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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 25, 2013
Politics & Society
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Air Disaster: Row Still Smolders
April 25, 2013   
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Poland is still far from clarifying the circumstances surrounding the crash of a Polish government plane April 10, 2010 near Smolensk, Russia that killed President Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria, and dozens of the country’s political and military elite.

Their deaths continue to stir heated controversies and prompt bizarre explanations of what happened. Some of the most far-fetched theories come from Antoni Macierewicz, an influential member of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, who chairs a special task force appointed by PiS to uncover the causes of the disaster. Some months ago, Macierewicz suggested that the passengers and crew of the plane were killed as the result of a murderous plot. Aided by a team of experts whose skills are disputed by many, Macierewicz started holding press conferences during which he made one sensational claim after another, from alleged explosions on board the plane and substances released into the air to hinder navigation, to claims that the plane started disintegrating in mid-air, and did not hit a tree. According to a report by Poland’s official commission investigating the accident, the plane hit a birch before it crashed.

The day before the third anniversary of the air crash, Macierewicz declared he had in his possession trustworthy information that three passengers had survived the crash. He did not say who the alleged survivors were or what happened to them afterwards. As usual, he also refused to reveal the source of such extraordinary claims.

The claims were immediately refuted by the State Aviation Accident Investigation Commission and the Military Prosecutor’s Office, which is conducting an independent investigation into the disaster. Yet the sensational statement by Macierewicz made headlines and became the top story across Poland in newscasts and political talk shows. Politicians from parties other than PiS expressed outrage. Leszek Miller, head of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party, said, “You don’t argue with such views—you cure them. They require medical attention.” Władysław Frasyniuk, a democratic opposition activist in communist Poland, described Macierewicz as a “complete idiot whom we tolerate.”

Nobody in PiS criticized Macierewicz’s latest theory and PiS chief Jarosław Kaczyński said that he had heard a rumor April 10, 2010, that his twin brother Lech had survived the crash. Meanwhile, opinion polls are showing that the number of Polish citizens who believe in the murder-plot theory is growing slowly but surely, reaching 25 to 30 percent, depending on the poll. Apart from wild claims by some opposition politicians, experts say that the government’s passive attitude is the reason the controversy won’t go away.

Three years after the crash, the public still has not been presented with a lucid account of what really happened in Smolensk. The opinion polls cited above show that up to 60 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with official reports. A new report on the causes of the tragedy is about to be released. But will anybody believe any rational explanation any more, now that three years have gone by and the biggest opposition party has launched a ferocious propaganda campaign?
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