Remembering Polish President Lech Kaczynski

Journalists, pundits, and foreign heads of state on why he mattered

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The untimely and tragic death of Polish President Lech Kacynski has made mourners of many of the world's most prominent diplomats and heads of state. Journalists and pundits as well are taking the time to remember the life and work of Kacynski. Here is a sample of the legacy he left behind.

  • An Extraordinary Life  The New York Times Judy Dempsey and Diane Cardwell chart his life. "Mr. Kaczynski was born on June 18, 1949, when Warsaw was in ruins." The "devout Roman Catholic" and strong nationalist "rose from childhood fame as an actor to become president of Poland" and was "Swept into office as voters repudiated the group of former Communist officials who had dominated the country’s politics for much of the preceding decade." As head of state, he was close to the U.S. as well as fellow former-Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia.
  • Kacynski's Quiet Strength  The Nation's David Ost "knew Lech Kaczynski, the deceased president. ... What was so striking is that he seemed so shy, so reticent, so insecure. That is not something one hears often in recollections of future presidents. But Kaczynski seemed more to want to be a quiet, unassuming representative of the marginalized than a big political leader."
  • Friend of Reagan and U.S. Jews  Conservative blogger William Jacobson writes, "Poland is a good friend of the United States, and President Kaczynski went out of his way to honor Ronald Reagan for the fight to free Poland from communism when he visited the United States in 2007 ... Kaczynski also worked to acknowledge the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of Polish Jews during World War II, including honoring Poles who risked their lives to save Jews."
Kaczynski, who became Poland's president in 2005, had been a dogged critic of Putin and Russia's efforts to restore influence over the former Soviet Union. He sparred with the Kremlin over the bans Russia imposed on Polish food imports in recent years, calling them part of a strategy of political blackmail and manipulation. In 2006, he even proposed that the European Union impose sanctions on Russia for its economic bullying in Eastern Europe. His animosity had deep roots. In 1980, he spent nearly a year in prison for "anti-socialist" activities when the Moscow-backed communist government imposed martial law in Poland. After his release, he became a leader of the underground Solidarity movement that campaigned for democratic reform, helping to topple the communist regime.
  • Chilly Towards Russia  The New York Times' Ellen Barry says the tough anti-Communist remained suspicious of the country even after it collapsed. As president, he "often put Poland on a collision course with Russia."
  • Obama: All of U.S. Mourns  President Obama's statement: "Today’s loss is devastating to Poland, to the United States, and to the world.  President Kaczynski was a distinguished statesman who played a key role in the Solidarity movement, and he was widely admired in the United States as a leader dedicated to advancing freedom and human dignity."
  • Medvedev: Russia Stands With Poland  Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's statement: "On this difficult day the people of Russia stand with the Polish people."
  • Sarkozy: A Tireless Fighter  French President Nicholas Sarkozy's statement: "A tireless defender of the ideas in which he believed, he always battled with conviction for the values that founded his entry into politics: democracy, liberty and the fight against totalitarianism."
  • Brown: All Know His Triumphs  U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's statement: "We know the difficulties that Poland has gone through, the sacrifices that he himself made as part of the Solidarity movement."
  • Warsaw Reels  The Economist reports, "A growing pile of flowers outside the presidential palace in Warsaw attested to the public’s stunning sense of loss. Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister, who broke the news to the prime minister, Donald Tusk, this morning said that the head of government wept on hearing it."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.