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Shadow of history
August 26, 2010   
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Poland’s approach to thorny historical issues “should not be targeted against anybody or serve as a stick to beat political opponents,” President Bronisław Komorowski said recently, but few other Polish politicians seem to share his view.

Judging by some recent developments, those wrestling for supremacy in Polish politics tend to do just what the president warned against, using history as a weapon against their political opponents. Anything is a fair game, no matter if it happened 90 years or just a couple of months ago.

“Smolensk” has become the chief buzzword in the strategy of Law and Justice (PiS), the largest opposition party in Poland today. The tragic crash of the presidential airplane April 10, which killed 96 people, including many leading politicians, seems to have become a universal argument used by PiS to criticize the Civic Platform (PO), the senior partner in the coalition government. Beyond any doubt, the main driver behind this policy is PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczyński, who died in the crash.

PiS has set up a special group in the parliament to scrutinize the circumstances of the crash. The group is working hard to expose the PO’s supposed negligence in the organization of the ill-fated flight. Not a day passes without Antoni Macierewicz, the head of the task force, releasing new “revelations” to the media. Between the lines, Macierewicz is claiming that Russia may have deliberately caused the accident. So far, however, the public at large has not learned anything new other than that the presidential visit, which was not an official one, was poorly prepared. Amid the dearth of hard facts, suspicions and conspiracy theories are rife.

Meanwhile, the square in front of the Presidential Palace in the heart of Warsaw continues to be the scene of surreal goings-on around a memorial cross that scouts mounted shortly after the April 10 crash. With evident support from PiS, a small group of “defenders of the real Poland,” as they like to call themselves, are campaigning to have the cross remain in place until a huge monument is erected on the square to commemorate the tragic plane crash. On the other side of the barricades is a growing group of Warsaw residents, mostly young people, who come to mock and ridicule the “defenders of the cross” by holding picnics right next to the cross, acting like they were taking part in street festivities. The atmosphere is getting uglier with each passing day, with acts of vandalism and people threatening each other with unarmed grenades. Some commentators believe that an outburst of violence is just a matter of time.

To make matters worse, the Church seems to be divided over the issue as well. Some Church officials say the cross should be moved to the nearby St. Anne’s Church, as per an earlier agreement between scouts, the Warsaw authorities, the President’s Office and priests from St. Anne’s Church. Others are openly calling for “respect for the feelings of the people” and demand that the cross should be left where it is.

Another row over history unfolded in the village of Ossów northeast of Warsaw, the site of a key battle in the war against Soviet invaders in 1920. Just as a controversial monument to Red Army soldiers who were killed in the battle was about to be unveiled, the ceremony was disrupted by a local protest committee. Sparks are flying between the authorities in Warsaw and Moscow again and Poland has once again split into two conflicted parts as history overshadows the present.
Witold Żygulski
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