New Polish president is sworn in, succeeding leader killed in plane crash
WARSAW, Poland – WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's new president pledged to serve as a unifying force and work closely with European allies as he was sworn in Friday — but the ceremony was overshadowed by the plane crash that killed his predecessor and snubbed by his defeated rival.
Bronislaw Komorowski's inauguration in parliament came after a moment of silence for Lech Kaczynski and the 95 other people killed in the April 10 crash near Smolensk, Russia.
"Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord," intoned a lawmaker from the late leader's conservative party, Ryszard Bender, before the assembly fell silent.
Several lawmakers were killed in the crash. Their seats were empty during the ceremony, with photographs of them and flowers in their places.
In the first speech of his five-year term, Komorowski pledged to work with the government and other state institutions to build national unity and to try to help modernize Poland, promoting scientific research and working to improve the creaky state health system. The pro-European Union leader also said his first official trips abroad would be to Brussels, Paris and Berlin.
He also pledged to support an ongoing rapprochement with Russia, the huge eastern neighbor with which post-communist Poland's relations have sometimes been tense.
"There will be no stable development in our region without the cooperation of Russia," Komorowski said.
He said that, despite the grief the plane crash unleashed, it also revealed the resilience of the young democracy only 20 years after it threw off communist rule.
"Smolensk was our common tragedy and our common mourning," he told a gathering that included both houses of parliament, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his two surviving democratically elected predecessors, Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski.
"It also showed us all that our society, constitution and democracy, can rise to such a situation," Komorowski said. "The order which we have built over the last 20 years in Poland managed to maintain the continuity of power and to honor the memory of the victims with dignity."
He said he considered it his duty to help maintain the memory of those who died in the crash.
One conspicuous absentee on Friday was Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president's twin brother and Komorowski's defeated rival for the presidency.
Kaczynski didn't explain his decision to stay away, but it highlighted the deep bitterness in Poland's politics and an ongoing rivalry — both ideological and personal — between Kaczynski's nationalist and deeply Catholic Law and Justice party and the governing Civic Platform of Tusk and Komorowski.
Civic Platform represents a more moderate conservatism and advocates a weaker role for the church in society. It focuses strongly on economic issues.
Komorowski, 58, takes on a role with symbolic weight but limited real powers, though he will have the power to veto laws and have a say over the country's military missions abroad.
The most important of those missions is that in Afghanistan, which Komorowski has said he hopes to end in 2012.
Many political observers hope that having a president and government from the same party will usher in domestic political calm and end bitterness between the government and president that marked the three years before Lech Kaczynski's death.