Mixed reaction to Kaczynski burial plan

Wed, Apr 14, 2010, 01:00

POLAND’S LATE president, Lech Kaczynski, is to be buried on Sunday in Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral, resting place of the country’s most revered saints, poets and princes for more than 1,000 years.

Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, made the decision yesterday as the remains of Maria Kaczynska were repatriated from Moscow and laid in state beside her husband at Warsaw’s presidential palace.

“The family wanted Mr Kaczynski to join the great heroes of our Polish nation,” said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and private secretary to the late pope John Paul II.

“He will join those who best performed their duties to the nation.”

The decision for a Krakow funeral – after a Saturday memorial service in Warsaw – prompted a mixed reaction among Poles yesterday, suggesting that, in death as in life, Mr Kaczynski remains a divisive figure.

“He was a steadfast supporter of Polish freedom at a time when it was dangerous to do so,” said Roman Slowacki (26) as he waited in the growing queue outside the neoclassical presidential palace yesterday. “He did everything he could to promote the memory of Polish sacrifice in the last century.”

Mr Kaczynski was a member of the Solidarity movement that toppled communist rule in Poland, and was interned for 10 months in 1981.

He is likely to be laid to rest in the Wawel crypt beside Poland’s exiled wartime leader, Gen Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in a mysterious air crash off Gibraltar in 1943 after blaming Stalin for the Katyn massacre of 22,000 Polish officers three years earlier.

Mr Kaczynski, who died in an air crash on Saturday along with 93 others on their way to honour the Katyn dead, made no secret of his admiration for the wartime leader.

Not all Poles support the decision to bury him in the cathedral: some think that, even considering his achievements and tragic death, Mr Kaczynski is not in the same league as other Wawel greats.

“In the huge outpouring of grief since the tragedy, I hope we don’t make a rushed decision that would be regretted later,” said Ms Magdalena Mleczko in a media online forum.

Hours earlier, the remains of Ms Kaczynska, the popular first lady, were driven from Warsaw airport into the city along a route filled with mourners and marked by flowers laid end-to-end on the road. The coffin, draped in the Polish flag, was accompanied by the Kaczynskis’ only daughter, Marta. “She was a wonderful patriot who dedicated herself to Poland and her family,” said Maria Czurak (78).

“It’s a huge loss of a woman who had no problem expressing her opinion – even if it was at odds with her husband’s,” said Agata Jelenicka (31), recalling how the liberal first lady opposed a campaign to tighten abortion laws.

Members of Poland’s lower house, the Sejm, placed flowers at the 18 empty places of colleagues who died in Saturday’s crash.

Mr Kaczynski’s sudden death has prompted a remarkable outpouring of grief in Poland from his many former sparring partners and may have healed the split in Solidarity members between conservative and liberal camps.

One of the leading liberals, publisher Adam Michnik, said he regretted any “brutal” treatment of Mr Kaczynski in his Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper after they “took to different sides of the barricade”.

“My heart hurts at the thought that we will never be able to talk again – as friends – about what is best for Poland,” he said.

Former Solidarity leader and ex-president Lech Walesa admitted that he regretted having “unsettled scores” with many on the aircraft, including Mr Kaczynski. “In the name of God, I say I forgive and ask for forgiveness.”