Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Orła Białego się na Ziemię - The curse of Katyn

The death of President Lech Kaczynski is hard to write about. It bears so many echoes of the great tragedies of twentieth century Polish history. President Kaczynski is the third leader of Poland to suffer sudden death: The first President of the Second Republic, Gabriel Narutowicz, was assassinated, and of course the wartime Prime Minister, General Wladyslaw Sikorski was killed in plane crash in 1943. It is the death of Sikorski, rumoured, but never proven to be at the instigation of Stalin, that brings the most terrible echoes to Polish ears.

Nor was President Kaczynski the only head of state to die on the plane in Smolensk. The last President-in-exile of the Second Republic, Ryszard Kaczorowksi, was also on the plane. When Lech Walesa was sworn in as the first President of the Third Republic, it was from President Kaczorowski that he took the insignia of office, while the insignia of the "Polish People's Republic", worn by General Jaruzelski was retired to a museum. The symbolism was profound- and deeply moving.

The loss of so many significant figures in a single plane crash is tragic. It is not, however, the "decapitation" that some journalists have described. Neither should one compare the Smolensk disaster with the Katyn massacre that the dignitaries were there to mourn. The Stalinist murder of twenty thousand Polish army officers and leaders of society was indeed an attempt by the Communists to decapitate Polish society. The loss of the Presidential plane, as shocking as it is, only decapitates the Law and Justice Party, of which the President was effectively the co-head with his twin brother Jaroslaw. The fact is that the President had insisted on a separate ceremony in order to avoid a ceremony a few days ago, when Prime Minister Tusk and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had taken centre stage- a function of a deep an bitter political split. Nevertheless the searing wound of Katyn creates, in the death of President, yet more victims. However, we may yet see a glimmer of hope, even though the circumstances are indeed tragic.

The loss of so many of the most intractable Polish Conservatives will change Poland, especially at a time when the power of the Roman Church in the country is under attack as never before. The occasionally paranoid fears of the Kaczynski brothers sometimes threatened the positive work that their obvious integrity had built. It is likely that the eclipse of the PiS will promote a more open Poland, both at home and in international relations. It is also a blow for David Cameron, since the PiS was his one significant ally in Europe.

The President pro tempore is the Marshal of the Sejm, Bronislaw Komoroski, who was hot favourite to beat President Kaczynski when the Presidential elections were due to take place later this year. His aristocratic demenour is a mask for an exceptionally shrewd operator- one who can build a far more significant position for Poland internationally than the defiantly backwoods demeanour of the late President.

One comment was " “The dark, dark symbolism of the whole situation — the weight that Katyn already carries in the Polish national memory — it’s all too much somehow… as though that place were truly cursed for us,”

Amen- and Never Again.

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