News came in today that President Lech Kaczynski and a delegation of Polish officials died when their plane crashed in Russia. The plane went down near the city of Smolensk. They were on the way to Katyn to attend a Polish-organized event commemorating the 1940 murder of about 22,000 Polish officers, intellectuals, and people of other prominent positions by the Red Army. Kaczynski was not invited to the official commemoration ceremony by Vladimir Putin, which was attended by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. In an ironic twist of fate, 70 years later, the heads of all four branches of the Polish military and the head of the central bank were among those who were killed.
Elected to the Presidency in 2005, Kazcyinski’s conservative and nationalist views often clashed with the policies of other EU countries toward Russia and the U.S. At home, he was initially a member of the 1980s Polish independence movement Solidarity, before breaking with Adam Michnik over the question of having former communists in the new government:
“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.”
Now, the Polish constitution states that the leader of the lower house of parliament, who is now the acting president, has two weeks to announce an election, which must then take place in sixty days. In the Polish government, the president wields less power than the prime minister.