Richard North, 02/04/2005  

As the life of a courageous man draws to its close, Poland is both mourning and celebrating the life of one of its most famous sons.

Karol Wojtyla, the junior of the two Polish cardinals when John Paul I died after a mere 33 days in office in 1978, was to become catapulted to fame as John Paul II, the first non-Italian to occupy St Peter's seat since Adrian VI, a Dutchman, between 1522 and 1523.

But, by what would be an odd twist of fate, Poland could well keep its position as the motherland of a world leader, if talks currently underway with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski come to fruition.

Kwasniewski has been sounded out as a replacement for the current UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, due to step down in 2006, and has expressed a willingness to be considered if the organisation "was to transform into a body equipped with a bigger political mandate and more active".

Under an informal rotation system, the job should go to an Asian after Annan, an African, ends his second five-year term. But observers are suggesting that it remains unclear whether Asian countries will be able to agree on a single candidate. Should they be unable to do so, a European could be next in the line.

Kwasniewski, 50, a former Communist turned liberal Social Democrat, has won respect in the West for his role in Poland's transformation from a Soviet satellite into a NATO and European Union member, and is slated as a friend of the United States.

However, if Kwasniewski, the Pole, replaced Kofi Annan - known in some circles as the "secular pope" - it could create an odd symmetry: Pope Paul II, the Pole, is widely tipped to be succeeded by a black African, the first in the history of the Papacy.

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