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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 28, 2011
Politics & Society
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In the Shadow of Smolensk
April 28, 2011   
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A year after the presidential air crash near the Russian city of Smolensk, divisions among Polish politicians run deeper than at any time during the two decades since the country shook off communism in 1989. The rifts have also inflamed Poland’s relations with Russia.

The crash near Smolensk, on April 10 last year, killed Polish President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other members of a delegation heading for ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish servicemen by the Soviet secret police. Commenting on the political situation in the country, President Bronisław Komorowski said it was more than he could endure. In particular, he was referring to the accusations of “treason” leveled by the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party against key state figures on the anniversary of the air crash. PiS is led by Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of the president killed in the crash.

Although developments at the presidential palace on April 10 this year did not get out of control, as many politicians had feared, they clearly showed that competing political groups were unable to reach compromise and commemorate the tragic anniversary together.

“We have to work together to renew our country,” Jarosław Kaczyński said addressing a crowd of some 7,000 gathered in front of the presidential palace. There was also a “march of remembrance” in the streets of Warsaw. Its participants held a rally in front of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Russian embassy where they chanted slogans calling Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a “murderer” and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk a “traitor.”

“We have to renew Poland together, we have to renew it through our work, determination, commitment and above all our faith in the truth, our confidence that truth will prevail,” Kaczyński said. At the end, he appealed to those gathered to show up again for similar demonstrations outside the President’s Palace in the future. The demonstrations have been held on the 10th day of each month since August 2010.

According to Komorowski, those who protested in front of the President’s Palace on April 10 and the following days had been encouraged by party leaders. “I am worried that one political group has specialized in provoking bad emotions these days,” Komorowski said, referring to PiS.

Speaking about the demonstrations, Komorowski said that the Polish authorities had done everything they should have done to commemorate and show respect to the victims of the Smolensk crash. He added he did not believe that the construction of any monument—the protesters demand that a monument to the victims of the crash be built as soon as possible—could satisfy those demonstrating in front of the presidential palace.

A group of PiS supporters have put up a tent at the site to stay there around the clock. They subscribe to the theory that the plane crash was an assassination by the Russians rather than an accident and accuse Kaczyński’s political enemies of high treason.

Meanwhile, there is a conflict over efforts to establish the course of the developments on April 10, 2010 and the reasons behind them. Antoni Macierewicz, a PiS member and head of a team set up to investigate the Smolensk air crash, said that the investigation files handed over to Poland by Russia had been falsified. The team is preparing a report that will be submitted to the prosecutor’s office. “We are keenly aware that the Polish investigation is at a dead end,” Macierewicz said. He added the investigation had been mishandled since the beginning and conducted “at the Russians’ bidding.”

Politicians from the ruling Civic Platform party (PO) say time is needed to reliably explain the causes of the Smolensk crash. They point to this as the reason why a report by a commission led by Interior Minister Jerzy Miller, who is responsible for the Polish investigation, is still not ready.

Meanwhile, a decision by the Smolensk local authorities to remove a commemorative plaque that a Polish organization called Katyn Families placed at the site of the crash last year was another development that heightened tensions over the air crash. The plaque with a Polish inscription about the crash of the president’s plane and mentioning the fact that it was carrying a Polish delegation to the Katyn massacre anniversary commemoration, was replaced with a bilingual, Polish-Russian, commemorative plaque that makes no mention of the purpose of the Polish delegation’s visit to Russia. PiS politicians called this a “scandal.” President Komorowski used a more diplomatic language, referring to the situation as “unfortunate.”

The conflict surrounding the Smolensk crash has had an impact on the popularity ratings of political parties in a year of parliamentary elections. The date of the elections has not been formally announced yet. They will probably be held on Oct. 16 or 23. A recent opinion survey indicates that if the elections had been held on April 15 the PO would have received 31 percent of the vote, PiS 23 percent, the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) 12 percent, and the junior coalition partner Polish People’s Party (PSL) 5 percent, with turnout at 57 percent.

Compared with a survey a month earlier, the PO lost 4 percentage points. Its popularity ratings have declined consistently for the last four months. They have dropped by 10 percentage points since December 2010. The gap between the two strongest political parties, PO and PiS, is narrowing. Compared with March, PiS gained 5 points. Apart from the four parties which are now represented in the Polish parliament, there are a few marginal political groups in Poland. Two percent of those surveyed said they would vote for the Poland Comes First (PJN) party, which split from PiS several months ago. The remaining parties listed in the survey, including the League of Polish Families (LPR), a junior partner in the PiS-led government of 2005-2007; the Women’s Party; the Right Wing of the Republic of Poland; the Palikot Support Movement, a group led by former PO politician Janusz Palikot; and the Realpolitik Union, were each supported by 1 percent of those surveyed.
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