Poland's first non-Communist premier dies

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first non-Communist premier, has died aged 86 following a long illness. (AAP)

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first non-Communist premier, has died aged 86.

Poland's Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first non-Communist premier in Soviet-dominated eastern Europe who was hailed as a father of Polish liberty, has died aged 86.

The lifelong heavy smoker died in a Warsaw hospital following a long illness, close friend and Senate speaker Bogdan Boruzewicz confirmed on Monday.

A Catholic intellectual who dedicated his life to fighting totalitarianism, Mazowiecki was "one of the fathers of Polish liberty and independence", Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Polish Radio.

One of the early members of the Solidarity movement, he became prime minister in August 1989, two months after Solidarity won elections and its iconic leader Lech Walesa tapped him for the job.

He and Walesa later fell out and ran against each other in a presidential election the following year, which Walesa won.

"He was really one of the outstanding people I met on this journey," of transition, Walesa told Poland's commercial TVN24 news channel.

"Mazowiecki was the best prime minister Poland ever had," the Nobel peace laureate added.

Wojciech Jaruzelski, 90, who was Poland's last Communist president under whom Mazowiecki served as premier, hailed him for even-handedness.

"I valued prime minister Mazowiecki for his wisdom, his moderation and sober evaluation of the difficult situation as well as his determination on matters he thought were crucial," Jaruzelski told the PAP news agency.

"It was a period of transition, a time of change and we had to adjust to the reality of the situation," he added.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz called Mazowiecki a "noble character" who had been "instrumental in changing the history of Poland and Europe."

A false rumour about Mazowiecki's death in detention during the December 1981 Communist party Martial Law crackdown on Solidarity earned him obituaries in the international press and a funeral mass in Paris.

Known for his sad smile, slow speech and modesty, Mazowiecki's personality stood in stark contrast to the charismatic Walesa.

Mazowiecki was cast as a turtle in "Polski Zoo" (Polish Zoo), a 1990s satirical program using puppets to chronicle the rough and tumble of the political scene in the early days of the transition to democracy.

In the mid-1990s, Mazowiecki served as a special UN envoy for ex-Yugoslavia but quit the post after the Srebrenica massacre of some 8000 Muslim boys and men by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

A lawyer by training, he was born in the central town of Plock on April 18, 1927.

Under communism, he engaged in dialogue with the regime through his work in KIK, an influential group of Catholic intellectuals as well as the Catholic monthly Wiez (The Link) which he founded in 1958 and edited until 1981.

He was one of the few Polish MPs to condemn anti-Semitic purges carried out by the regime in 1968.

As the anti-communist Solidarity movement swept Poland in 1980, Mazowiecki was among the first intellectuals to join striking workers at the Gdansk Shipyard where he first encountered union leader Walesa.

Seven years later he was a key figure in the talks between Solidarity and the Communist party which agreed a bloodless transition to democracy in 1989.

Source: AAP

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