“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” The words of Pericles. And, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) is determined that the memory of the Smolensk plane crash in 2010 that killed his twin brother Lech, then President and 95 others, and those whom he blames for the tragedy, remains woven into the lives of Poles.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters on Sunday evening, the sixth anniversary of the crash, Kaczyński said that two new monuments must be built near to the presidential palace in Warsaw to commemorate the victims. And that is not all. Under the PiS government Poland needs to “establish the truth” about the reasons for the crash for he claimed that that the previous government led by Donald Tusk, of the Civic Platform party, had tried to “kill remembrance” of the disaster victims. Further action is necessary “because somebody’s responsible for that tragedy, at least morally, irrespective of what its causes were. It’s the previous government that was responsible,” he said without elaborating further.
That somebody must be to blame for the tragedy, be it the government of Donald Tusk, or Russia, or both has been for the last six years an article of faith for PiS, unable to accept the official Polish and Russian reports on the accident which occurred, in dense fog, as the Polish president’s Tupolev 154 attempted to land at a military airfield which lacked ground identification radar. The Polish report listed a number of errors made by the pilots and errors made by the Russian staff in the Smolensk control tower. The Russian report, of course, placed all the blame on the Poles.
But the fact remains that pilot error was the cause. Albeit a forced error in that the head of the Polish air force appears to have been in the cockpit expressing the president’s displeasure were the plane not to land, hardly a set-up conducive to the full concentration needed by the pilots. Added to which was the fact that president had previously sacked for his trouble a pilot who had refused to land when he considered that to have done so would have put the president’s life in danger. After one failed attempt to land all the ingredients were thus in place for the disaster which did alas unfold.
This has always been too mundane an explanation for the PiS conspiracy theorists, so Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz in February appointed a new team of investigators to look into the disaster. While still in opposition, Macierewicz had led a commission composed of a group of largely PiS members of parliament which concluded in its report in 2014 report that the plane had been brought down by an explosion.
Earlier on Sunday, President Andrzej Duda had addressed thousands of Poles gathered in front of the presidential palace to commemorate the crash. Saying that the crash victims deserved “an honest and calm, solid inquiry into what happened,” he also appealed to Poles to forgive each other and to reconcile their political divisions. But in his evening address in the same place, Kaczynski’s response was uncompromising, “Forgiveness is necessary, but forgiveness after admitting guilt and administering proper punishment. This is what we need.”
Which is not to forget the stone monuments. Kaczyński said, “Here on this street, on Krakowskie Przedmieście, a Smolensk monument must arise. On this street there must stand a monument to President Lech Kaczyński. “Enough waiting. I want to announce from this site that in the next few weeks we will appoint of committee for building these monuments.” Needless to say, the Warsaw city authorities are not keen on a monument in the vicinity of the presidential palace and favour a less prominent position. More scope for division.
So there you have it. Even in death it appears folk cannot escape the political divisions as PiS continues to use the tragedy as a stick with which to try to beat Tusk’s government. The fact that PiS is looking to pin moral blame – whatever that is – on somebody is perhaps an admission that challenging the technical reasons for the crash is a flogging dead horse, but who knows. Because accidents just never happen in some Polish minds – there must always be somebody to blame, some sinister conspiracy afoot.