There have been many protests in Krakow this week about the decision to inter Lech Kaczynski in the Wawel, following his death in the Smolensk Air Disaster on 10th April 2010, where Poland's national heroes and monarchs through the ages have been buried.
Compared to others who lie there such as Taduez Koscuiszko, Josef Pilsudski and General Wladislaw Sikorski, the decision to place a mediocre President, who destroyed Poland's credibility abroad, has led to activists calling for his burial in the Wawel to be stopped.
Hardcore PiS supporters maintain an intransigent attitude towards supporting President Kaczynski and some have even questioned whether General Sikorski was worthy of being buried there, presumably for the sin of officially making a pragmatic reappochement with the USSR after Hitler's invasion of 1941, the Katyn Massacre the previous year and the fact the Soviet Union was equally responsible for partitioning Poland in September 1939
Norman Davies does not agree with such a crude interpretation in Europe At War 1939-1945 and claims that General Sikorski was in many ways an expert military tacticians who predicted and advocated the use of the tank along with De Gaulle many years before in modernising Poland's military against the looming threats of the 1930s.
Sikorski was in so many ways the Polish equivalent of De Gaulle and fully merits his place in the Wawel as does Pilsudski whose epic defence of Poland against Bolshevik Russia's contempt for the wishes of the Poles for sovereignty and independence led them to regard Poland as a mere "land bridge" uniting Russia, where Marx predicted was one of the least suitable places for Revolution, with Germany, the homeland of Marx and Marxism.
General Sikorski's loss deprived Poland of the only statesman and general who could unify the Polish military and politicians in the Armii Krajowe and his death in an air crash over Gibraltar led to Mikolajczyk, a far weaker leader taking over, where the leadership became crucially weakened and divided.
Much of the fault for that lies with the carping of the National Democrats abroad who were supporters of the pre-war Endecja of Roman Dmowski and whose crude and paranoid forms of nationalism contrasted with the patriotism of Wladislaw Sikorski.
It is in the tradition of the Endecja that Kaczynski was the linear successor, though Kaczynski was personally anti-semitic he was prepared for electoral advantage to ignore the making of anti-semitic noises by members of his own party, including his spin doctor Michal Kaminski who claimed that Poles would apologise to Jews, if Jews apologised for Communism, despite the fact most Jews were not Communists.
Sikorski was a pre-war democratic liberal, representative of the finer traditions of the Polish nation. By comparison Kaczynski was a political pygmy. No matter the catastrophy of the air crash, which killed many worthy Poles like the ex-Prime Minister Kaczorowski, it is mere a humane gesture to express sympthy with Kaczynski's brother Jaroslaw and Lech's orphaned daughter Marta.
But Kaczynski is simply not in the same league as those like General Sikorski, who options were tragically limited at the time agreed to the pragmatic Polish-Soviet treaty which bought valuable time and led to the "so-called amnesty" ( Davies ) of most of Poland's remaining military and politicians from the Gulag and Soviet internment being released, where they could then write to the world about the horrific reality of Stalin's totalitarian state.
That included formidible figures such as Gustav Herling and General Anders who went on to fight with his troops at Monte Cassino and keep the flame of liberty flying even after Sikorskis removal, the man who could have made a fifference at the Teheran Conference of 1943 due to his close connections with Churchill.
There can be no comparison between Pilsudski or Sikorski and some demagogue such as Kaczynski from a historical perpective. Adam Zamoyski in his new Poland A History categorised PiS aptly when he wrote,
While the PiS government did achieve many younger people to escape by finding work abroad, some noticeable successes in curbing crime and corruption, it failed to tackle many other issues, and expended its energies on picking unnecessary quarrels with the opposition and created a febrile atmosphere which drove people to take extreme positions.Lech Kaczynski's feeble response to this embarrassing situation was to question the patriotism of these Poles.
The unanswerability for past crimes, or rather accusations of collaboration with the communist regime was used as a political weapon to destroy rivals. The constant vicious infighting at the top created a mood of exasperation in the country at large , encouraging younger people to escape by finding work abroad, contributing to an economic migration of well over a million, despite the existence of jobs at home.
