Saturday, April 10, 2010
POLAND’S awful history makes it no stranger to tragedy, grief and shock. But not for decades has it suffered a trauma such as the death of President Lech Kaczynski, along with dozens of other senior Polish politicians and officials, in an air crash on April 10th.
The presidential plane was carrying a delegation to Katyn, to commemorate the mass murder of a previous Polish elite: the 20,000 reservist officers murdered by Stalin’s NKVD in 1940.
The symbolism of the tragedy to many Poles is almost unbearable. In 1943 General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the leader of the Polish wartime government, died in a plane crash in Gibraltar. No foul play was proved there, but many Poles believe that he was murdered because of his resolute determination to expose the Katyn massacre—which the Soviet Union blamed on the Germans. Now another Polish president, closely involved in the same issue, has died in an all too similar manner.
Polish historical sensitivies about Russia mean that many see the coincidence as sinister rather than tragic. But the plane tried to land four times, in bad weather. Accident is the overwhelmingly likely cause.
Yet like Katyn, which eliminated the flower of the pre-war Polish elite, the plane crash also seems like a decapitation of Polish society. Among the 96 people who died were the chief of the Polish general staff, the head of the central bank, the director of the Institute of National Remembrance (which investigates and documents crimes such as Katyn) and many other of the country’s top public figures. Many politicians from the opposition Law and Justice Party, which is led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president’s twin brother, were among the delegation.
A growing pile of flowers outside the presidential palace in Warsaw attested to the public’s stunning sense of loss. Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister, who broke the news to the prime minister, Donald Tusk, this morning said that the head of government wept on hearing it. Both men had been at Katyn earlier in the week, at a ceremony attended by the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin. The hawkish Mr Kaczynski did not attend that ceremony, instead insisting on his own visit three days later.
The tragedy brings big upsets in Polish political life and in other institutions. The presidential elections, due to be held in October, will be brought forward. Mr Kaczynski had been facing a tough challenge from Bronislaw Komorowski, a close ally of Mr Tusk. Mr Komorowski is also speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament. In that capacity, he now becomes acting president.
Mr Kaczynski, like his brother, was known for personal integrity and his deep roots in Poland’s anti-communist opposition movement. He was a vehement critic of both German and Soviet historical crimes against Poland, and a strong supporter of countries such as Georgia.
Posted by GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD at 12:22 PM