, and in the presidential election a month later, Kaczynski bested a candidate of the center-right party, Donald Tusk, by nine percentage points. In Polish politics, the chairperson of the party that received the majority in the last parliamentary elections is expected to be appointed prime minister, but Jaroslaw had said publicly that he would not serve as prime minister in order to avoid any charges of nepotism; the comment reportedly angered Kaczynski, and the two brothers did not speak for several days.
Taking office in December of 2005, Kaczynski promised Poles he would abolish corruption in the government and restore the Polish republic's reputation on the world stage. He halted an ongoing privatization plan, which sold off formerly state-controlled industries, and voiced suspicions about the European Union (EU), which Poland joined in 2004. Certain economic guidelines that EU member nations must follow had brought hardship to Poland's farmers, many of whom had supported Kaczynski's candidacy.
Kaczynski rekindled the fires of some longstanding animosity that Poles felt toward Germany over the Nazi era in June of 2006, when he reacted to a satirical article in a Berlin newspaper that referred to him as a potato. He and Jaroslaw both responded with particularly vehement language, and Poland's foreign minister asserted that an official apology was in order. The German government was forced to point out that it had no control over a free press. Kaczynski then cancelled a planned summit with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Jacques Chirac, the president of France.
In July, Kaczynski officially replaced his prime minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, with his brother, Jaroslaw. Political analysts believed that Jaroslaw had already enjoyed a great degree of influence on his brother's government, and the switch was viewed as a bid to rescue Lech's failing presidency. "Poland awaits radical changes, but not revolutionary changes," New York Times writer Richard Bernstein quoted him as saying. "My brother uses the term moral revolution. Moral revolution has nothing to do with political revolution. I have in mind values like honesty. This is the revolution we are going to call for."
Financial Times July 15, 2006, p. 11.
Newsweek International , July 24, 2006.
New York Times , October 2, 2005; July 19, 2006.
Time International , September 26, 2005, p. 44.
Times (London, England), July 20, 2006, p. 35.