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Smolensk: The Unhealed Wound
April 26, 2012   
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April 10 was the second anniversary of the air crash in which the Polish presidential couple was killed together with 94 other people on board, including top politicians and high-ranking officials.

A recent survey found that Poles consider the crash, in a forest near Severnyi Airport outside the Russian city of Smolensk, as the second most significant development in Poland’s post-World War II history after the election of Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as pope in 1978. Unfortunately, the air disaster has also divided Poles in an unprecedented way.

Twenty-four months on, the Smolensk crash still brings demonstrators—most of them supporters of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party—out in front of the President’s Palace in Warsaw on the tenth day of each month. The crash is still hotly debated in parliament and in the media. Law and Justice’s European deputies and the families of some of the victims have been organizing special sessions in the European parliament, at which they earnestly argue that the crash was engineered either by the Russians or by shadowy groups in Poland itself who opposed President Lech Kaczyński and his vision of a Polish state. Foreign experts, mostly professors of Polish descent working at American universities, are roped in to support such conspiracy theories. Antoni Macierewicz, head of the team of PiS deputies set up by the party to investigate the crash, and PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of the late president, are increasingly insistent that the passengers of the presidential aircraft were assassinated. Debates in parliament are increasingly bitter, with PiS accusing the government of “treason” and deputies from the ruling coalition accusing Jarosław Kaczyński and others who claim the former Polish president was assassinated of being mentally ill.

Surveys show that two in three Poles think that the assassination theory is absurd. But around 20 percent think that it is probable. This shows there is a receptive audience for the kind of arguments that Macierewicz and his team specialize in. All the more so since the list of issues over which the Polish authorities can be accused of neglect in the course of the two-year investigation into the Smolensk crash is long, providing an excellent opportunity for the opposition to attack the government.

Russia’s behavior is not helpful either. The wreckage of the ill-fated aircraft has been kept for two years in a makeshift hangar at Severnyi Airport while the Polish public largely believes it should long ago have been brought back to Poland. Why is Warsaw unable to persuade Moscow that the Russians should return the remains of the plane? Why do Russian prosecutors say it is too early to return the wreckage to Poland? No answers to these questions have been forthcoming as yet.
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