Poland Mourns President Killed in Crash

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 12, 2010

(by Matt Moore and Vanessa Gera, WashingtonTimes.com) AP, WARSAW – Poland’s government moved swiftly Sunday to show that it was staying on course after the deaths of its president and dozens of political, military and religious leaders, even as tens of thousands of Poles expressed their grief over the plane crash in Russia that shocked the country.

New acting chiefs of the military were already in place and an interim director of the central bank was named Sunday, with work running as usual, said Pawel Gras, a government spokesman.

It was a rare positive note on a day racked by grief for the 96 dead and laced with reminders of Poland’s dark history with its powerful neighbor. The Saturday crash occurred in thick fog near the Katyn forest, where Josef Stalin’s secret police in 1940 systematically executed thousands of Polish military officers in the western Soviet Union, [in an effort to crush the Polish resistance during WWII.  Moscow only acknowledged responsibility for the killings, the Katyn Massacre, in 1990.]

President Lech Kaczynski and those aboard the aging Soviet-built plane had been headed there to honor the dead. A preliminary analysis showed the plane had been working fine, a Russian investigator said.

Tens of thousands of Poles softly sang the national anthem and tossed flowers at the hearse carrying the 60-year-old Mr. Kaczynski’s body Sunday to the presidential palace after it was returned from Russia’s Smolensk airport, the site of the crash.

The coffin bearing the president’s remains were met first by his daughter Marta, whose mother, the first lady, Maria Kaczynska, also perished in the crash. She knelt before it, her forehead resting on the coffin.

She was followed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the former prime minister, and the president’s twin brother. He, too, knelt and pressed his head against the flag-draped coffin before rising slowly and crossing himself.

Standing sentinel were four Polish troopers bearing sabers. There was no sign of the twins’ ailing mother, Jadwiga, who has been hospitalized. The president had canceled several foreign trips lately to be by her side.

The coffin was placed aboard a Mercedes-Benz hearse and slowly traveled several miles to the palace, watched by thousands of weeping Poles.

“He taught Poles how to respect our traditions, how to fight for our dignity, and he made his sacrifice there at that tragic place,” said mourner Boguslaw Staron, 70.

Russia President Dmitry Medvedev declared Monday a day of mourning in Russia, and his country held two minutes of silence in memory of those killed in the crash.

Church bells pealed at noon, and emergency sirens shrieked for nearly a minute before fading. Hundreds bowed their heads, eyes closed, in front of the presidential palace. Buses and trams halted in the streets.

No date for a funeral has been set and the Polish presidential palace has not yet said if Mr. Kaczynski will lie in state, though it is not a Polish tradition.

Mr. Kaczynski was the first serving Polish leader to die since exiled World War II-era leader Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski was killed in a mysterious plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943.

Poland is a young democracy, adopting its constitution in 1997 after decades under communism, but political scientist Kazimierz Kik of Kielce University said he was confident it would remain stable. …

Among the dead were Poland’s army chief of staff, the navy chief commander, and heads of the air and land forces. At the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army in Warsaw, hundreds gathered for a morning Mass and left flowers and written condolences.

Also aboard the aging Tu-154 plane were the national bank president, the deputy foreign minister, the army chaplain, the head of the National Security Office, the deputy parliament speaker, the Olympic Committee head, the civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers.

Michal Boni, an official in the prime minister’s office, said it remained in constant contact with the deputy head of the National Bank of Poland, Piotr Wiesiolek, who is acting director of the bank until a new one is appointed. He said the bank’s Monetary Policy Council will hold a meeting on Monday, as previously planned.

The acting president, parliament Speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, said he would call for early elections within 14 days, in line with the constitution. The vote must be held within 60 days after that.

Associated Press.  Reprinted from the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.


Questions

1. List the following information about Poland:
a) population compared to Russia
b) capital
c) countries that border Poland

2. Why was the plane crash in Russia this weekend so devastating to Poland?

3. Why were so many Polish officials traveling to Russia? Be specific.

4. How are average Poles reacting to the death of their President?

5. How did Russia observe the deaths of the Polish officials?

6. a) What does it mean to “lie in state” (as used in para. 13)?
b) Why is the Polish government unsure about having President Kaczynski lie in state?


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a daily email with answers.

Background

President Kaczynski…pressed hard for conservative Catholic values and sought to expose ex-communist collaborators who flourished amid the compromises made to ensure Poland’s peaceful release from communism. He pushed for recognition of historical wrongs from Germany and Russia, at times creating severe friction with allies in the EU and also with Moscow. (from wsj.com “Warsaw Mourns…”)

The “Katyn massacre” refers specifically to the massacre at Katyn Forest, near the villages of Katyn and Gnezdovo (12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia, of Polish military officers in the Kozelsk prisoner-of-war camp. This was the largest of the simultaneous executions of prisoners of war from geographically distant Starobelsk and Ostashkov camps, and the executions of political prisoners from West Belarus and West Ukraine, shot on Stalin’s orders at Katyn Forest, at the NKVD [Russian Secret Police] headquarters in Smolensk, at a Smolensk slaughterhouse, and at prisons in Kalinin (Tver), Kharkov, Moscow, and other Soviet cities. (from wikipedia.com)

Resources

For photos, go to wsj.com.

Read about the Katyn Massacre at the Polish government’s website poland.gov.pl/The,Katyn,Massacre,,7296.html.

For background on Poland, go to the U.S. State Department Website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2875.htm and the CIA World FactBook (and choose Poland).

For a map of Poland, go to worldatlas.com.