Polish president plane crash tests Polish, Russian leaders
Polish leaders appear to be quickly picking up the pieces after the tragic Polish president plane crash, which also killed much of Poland's political elite.
The tragic Polish president plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski, along with much of Poland's political elite, on their way to share a moment of reconciliation over one of the most agonizing episodes in five centuries of stormy Russia-Poland relations, poses a severe political and moral challenge that both countries' leaders – at least so far – appear to be passing with flying colors.Skip to next paragraph
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The historical symbolism of the accident could hardly have been worse.
Mr. Kaczynski, along with several Polish World War II survivors and intellectual leaders, had been on their way to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre, in which Soviet secret police murdered 20,000 Polish military officers and buried them in the Katyn Forest, near the western Russian city of Smolensk.
For many Poles, that slaughter epitomized their relations with Russia which, over the centuries, has seen their country invaded, divided up between Russia and other powers, and subjected to long periods of domination from Moscow that only came to an end with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
"It's hard to deny that this tragedy seems to have a strong mystical profile, as if it were some sort of sign," says Sergei Markov, a Duma deputy with the ruling United Russia Party and a Kremlin adviser. "Katyn is an intensely painful subject, and Kaczinski and his delegation died right near that terrible place ....
"Sometimes you come face-to-face with the awful, irrational nature of history, and this is such a moment," he says. "If this event had occurred a few hundred years ago, probably people would focus only on the mystical signal it seems to send. But we live in the 21st century, there is so much at stake, and we have to hope that everyone will behave rationally."
Poland's quick reaction
Many Russian commentators appear impressed with the swift and efficient reaction of Poland's democracy to what amounts to a political earthquake as well as a mass human tragedy.
According to the final tally of investigators, 96 people perished in the crash, including Poland's president, his wife, the chairman of the national bank, the Army chief of staff, the top naval commander as well as the heads of air and land forces, the chief of the national security service, a deputy foreign minister and several members of parliament.
"We still cannot fully understand the scope of this tragedy and what it means for us in the future," Piotr Pszkowski, Polish foreign ministry spokesperson, told news agencies. "Nothing like this has ever happened in Poland."