April 14, 2010 / 4:07 PM / 10 years ago

Polish crash shatters twin brother and his party

WARSAW (Reuters) - He was one half of Europe’s oddest political double act and the two were inseparable, but four days after his twin brother’s tragic death in a plane crash Jaroslaw Kaczynski has yet to break his public silence.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of late Polish President Lech Kaczynski, stands next to empty chairs with pictures of victims of Saturday's Tu-154 plane crash near Smolensk, during a memorial service at the Parliament building in Warsaw April 13, 2010. REUTERS/Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta

President Lech Kaczynski died in Saturday’s crash in Russia along with 95 other people including his wife Maria and many members of Poland’s political and military elite, plunging this country of 38 million people into deep mourning.

Deathly pale and mute, Jaroslaw Kaczynski clearly is still in deep shock, judging from his few public appearances since he flew on Saturday to the crash site to identify Lech’s remains.

Kaczynski, 60, has not only lost his brother. Many members and associates of the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) he leads, and which is the main opposition to Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s centrist government, were on board the doomed plane.

Kaczynski’s response to his loss will have an impact on Poland’s political future but nobody knows what that response will be.

“The party is in disarray. There is nobody today to bring it back together. We are trying but we lack leaders,” PiS deputy Andrzej Dera told tabloid newspaper Super Express, adding that it could take years to rebuild the party.

The shock of losing his identical twin and close political ally may persuade him to quit politics altogether but he could equally decide the best way to honour Lech’s memory is to run in his place as the PiS presidential candidate, political analysts say. Poles will elect a new president in June.

“We just don’t know which way he will go. Almost anything seems possible,” Radoslaw Markowski of the Polish Academy of Sciences said.


Psychologist Katarzyna Korpolewska told Super Express that losing an identical twin was especially traumatic.

“When he heard the news he must have felt as though a great force had torn off a part of himself,” she said.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is unmarried, already had been largely out of public view as his 83-year-old mother Jadwiga, with whom he lives, is seriously ill.

Kaczynski admitted during a stint as prime minister in 2006-07 that he had never had a bank account and kept all his money in his mother’s account to avoid any appearance of impropriety. He opened an account after losing power to Tusk.

PiS draws its support mainly from socially conservative, patriotic-minded Poles who share the Kaczynskis’ instinctive distrust of Russia, Germany and the European Union and their suspicion of Poland’s new business and political elites.

The Kaczynskis promised a “moral revival” in Poland when they took over the presidency and the government.

But the twins saw their popularity ratings drop sharply after they picked fights with the country’s top judges, the media and central bank. Critics said their campaign to root out corruption was a cover for politically motivated witch hunts.

The decision to seal a coalition with populist leader Andrzej Lepper, the then-standard bearer of anti-EU, anti-reform and anti-Western forces in Poland, also sapped support.

Ties between Poland and its larger western neighbour Germany were strained under the Kaczynskis, who tended to view the relationship with Warsaw’s most important economic and trade partner through the prism of World War Two.

In 2007, they came close to sabotaging German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bid to seal a deal on a new European Union reform treaty. The last straw for Berlin came when Jaroslaw Kaczynski invoked the number of Poles killed in the war to justify demands for greater voting powers within the EU.

Other episodes under the twins were cause for embarrassment, notably the Kaczynski government’s idea of a probe into whether Tinky Winky, one of the Teletubbies in the popular children’s TV series, was promoting homosexual propaganda.

Nicknamed “Kaczory” or “the ducks”, the short, stout twins won fame as children by starring as lovable scamps in a 1962 Polish movie called “The Two Who Stole The Moon”. Jaroslaw was the more dominant twin, born 45 minutes before Lech.

Lech Kaczynski had been expected to lose a presidential election originally scheduled for this autumn to Bronislaw Komorowski, candidate of Tusk’s ruling Civic Platform (PO).

Under Poland’s constitution, Komorowski became acting president on Lech Kaczynski’s death because he is also speaker of parliament, the number two position in the state hierarchy.

(Additional reporting by Chris Borowski and Noah Barkin)

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