Kaczyski and his identical twin, Jarosaw, were sons of Rajmund Kaczyski, a soldier who fought the German occupation of Poland, and his wife, Jadwiga, who taught Polish linguistics and served in a literary research institute. The brothers first attained prominence as child actors, appearing in Those Two Who Would Steal the Moon (1962). They were both educated at the University of Warsaw, and both later earned law degrees, Lech at the University of Gdask and Jarosaw at Warsaw. During the 1970s, as students, they were active in anticommunist movements, and Lech was jailed briefly (1981–82) by the government.
Although both worked for a short time in education, by the early 1980s they had become active in Solidarity, the trade-union movement headed by Lech Wasa. Lech Kaczyski held leadership positions in the movement, while his brother for a time edited its newspaper. When Solidarity came to power in 1989, Lech and Jarosaw both began active careers in government. In 1990 they formed the Centre Agreement (Porozumienie Centrum), which Jarosaw headed until 1998. Both brothers won election to the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish legislature, and they held a number of government appointments. By 1993, however, the pair had begun a falling out with Wasa, and in 2001 they cofounded the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc; PiS), headed (2001–03) by Lech and from 2003 by Jarosaw.
The brothers did not fit neatly into traditional political categories. They were considered nationalist (even xenophobic by their critics) and aggressive in foreign policy, often hostile to the policies of the European Union, and sharply critical of the country’s historical enemies, Germany and Russia. They took a strong stand against the perennial problem of corruption in Poland. At the same time, there were populist elements in their views; although they advocated a strong central government, they also promoted both tax cuts and a strong economic safety net. On social issues they were deeply conservative, strictly following the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 2002 Lech became mayor of Warsaw, while his brother continued to serve in the Sejm. In September 2005 the PiS party won a plurality in the Sejm and formed a ruling coalition; in October Lech was elected president of Poland, and he was sworn into office in December. The following year, Lech appointed his brother prime minister; however, Jarosaw’s tenure in office was cut short when his government was defeated in early parliamentary elections in 2007 by the opposition Civic Platform.
Mourners continue to gather at the presidential palace in central Warsaw, Poland, grief-stricken by Saturday’s plane crash that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski and more than a dozen Polish political leaders.
The plane carried President Kaczynski, Kaczynski’s wife Maria, the national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, Olympic Committee head, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers—crashed early Saturday morning while trying to land in Western Russia.
Reports say that the pilot had been warned of heavy fog, which was too thick to land.
The president and his convoy were headed to Katyn, Russia, to commemorate the Katyn forest massacre, where 22,000 Polish officers were killed by Soviet secret police in World War II. This was the 70th anniversary of the massacre.
“This is a great tragedy, a great shock to us all,” former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said.
The deaths were not expected to directly affect the functioning of Polish government—Poland’s presidential role is mainly symbolic. No top government ministers were aboard the plane.