“The main contribution of Lech Kaczynski to Russian-Polish relations was in death. The very human response by Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev to the tragedy — and the symbolism of Katyn — creates a new chance for Polish-Russian relations. The problem is almost solved.”If it wasn't foul play, then it most certainly was the harsh hand of destiny that caused the death of Poland's president and his entourage on the very grounds of an atrocity committed against the Polish nation. If it was destiny, then I believe the same force was also responsible for stopping most Western leaders from being present at the state funeral in Krakow due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland. There is a certain mystical undercurrent to Lech Kaczynski's death and to what is currently occurring between Warsaw and Moscow. I believe that Kaczynski will eventually prove to have been the sacrificial lamb that brought closer two Slavic brothers that were separated by history's dire circumstances.
Aleksander Kwasniewski, former president of Poland
I'm glad that the gruesome story of Katyn is becoming better known around the world as a result of this tragedy. However, I would be even gladder if the world finally came to the realization that those who committed those murders were also the ones responsible for the murders of millions of Russians, Armenians, Ukrainians and other nationalities. The fact of the matter is, Bolshevism was imported into the Russian Empire to destroy it. A vast majority of the Bolshevik leadership were ethnically non-Russian. The Soviet Union took on a "Russian" face only as a consequence of the Second World War. For too long we have blamed ethnic Russians for the unspeakable atrocities committed by Bolsheviks. Russia's Vladimir Putin was right to apologize for the murders of over twenty thousand of Poland's national elite by the Bolsheviks. But who will apologize to the Russian people for the systematic murder of many millions of Christians in the Russian Empire by Bolsheviks?
The following are some interesting articles that appeared in the Western press that are well worth reading.
The President and the 95 other passengers died on their way to commemorate the thousands of Poles slaughtered by Soviet hitmen in 1940 in Katyn forest. The slaughter was denied for decades. Now the Russian Government — that is, Vladimir Putin — has declared that both Poland and Russia are the victims of Stalin, equal partners in victimhood. Mealy- mouthed, maybe, but a first step. “A big country is beginning to realise that a smaller country has its own historical point of view,” Bartek Nowak, of the Centre of International Relations in Warsaw, says. “Until now Russia hasn’t really understood why dialogue with Poland is so difficult, why the Poles keep coming back to their history.” Now, it seems, the Russians do get it. President Medvedev was one of the heads of state who did make it to the funeral: he, too, understands that the Polish-Russian relationship is undergoing a substantial change.
But the process began earlier. Russia, its economy contracting by 10 per cent, needs freer access to the European Union. And it has trouble in the Caucasus and in its Central Asian borderlands. The last thing it wants is bickering on the western front; there is a Russia-friendly government in Ukraine, now it wants a friendly Poland. Warsaw takes over the EU presidency in July 2011: a Pole, Jerzy Buzek, is president of the increasingly influential European Parliament. The Kremlin has also recognised that Poland has become a regional power: Mr Medvedev needed only to look around him in Wawel Cathedral. It was full of leaders from Central and Eastern Europe who had come by train, driven for hours or flown under the ash-cloud in shakey Cessnas to make the funeral.
Poland, too, sees the advantage of better relations. The West Europeans were nervous about enlargement in 2004 but it is only today that Poland has gained the confidence to become an EU heavyweight. “The promise offered up by enlargement is being fulfilled,” Mr Nowak says. “The larger Europe is addressing its largeness, there is real content.” The logical consequence is that Poland, rather than Germany, will become the champion of a more European-orientated Russia. Poland has modernised itself in an extraordinary fashion over the past few years. On friendly terms with the Kremlin and the Russian people, it could help to modernise Russia, too.
