'A mix of anger, pain, sorrow'


Zuzanna Reda,  the Irish correspondent for Poland’s Rzeczpospolita newspaper on how today’s news was received by the Polish community in Ireland

A message from a friend in Poland woke me yesterday morning. It simply said: “President Kaczynski and 88 others killed in a plane crash." I couldn’t believe it. It was like a bad dream. I rushed to the computer and there it was: a tragedy in Smolensk, Russia.

It was not only the President, our head of State, who had died, but his wife, our military commanders, the governor of the Central Bank, politicians, MPs, the Ombudsman, and Kaczynski’s rival candidate for the Presidential post in the elections planed later this year.

Poland’s most prominent people, all killed. The number of bodies has risen to 96 now. Our Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, on hearing the news started crying. It did not matter that Kaczynski and the majority of the victims were from the opposition party. It is the biggest peacetime tragedy in Polish history and political differences seem meaningless now.

Magda Nowak, is a receptionist in a Dublin office. I rang her to see if she'd heard the news. She did not want to believe what I told her. At first she asked if it was some kind of a sick late-April-Fool’s day joke. ”I just can’t imagine what is happening in Poland now,” she says. She is attending a special mass tomorrow and will light a candle in front of the Polish Consulate. “I never was a supporter of the President and his party. In fact I moved to Ireland because they came to power, but now it doesn’t matter, he was the head of the Polish State. I’m shocked.”

At the consulate and outside the embassy people are crying, some of them leave flowers and light candles. Not only the Polish come. There is a bouquet from Judith Giltinane together with a letter saying: “With sincere sympathy, may they rest in peace”.

The Polish community’s St. Audoen’s Church is holding a mass tomorrow at 12.30pm which will be attended by President Mary McAleese. “People come to church to pray for the souls of the victims. They treat the loss as a personal tragedy, as if someone very close to them has died” Fr. Jaroslaw Maszkiewicz, the coordinator of the Polish chaplaincy in Ireland tells me.

“Our mail boxes are full of condolences. We receive them mostly from the Poles, but also from the Irish” says Piotr Apostolis, the consul at the Polish Embassy in Ballsbridge.

“The President wasn’t my favourite figure and he usually embarrassed me with his behaviour,” recalls Aleksander Jakima who works in financial services in IFSC. “A few years ago the Polish community in Dublin queued for hours in front of the Embassy just to vote in the Parliamentary elections against his party and his twin brother. But the catastrophe makes it unimportant anymore.

"Mr Kaczynski died on the field of duty, on the way to Katyn commemorations. I have to say that his death along with the other 95 important figures really upset me. Somehow only positive memories of him as a fighter for Polish independence went through my mind”.

Dorota Wojnar who also works in the banking sector. got a text message with the news from a neighbour who has a Polish TV channel. “I switched on the TV and since then I have been watching the news to see if there is anything new about the catastrophe.

“I rang my family; my dad is worried that Polish political stability is in danger. I didn’t vote for anyone, but such tragedy shouldn’t be seen in terms of political preferences, dozens of people who had great impact on Poland died” Wojnar adds.

The former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski said the plane that crashed was in a bad condition already when he was using it as the head of State. Now it must have been a wreck.

“I can’t believe there is so much money being spent on useless things, and no one thought about the president’s safety. It’s so embarrassing, we are not some kind of a third world country, we’re in the EU for God’s sake. It would have been more secure to send those people on a low-cost airline, I suppose. I simply don’t know what I should feel, it’s a mix of anger, pain, sorrow, and this feeling of being so powerless”, Justyna Drogomirecka, from a Polish organization Artica tells me.

The catastrophe happened while the politicians were travelling to commemorate Katyn victims, killed by the Stalin regime. The entire situation seems so surreal.

Joanna Gurtman, is leaving white and red flowers in front of the Embassy. She has already visited a church to pray for the souls of the dead. “I simply cannot imagine the pain the families of the dead are feeling. Among the passengers there were families of the victims of the 1940 Katyn massacre. Now their pain is doubled”.

The Polish suffered a terrible tragedy at Katyn 70 years ago. Now history repeats itself.