Kaczynski served as mayor of Warsaw from 2002 until he took the presidency in 2005 [AFP] 

Lech Kaczynski, the president of Poland, died in a plane crash in Russia on April 10, 2010.

Born in Warsaw on June 18, 1949, Kaczynski began his political career when he studied law at the University of Warsaw in the late 1960s.

But within a decade, Kaczynski found himself at the forefront of protests against the Polish government's Communist policies.

In 1976, he began to raise funds for the Workers' Defence Committee which represented the rights of Polish labourers, and a year later joined the Free Trade Unions.

Labour law activist

Armed with experience in labour law, Kaczynski quickly rose through the ranks of the growing anti-Communist movement and in 1980 became an adviser to Lech Walesa, the leader of independent trade union Solidarity.

In 1981, he was jailed under martial law by the authorities on the charges that he had worked in illegal union activities.

He was released 11 months later and continued to work to unite Polish anti-Communism union activists.

In December 1988, he was involved in negotiations between the Solidarity movement and the government.

Kaczynski, and his twin brother Jaroslaw were later credited as having been the driving force behind Walesa's election as president in 1990, when Poland held its first free election after the collapse of Communism in East Europe.

Lech Kaczynski later fell out with Walesa.

Polish nationalist

Despite losing in a 1991 bid to chair the Solidarity movement, Kaczynski continued to be heavily involved in politics.

Kaczynski's plane reportedly broke into pieces on approach to Smolensk airport [Reuters]

In March 1991, he served as minister of state in charge of security and later won a parliamentary seat as deputy for the Sejm constituency.

In 2000, he was appointed as minister of justice by Jerzy Buzek, the then prime minister, and became admired as one of the most popular politicians in Poland's post-Communist era.

In 2004 and 2005, as mayor of Warsaw, Kaczynski made the controversial decision of banning the city's gay rights parade. Poland was subsequently convicted at the European Court of Human Rights of being in contravention of EU law.

After being elected president in December 2005, Kaczynski named his twin brother to the post of prime minister, although in 2007, Donald Tusk took over that post when the centrist Civic Platform party won parliamentary elections.

EU and missile defence

During an October 2009 ceremony to sign the European Union's reform treaty into law, Kaczynski stressed that the EU remained a union of sovereign nation states and said it must remain open to new members, including countries in the Balkans and Georgia.

"The EU remains a union of nation states, a strict union, and let it remain so ... within a union of sovereign states we will achieve increasing successes," he said.

Kaczynski, considered to be a conservative, was also known for his anti-Russian rhetoric and his strong support of the US missile shield plan outlined by the administration of President George Bush.

In October 2009, Poland declared its support for a revamped missile defence system unveiled by the United States last month.

Under the revised plan, Poland would allow a small US base equipped with SM-3 interceptors on its territory which would target short and medium-range missiles.

Lech Kaczynski and his wife were killed in a plane crash in Smolensk, in western Russia, where they were scheduled to take part in ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre where Russian forces killed more than 20,000 Polish people.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies