Fifth anniversary of Kaczynski crash reopens Polish wounds

Former president’s twin and supporters see conspiracy around air disaster in Russia

Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski lays flowers at the tombs of the victims of the  crash, marking the 5th anniversary of the crash at the Powazki Military Cemetery in Warsaw. The crash in Smolensk took the lives of 96 people including then president Lech Kaczynski and his wife. Photograph: Tomasz Gzell/EPA

Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski lays flowers at the tombs of the victims of the crash, marking the 5th anniversary of the crash at the Powazki Military Cemetery in Warsaw. The crash in Smolensk took the lives of 96 people including then president Lech Kaczynski and his wife. Photograph: Tomasz Gzell/EPA

 

Five years after Poland’s then president, Lech Kaczynski, and 95 others died in a plane crash in Russia, his twin brother, Jaroslaw, has lambasted the country’s handling of the disaster amid continuing disagreement and rancour over who caused it.

Mr Kaczynski’s presidential jet plunged into trees on April 10th, 2010, as it tried to land at fog-bound Smolensk airport in western Russia. The passengers were due to travel on to nearby Katyn forest for a memorial to thousands of Polish army officers who were slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940.

The president and his wife died alongside other prominent figures in Polish public life, including members of Mr Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, which believes foul play caused the crash and is being covered up.

Polish investigators put most of the blame on the pilots for trying to land in dreadful conditions, but also accused Russian air traffic controllers of wrongly clearing the attempt to land.

Voice recordings suggest that a top Polish foreign ministry official and the commander of the country’s air force were in the cockpit before the crash, encouraging the pilots to land at Smolensk rather than seeking an alternative airport where the weather was better.

Unacceptable suggestion

Jaroslaw Kaczynski

“We gather here to pay tribute, to strengthen our memory, to bow our heads. But we also remember other things,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski told crowds at a memorial event on Friday. “Even the decent treatment of the corpses was not ensured, and they were treated shamefully. Destruction of evidence was permitted without any protest. Proposals to launch an international investigation were rejected . . . One could keep listing these embarrassing facts.

“In the end, in an even more absurd and insulting way, a commission put the blame on the pilots.”

The dispute over the crash and its aftermath has a domestic political edge that is sharper than ever this year, with a presidential election looming on May 10th and parliamentary elections set for October.

Time to ‘renew’ Poland

President Bronislaw Komorowski and prime minister Ewa Kopacz – liberal opponents of the deeply conservative PiS – attended memorial events on Friday, and a ceremony also took place in Smolensk.

Russia denies all responsibility for a crash that caused a deep chill in relations with Poland, which are now in tatters over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.