Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Plane Crash Changes Poland

By Jane Jamison
April 11, 2010

Katyn Forest in Russia carries its curse on Poland forward again in the new millennium.

A plane crash in the Katyn forests near Smolensk, Russia has killed the president of Poland, a true patriot of Eastern Europe, and the top tier of his leadership. The crash removes, in one fell swoop, a freedom-loving president who jut-jawed communists, and many of those who sympathized with him and might have replaced him. The incident could impact politics in the region for decades to come.

A woman places flowers next to a photograph of late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, April 11, 2010. Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died on Saturday, April 10, 2010, when the presidential plane crashed as it came for landing in fog near Smolensk, western Russia.
(AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

The death of Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and dozens of others is heavy with historical Polish/Soviet irony due to the location of the crash and the timing.

The Economist:

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.

(See history of 1940 Katyn massacre here. Hoover Institution history here.)

Not only was the Polish president killed in the crash, but so were many of his deputies, military leaders, anti-communist activists, and Poles who have ties to the victims of Katyn.

New York Times:

They included Poland's deputy foreign minister and a dozen members of Parliament, the chiefs of the army and the navy, and the president of the national bank. They included Anna Walentynowicz, 80, the former dock worker whose firing in 1980 set off the Solidarity strike that ultimately overthrew Polish Communism, as well as relatives of victims of the massacre that they were on their way to commemorate.

As noted by the Times, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held a ceremony noting the 70th anniversary of the massacre at Katyn Wednesday. He invited Polish Prime Minister Tusk to attend, but he did not invite the Polish president. President Kaczynski decided to lead his own delegation to a separate Polish-sponsored ceremony.

This would have been the first "ceremonial" acknowledgment to the world of Russia's evil hand in the assassination of Poland's World War Two leadership.

Though the Polish president's plane apparently tried to land four times in dense fog near Smolensk, there is speculation, and rightly so, about whether this was an accident.

A picture of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife is seen next to a candle during a special service for the victims of the plane crash in Smolensk in a Catholic Cathedral in Moscow, Sunday, April 11, 2010. Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and some of the country's most prominent military and civilian leaders died Saturday along with dozens of others when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog near Smolensk in western Russia.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Conservative British journalist Daniel Hannan puts some of the elements together in the UK Telegraph:

Reports in Britain will no doubt describe President Kaczyński as "a controversial figure" (the BBC has already started). Leftists resented him for pursuing a policy of lustration: that is, of requiring public servants to declare whether they had played a role in the previous Communist regime. These critics applauded a similar policy when it was imposed on former fascist countries after 1945 and, indeed, generally support the Spanish government in its attempts to reopen what happened under Franco but, for whatever reason, consider it tasteless to apply the same standard to former Communists.

In fact, Lech Kaczyński was a patriot: a man who never collaborated with the dictators or accepted the occupation of his country by the Red Army.
Some Polish politicians, who had made occasional compromises - muting their criticism in return for being allowed to take up foreign postings, for example - found his purism uncomfortable. But ordinary Poles admired Kaczyński, and elected him with a handsome majority.

Many of those killed by the Russians seventy years ago with the Polish leaders were Jews.

The Jerusalem Post notes Kaczynski's close ties to Israel and the Jewish people:

Praising the work of Kaczynski and his wife to promote closer ties between the Polish and Jewish peoples, by "making a significant contribution to the healing process of the scars of the past and the building of a common better future", Israeli President Shimon Peres emphasized that bilateral ties between Israel and Poland had been strengthened during Kaczynski's presidency, and had been distinguished by a spirit of friendship and warmth....

Kaczynski who played an active role in the attempt to eradicate anti-Semitism from post-Communist Poland, noted with regard to Jews murdered by the Nazis on Polish soil that while there were several European regimes which collaborated with the Nazis even before the war, the Polish government did not, and when German troops entered Poland in September 1939, Poland went to war against the German Reich.

Lech Kaczynski has been such a prickle in the paw of the Soviet Union that it is hard to believe that he was a welcome visitor this week or anytime.

As noted by the New York Times, Kaczynski was a stubborn advocate for the independence of former Soviet satellites Georgia and Ukraine, he lobbied hard for the anti-ballistic weapon systems promised by the Bush administration which were recently canceled by President Obama, and despite that setback, had vowed to host American surface-to-air missiles in his country.

The ceremony at Katyn was to be a cathartic "coming together" of supposedly repentant Russians with the Polish people, yet the Polish president was somewhat of a "rogue" party-crasher, as he was not recognized by the earlier "official" Russian ceremony.

A foe of communism, a friend of freedom, a friend to Israel, and intending to defend his country with military might, Polish President Lech Kaczynski was no friend to Russia, and now he is gone. Prime Minister Tusk, who was cozying up to his Russian counterpart Putin of late, survives.

There is much to learn about this plane crash. Why would the pilot repeatedly insist on trying to land in dense fog on Russian soil when it was suggested that he turn back? The "official" Russian investigation is going to be handled by Russian Prime Minister Putin, who is also the former head of the Soviet KGB.

The plane crash which has removed the plucky Polish president and his top leadership may be found to be an unfortunate accident. If so, it is certainly a very convenient coincidence for Vladimir Putin.

Jane Jamison is editor of the conservative news/commentary blog

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