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Politics Overshadowed by Crash
April 28, 2011   
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The campaign in the run-up to this year’s parliamentary elections looks set to be one of the most aggressive in the 22 years since the end of communism in Poland. The ballot scheduled for October—the exact date has not been formally announced by the president yet—is likely to expose the deep divisions within Polish society, especially if the turnout is high. A measure of Polish people’s political views is their attitude to the Smolensk air accident, in which Polish President Lech Kaczyński, his wife and 94 others, including top politicians and high-ranking military officers, were killed on April 10 last year.

The very use of the word “accident” identifies the speaker as a supporter of the ruling coalition of the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL)—or a supporter of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). A supporter of Law and Justice (PiS), the largest opposition party, is more likely to use the phrase “unexplained catastrophe,” or simply “assassination.” The theory that the Russians, or—as another version has it—Polish politicians hostile to Kaczyński were behind the crash has been circulating since right after the tragedy. It is a staple in the rhetoric of many PiS politicians, especially Antoni Macierewicz, who leads a special parliamentary team appointed to clarify the causes of the crash. Recently, Macierewicz announced that the investigation files submitted to Polish prosecutors by the Russians are “beyond doubt falsified.” Earlier, Macierewicz and Anna Fotyga, a former foreign minister in the PiS government, tried to draw the attention of members of the U.S. Congress to the Smolensk investigation. However, the congressmen were not willing to subscribe to the assassination theory.

Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader and the twin brother of the late president, said some time ago it had been a mistake that the Smolensk tragedy was not highlighted in last year’s presidential election. In the second round, Kaczyński was beaten by Bronisław Komorowski of the Civic Platform. Many PiS “hawks” say this mistake must not be repeated in this year’s parliamentary election campaign. They say it was a mistake to run a soft campaign without raising pointed questions about whether the crash was an assassination and without vocally accusing the Polish government of subservience to Russia.

Some critics even accused the government of treason. PiS politicians have referred to periods in Polish history when the country was governed by foreign powers—the czars, the Germans, the Prussians, and Soviet communists.

Amid the clamor of accusations and explanations, other problems facing Poland have disappeared or been marginalized. Attempts to start a debate about the economy, education, demography, innovation and other issues of key importance to any normal country come to nothing, drowned out by the row over the April 10 tragedy and its consequences. This year, Polish pre-election politics centers on fresh graves and there are no signs indicating that this will change.
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