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Double take: Poland’s top leaders are twins

Polish President Lech Kaczynski appointed his identical twin brother Jaroslaw as the new prime minister, the presidential office said in a statement Monday.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski, left, has named his brother Jaroslaw, right, as the country's new prime minister.Czarek Sokolowski / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The president of Poland appointed his identical twin as prime minister Monday, putting the country’s most powerful jobs in the hands of 57-year-olds with virtually the same round faces, silver crops of hair and conservative outlooks.

President Lech Kaczynski formally appointed his brother Jaroslaw, a lawyer, member of parliament and chairman of the governing Law and Justice party, during an evening ceremony in an opulent hall of chandeliers and marble columns at the presidential palace.

As they shook hands, the two were hard to tell apart, except for Lech’s black suit and his brother’s gray one.

“I wish the new prime minister designate, chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, luck in forming his new government,” the president said.

Fighting cronyism, fixing Poland
The brothers are former activists in the Solidarity movement that helped topple communist rule in 1989-90. Both ran on a pledge to fight the cronyism that has since flourished, a message Jaroslaw stressed during brief remarks at the presidential palace.

“The work of the Cabinet that I hope will be formed within the next few days will concentrate on everything aiming to fix the state,” said Jaroslaw, who must still face a confidence vote in parliament. “This goal is in essence our one goal. Poland needs fixing, needs deep rebuilding.”

His critics say Jaroslaw is obsessed with his conviction that former communists still lurk in all corners of the public administration and private business.

Whatever their opinion of his politics, Poles generally consider Jaroslaw to have been the strategist behind both men’s careers.

“Jaroslaw Kaczynski was always someone behind the screen, basically making plans,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, an analyst with the Institute of Public Affairs. “And his brother was implementing them ... The big change we are experiencing now is that Jaroslaw is coming into the spotlight.”

Elder speaks for both often
Before his brother took the presidency, Jaroslaw, the elder by 45 minutes, often spoke for both, beginning sentences with, “My brother and I ... .”

The image of Jaroslaw dominating the duo was reinforced by Lech’s remark to his brother right after winning the presidency: “Mr. Chairman: mission accomplished!”

As prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski will run the government’s day-to-day affairs and try to get laws through parliament. As president, his twin has a more ceremonial role but also wields significant powers, including the right to veto legislation and approve military missions such as Poland’s deployment in Iraq.

The president warmly thanked outgoing Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, who officially stepped down earlier Monday, for his hard work in “rebuilding the state.”

Marcinkiewicz resigned amid reports of disagreements over economic policy between him and Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Gemeni twins child actors
The new prime minister now has 14 days to form his Cabinet, and then another two weeks to win the confidence vote.

As leader of the socially conservative party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski was in line to become prime minister after Law and Justice won parliamentary elections last fall. But he vowed not to assume the role to spare Poles the confusion of identical twins in the country’s two highest posts. And according to a survey published Monday in the daily Dziennik, Poles remain skeptical about such a setup.

Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed think the Kaczynskis should not hold both offices, according to the poll conducted by the TNS OBOP institute. The poll questioned 1,000 people on June 8, and gave a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The twins — who happen to be Geminis — first won fame as child actors in the 1962 hit film “The Two Who Stole The Moon.” Though their show-business careers stopped there, they became politically active when they joined the anti-communist opposition in the 1970s.

The unmarried prime minister still lives with their widowed mother, while the president is married and has a daughter and granddaughter.