Like Ronald Reagan, Lech Kaczynski was a president who first found fame in the movies. He and his twin brother Jaroslaw were child stars of a popular Polish film.
Their double act continued in politics, from the anti-communist Solidarity movement to co-founding the
nationalist and conservative Law and Justice party. For a time, one was Poland’s president, the other prime minister.
The country has been an EU member since 2004. But Lech Kaczynski was known for his deep distrust of the bloc. The relationship between Poland and Germany is particularly sensitive, marked by centuries of mistrust and deep scars from World War Two. But Kaczynski ended up having a good understanding with Chancellor Angela Merkel. She said Germany would miss him.
Having taken office in 2005, the devoutly Roman Catholic Kaczynski had been expected to seek a fresh five year mandate in an election this autumn.
Under Polish law, parliamentary speaker Bronislaw Komorowski is now acting president and the poll will take place by the end of June. He has addressed the nation on television.
Komorowski is the candidate of Poland’s ruling Civic Platform party. Opinion polls had shown him winning the largely symbolic presidential post.