Monday, 16 April 2012 16:48

Death in Smolensk: Two years on

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Two years have passed since the tragic plane crash in Smolensk. 96 people, including the ruling President Lech Kaczyński and former President of the Polish Government in Exile Ryszard Kaczorowski were killed. We still do not know exactly what happened. At the moment, only one person - the head of the Polish Government Protection Bureau - has been officially charged.

There are dozens of stories about the tragedy. Some claim that it was an assassination orchestrated by Russia, others would like to see the infamous President, assisted by a drunken Polish general, as having ordered the pilots to land despite dangerous circumstances. Some saw it as a metaphysical symbol or a chance for a re-birth of the old-fashioned Polish republican values, while others warned against the demons of Polish tribal nationalism that would be awakened during the mourning period. Finally, there were also people who wished that it could be some mystical chance for a new beginning in relations with Russia. To be honest, I can hardly see any of those narratives as being meaningful.

What is clear to me is that Poland lost its best president since 1989 and many important figures of public life. Other facts are no more positive. As was shown in the Polish Supreme Audit Office's report, since 2005 no VIP flight involving Polish officials has complied with legal safety standards.

Do we really need a "Russian conspiracy"? Didn't we kill our officials through our own negligence?

The report also disclosed a number of shortcomings in the 36th Special Aviation Regiment that was responsible for transporting Polish officials. These include a lack of adequate training, simulations, formation of crews or even knowledge of the Russian language, essential as long as most Polish official planes come from the former Soviet Russia (which in itself is a scandal!). Another disclosure reveals that due to legal shortcomings the organisation of VIP flights in Poland relies on an informal agreement between the chancelleries of the highest states' institutions. These informal agreements do not fulfill all the proper demands and are made between bodies that used to be locked in an almost constant, pathetic political conflict. Finally, the airport in Smolensk, where the crash took place, isn't actually an official, registered airport: this means that all Polish visits to commemorate the Katyń massacre for the last few years have landed there against Polish regulations.

So then, I ask, do we really needed a "Russian conspiracy"? Didn't we kill our officials through our own negligence and wasn't it only a matter of time before a disaster like this? Even though there were obvious "inconveniences" created by the Russian side from the beginning of the investigation, it could not have been different. In any case, it's a former KGB colonel who rules the poor old Russians at the moment, and he's reluctant to explain any accidents that might undermine his authority.

Some simple disorder (similar to the Polish one) at the airport can't be ruled out. Isn't it a sinister paradox that a state that is supposed to be "a success story," "a green island on the red sea of economic crisis," and so on is not able to guarantee the security of its most important figures?

The only thing Poles have been offered over these last two years is a continuation of these pathetic squabbles. This reflects more post-colonial traces amongst Polish society and its elites than finding a responsible solution. What's more, it seems no one is going to take responsibility. The Minister of Defence, who is responsible for Polish Air Forces - hence for the two big catastrophes and the mess within his army - was re-elected as a venerable senator of the proud city of Kraków. Naturally, he didn't resign from his post after the original crash and no Polish government since the transition has been "brave" enough to purchase a new plane. It seems that Polish politicans would rather look to wild conspiracy theories, myths, or the party line than face up to their own deadly failings. 

Last modified on Monday, 16 April 2012 19:17
Ziemowit Jóźwik

Ziemowit Jóźwik is 23. Coming from Bieliny, a small village in the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland), he is now based in the more well known city of Krakow. Having written for Europe & Me since Issue 5 he will now take on the challenge of expanding our knowledge of the eastern borders of the European landscape. His blog will explore how European issues are understood 'under Eastern eyes.'

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