Global Dispatches: Poland—Commemoration and Conflict

April 19, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Supporters of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother to the Polish President Lech Kaczynski killed in the plane crash, stage a dramatic protest outside the Russian embassy in Warsaw, on April 9. This camp largely disagrees with how the current government has handled the investigation into the crash. (Tom Ozimek/The Epoch Times)
Supporters of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother to the Polish President Lech Kaczynski killed in the plane crash, stage a dramatic protest outside the Russian embassy in Warsaw, on April 9. This camp largely disagrees with how the current government has handled the investigation into the crash. (Tom Ozimek/The Epoch Times)
WARSAW, Poland—Journalism thrives on contrast and so do I, and certainly there’s been no shortage of conflict in the Polish public sphere since last weekend. No surprise, really. The whole host of events happening on or around the April 10th anniversary of the airplane crash in Smolensk, Russia, which claimed the life of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 others, were bound to be intense.

Few events have polarized the Polish public as much as the Smolensk disaster, or more specifically its aftermath and the handling of the investigation into its causes.

One version of events, presented by the Russian investigation team in February, is that the plane went down in thick fog due to pilot error and bravado, psychological pressure by the passengers to attempt a landing no matter what, and general complacency and unpreparedness with respect to training and standard operating procedures.

While the official Polish investigation has yet to wrap up, the Polish government pretty much seems to agree with the mainstay of Russian conclusions, as do about 33 percent of the Polish public, according to a recent poll by TBOP, an independent polling agency.

The main opposition party, on the other hand, led by the deceased president’s twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is taking the line that the Russians are at least partly to blame, either in the form of overt accusations of airport ground crew errors (with which 24 percent of the public agree), or implied conspiracy theory assassination (8 percent of Poles believe this).

Overall the government is getting approval, by 59 percent of those surveyed, for how it is handling the issue; 28 percent do not approve. Eleven percent expressed searing criticism of the government’s performance, including accusations of blatant lying or other forms of ill-will and manipulation.

Both camps have their fervent supporters, and as the anniversary weekend approached, the contenders were in their corners, awaiting the bell.

Officially, it rang at 8:41 a.m. on Sunday, April 10, the exact time and date the accident happened.

One camp gathered at the Powazki Military Cemetery, plus me and the battalion of other journalists crammed into a media zone corral, watching the ceremony attended by current and past presidents, prime ministers, and other high officials, as well as families of the Smolensk victims. Many moving speeches, a 21-gun salute, the whole 9 yards.

Meanwhile, also at 8:41 am, the opposite camp with Jaroslaw Kaczynski at its helm held their own commemorative ceremony for his fallen brother. It was followed by a mass rally outside the Palace of the President, also replete with many moving speeches, but with a double dose of scathing criticism leveled at the current president and government.

In fact, Kaczynski’s supporters started to voice their concerns the day before with a dramatic Saturday night protest outside the Russian embassy in Warsaw. Flares, chants of “Murderers!” and even setting alight an effigy of Putin were all part of the experience that left little doubt in my mind that I was amid a good part of the 8 percent of survey respondents who believe that the plane crash was a Russian assassination plot.

And thus the conflict continues unabated. This week it may be in simmer mode, but it will surely boil over in the months ahead as we get closer to elections this fall.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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