But all this has a knock-on effect throughout Europe. In Warsaw they say: Poland can do much with Germany, but nothing at all against Germany. Poles-Germans-Russians; that is the axis that will shape the next decade in Europe. The US, which under George W. Bush counted Poland as the standard-bearer for a New Atlanticist Europe, is happy with the idea of Europeanised Russia but unsure about what to make of Poland as a big EU player. France no longer seems to have a coherent policy towards Eastern Europe. And a Cameroonian Britain, judging by Conservative coalition-building in the European Parliament, seems set to miss the point. For the next few years, European policy is All About Russia, Stupid.
POLAND’S LATE president Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria were given a state funeral in Krakow yesterday amid pleas from state and church leaders for their deaths to spur new solidarity with Russia. Some 50 world leaders and dignitaries, including US president Barack Obama, German chancellor Angela Merkel, President Mary McAleese and the UK’s Prince Charles were unable to attend the ceremony because of European flight restrictions. The presence of one man, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, raised hopes that the 96 lives lost in last week’s air crash can inspire a new era in Warsaw’s heretofore burdened relations with Moscow. “This tragedy has released a lot of goodwill but the compassion and help we have experienced from our Russian brothers in these days awakens our hopes of closer ties between out two nations,” said chief celebrant Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and former aide to John Paul II.
“These words I am directing at the President of Russia,” he added, turning to Mr Medvedev.
Despite travel difficulties, Poland’s neighbours were represented: German president Horst Köhler came by helicopter, while Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and Czech president Vaclav Klaus came by road. Poles face a week of funerals to bury the other 94 casualties of the April 11th air crash in Smolensk, western Russia. They will choose a new president by the end of June and rebuild the administrative ranks decimated by the tragedy. It remains unclear whether Jaroslaw Kaczynski will run for president, or whether his Law and Justice (PiS) party will decide not to try and wring political capital from the death of his twin brother. Amid the mourning, hopes were raised that the tragedy might heal divisions among Solidarity veterans who brought down communism in Poland only to split into the liberal and conservative camps of the ruling, centrist Civic Platform (PO) and the Kaczynskis’ PiS.
“After the catastrophe we were united; may our grief and solidarity in compassion change Poland for the better,” said Janusz Sniadek, head of the Solidarity union, in a post-funeral address. “Lech, the sacrifice of your life is already bearing fruit.” Outside the church, hope mixed with doubt that the goodwill of recent days will be enough to bridge bitter Polish political divides – not to mention the even wider, blood-soaked divide with Russia. “My family died in Siberia, so I’m dubious about this relationship,” said 70-year-old Ludwika Bogucka. “You just never know with those Russians.” No one here has missed the tragic irony of last week’s crash: the late president and his wife and dozens of top officials died on their way to honour 22,000 Poles murdered in the forest of Katyn on Stalin’s orders 70 years ago. The tragedy came amid thawing relations, with Poles pleasantly surprised at Russian openness regarding a massacre they denied committing for half a century.
His critics pointed out that President Kaczynski had inhibited constructive ties with Moscow because of his anti-Russian views. But the president bristled at such claims, describing himself as someone who was cautious about Russia’s ambitions in the region and doubtful about her democratic credentials. Moscow has yet to apologise for Katyn, but Mr Kaczynski went there ready to extend his hand in friendship. “Katyn poisoned relations between Poles and Russians for decades; let’s make the Katyn wound finally heal,” he was scheduled to say. “We should follow the path which brings our nations closer, we should not stop or go back.” The president’s final speech has been read widely in Poland in recent days and his death may prove a catalyst for improving Polish-Russian relations.
For many Poles, those relations had turned sour long before Katyn: in 1514, to be precise, when the Russians defeated the Polish army in battle in nearby Smolensk. For Poles, the Smolensk defeat was the symbolic beginning of half a millennium of calamitous partition, war and mass murder. A sad but proud Poland showed yesterday that, with Russia’s help, it is ready to break the twin curse of Katyn and Smolensk. Acting Polish president Bronislaw Komoroski told mourners that the tragedy had left Poles with “an open heart and great hope” regarding Russia. “President Lech Kaczynski’s testament must be fulfilled,” he said, “through rapprochement and reconciliation .”
