poland’s ongoing pain

Yesterday’s plane crash that eliminated almost 50% of Poland’s leadership in Russia is a tragedy. Just another for Poland over centuries of their existence. A combination of events and history makes this an even larger tragedy.

As background. The Kingdom of Poland was formed in 1025 and in 1569 it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. So. Say from 1385 hussar3to 1795 Poland was one of the largest European countries with one of the most infamous armies and generals (Until the 18th century the Polish Hussars were considered the elite of the Commonwealth armed forces) and was exceptional with regard to religious tolerance.

Then Poland in 1795 ceased to exist for 123 years as Prussia, Austria and Russia portioned the country amongst them.  Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic in 1918, after World War I (beating back the Russians in about 1921 to maintain their independence). Jaroslaw-Kaczynski-kneels-002Then Poland lost over six million citizens in World War II only to emerge later as the People’s Republic of Poland within the Eastern Bloc under Soviet influence (if you want a relatively easy read and an interesting historical overview of Poland, pick up James Michener’s Poland. It is my favorite of all Michener’s books).

So, today, seeing the picture of the flag-draped coffin met by the president’s twin brother and his daughter Marta at Warsaw airport continues an image of Poland striving to forge its way through a variety of challenges.

97 people died in the crash after the Polish president’s Tupolev plane clipped trees on its approach to Smolensk (Russia) airport in thick fog. There were no survivors. And the passengers included almost 50% of top Polish leadership (could you imagine f that happened in the USA?).

What gives this all an eerie feeling is that the Polish president had been flying to Smolensk to attend the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when Soviet secret police killed 15,000 Polish officers in one of the most notorious atrocities of the Second World War. In a tragic twist, family members of the Katyn victims were on board the president’s plane. The subject of Katyn has been a source of unresolved friction between Moscow and Warsaw for decades with Soviet governments falsely blaming the Nazis for the massacre until recently accepting responsibility.

katyn_wood_massacreThere was no suspicion of foul play, but the extraordinary timing and location of the disaster, together with the Polish President’s known antipathy towards the Kremlin, are likely to fuel conspiracy theories on both sides.

Russian officials said that the airport, 270 miles west of Moscow, had been closed because of thick fog. They advised the pilot to land instead in Moscow or Minsk, but he continued with the original flight plan, making three abortive attempts to land at Smolensk’s Severny military airport. On the fourth attempt, the Russian-built airliner crashed. “The Polish presidential plane did not make it to the runway while landing. It hit the treetops and fell apart,” said Smolensk’s governor, Sergei Anufriev.

A tragedy. It’s not just a sad day for Poland. It is a sad day for the world.

Written by Bruce