Hundreds of Poles living in Ireland marked the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski with a march through O’Connell Street in Dublin yesterday. They held candles and pictures of the late president. The mourners stopped at the steps of the GPO, where speakers thanked President Mary McAleese and the people of Ireland for the sympathy they have expressed to Polish nationals living in Ireland. The names of all 94 crash victims were read out and the Last Post was sounded. The marchers then moved on to the Garden of Remembrance.
Tens of thousands of Poles chanted "Lech Kaczynski, we thank you" and waved flags and banners of the 1980s anti-communist Solidarity movement which the combative nationalist and devout Roman Catholic once helped to build. Their coffins were then laid to rest in the cathedral's crypt -- a hallowed spot for Poles usually reserved for their kings, leading poets and national heroes. They will be made available for public viewing around the clock immediately after officials leave the site and many of the people gathered in the Krakow's old town for the funeral ceremony started forming a long line to see the crypt. Kaczynski, his wife and 94 other, mostly senior Polish political and military officials died when their plane crashed in thick fog near Smolensk in western Russia on April 10.
They had been heading to the Katyn forest to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by Soviet secret police. For decades until 1990, Moscow denied responsibility for the deaths, blaming the Nazis. "President Lech Kaczynski's testament must be fulfilled through rapprochement and reconciliation (with Russia)," Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski told mourners in Krakow's medieval St Mary's Basilica. "Because of the Smolensk tragedy the whole world has learnt about Katyn," Komorowski said. Speaking to Polish television shortly before boarding his plane back to Moscow, Medvedev said: "In views of these heavy losses I believe we can make serious efforts to draw our nations closer together, to develop economic relations and find solutions to the most difficult problems, including Katyn."
CRITIC OF KREMLIN
Poland and Russia are at loggerheads over various issues, including missile defense, NATO enlargement and gas pipelines. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, conducting the funeral mass beneath Europe's largest carved Gothic altar, thanked "our Russian brothers" for their help and support since the crash. "(This) gives us hope for reconciliation between our two great nations," said Dziwisz, former personal secretary of the late Polish pope, John Paul II.
Medvedev assured Komorowski in their private talks in Krakow that Russia would cooperate fully with Poland over the crash, sources told Reuters. Russian investigators have said they believe pilot error caused the disaster. The Kremlin leader's presence was ironic in view of Kaczynski's frequent criticism of what he called Russia's "imperialism" toward ex-Soviet republics such as Georgia. In his five years as president, Kaczynski never visited Moscow. Kaczynski's daughter Marta and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who heads Poland's main opposition party, had insisted the funeral go ahead Sunday as planned, despite the ash cloud that has closed Polish and other European airports. People gathered by the funeral route were applauding when the Kaczynski family, including the late president's little granddaughter, were moving toward the Wawel hill.
Other mourners included the presidents of Germany, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Georgia. U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were among those forced by the ash cloud to abandon plans to attend Kaczynski's funeral. "President Kaczynski was a patriot and close friend and ally of the United States, as were those who died alongside him, and the American people will never forget the lives they led," Obama said in a statement. Poland, part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, is now a member of NATO and a close U.S. ally. The funeral crowned a week of unprecedented national mourning for the Kaczynskis and the other crash victims.
In Warsaw, more than 180,000 people queued day and night to view the coffins at the presidential palace -- on public display since Tuesday -- and then at the city's cathedral. Some Poles have staged protest rallies and joined petitions on social media site Facebook against the decision to bury Kaczynski at Wawel, saying he did not deserve such an honor. Kaczynski was a polarising figure whose support levels had fallen to about 20 percent before his death. He had been expected to lose a presidential election due in the autumn and now expected to take place on June 20. The protests were the first cracks in an otherwise remarkable display of national unity since the crash.