The coalition in 2007 with idiotic populist parties to outflank the more moderate conservative liberal PO Party was a source of annoyance, not least when Roman Giertych was appointed Miniter of Education and attempted to remove Witold Gombrowicz from being studied in schools as well as Joseph Conrad on the grounds that he wrote his great novels were written in English.
A wag suggested Giertych was better suited to being a chicken farmer than a Minister of Education, an slightly snobby insult given that there is no reason why a chicken farmer, who at least does something useful for society, might not be at least acquainted with Conrad whereas Giertych acts merely as parasitical political with no positive suggestions for Poland's future and hardly understands even its past or present realities.
Yet the importance of his Kaczynski's burial at the Wawel might be more significant in its symbolic aspects: a delegation of Poland's military and political establishment were killed at Smolensk in a terribly tragic air crash and if this burial is a tribute to all 96 who died and the terrible fact they were en route to Katyn, where c25,000 of Poland's reserve officers-scholars, poets and civic leaders were massacred, then some of the protests do appear a bit raucous and unseemly.
Still there is a danger that propaganda as opposed to an objective historical appreciation of Kaczynski's actions as President will prevail and he was not known for having a sophisticated foreign policy with regards Russia. Nor in fact with Germany.
Embarassingly, the only alliance he seems to have made in Europe were with Britain and the Conservatives under David Cameron to which Davies in the Guardian offered this warning,( Watch Your Step Dave, Guardian 12 October 2009 ),
Cameron needs to understand that "rightwing"in the countries of the former Soviet Bloc has a very different connotation to that in Britain. Despite the clever packaging, none of the east European members of the ECR have anything remotely similar to the conservative, evolutionary traditions honed over the centuries from Burke to Thatcher.
In post-communist Europe, there was little worth conserving. All the groupings concerned, therefore, are upstart radicals who only call themselves rightist because they abhor communism, and because theyimagine "the left" to be run by fellow travellers.
More important, they foster a visceral dislike of anything reminiscent of liberalism, compromise, or balance. If and when they discover Cameron has been cultivating the middle ground and is playing along with both the Eurosceptic and the pro-European wings of his party, they will denounce him.
As was shown by Kaczynski's reckless gesture of "solidarity" with the now proven war criminal Mikheil Saakshvili of Georgia in November 2008, a man who initiated a war of aggression by raining down grad rockets on a sleeping capital of Tskhanvali of the night of April 8-9th killing 400 civilians who slept in their beds.
Let's hope this death and tragedy in Smolensk can lead to better relations between Russia and Poland and to healing and unity rather than a noisy polarisation of politics in Poland. As Neal Ascherton commented,
The fact that President Lech Kaczynski and his retinue had flown to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, only a few miles away, was one of those malign coincidences that haunt Polish history.Postscript
And it happened at a moment when Russia and Poland were
trying, with some success, to put their long and dreadful past behind them. The spontaneous, great-hearted grief of ordinary Russian people in the days after the air crash amazed and then moved the Poles.
Maybe the old icons of hate and suspicion were losing their power at last. Even Katyn
Timothy Garton Ash has actually written one of his better articles, as might be expected on his main area of expertise-Poland.
Despite my disagreements with him over Georgia, his evasion of the effects of "shock therapy", his naivety about the so-called "Orange Revolution" of 2004 in Ukraine, the failure to reckon with cruelties of the 1990 Balcerowicz Plan and failure to forthrightly condemn the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Yet his article on 'the second Katyn' is an antidote to the idea of history as propaganda and shows why he was once such a formidible liberal voice during the Cold War who sadly no lonher understand the new global realities and writes twittering feuilletons for The Guardian.
Although it has lost so many leading figures, the Republic of Poland has continued to function with constitutional dignity and efficiency. Though the chiefs of all its armed services were (ill-advisedly) all on the one plane, their deputies have taken over – and there is no obvious threat to the country's security.
The Poles are mourning another national tragedy as only they know how, with those flickering forests of flowers and candles, with the flags, the church services, the old hymns.
In the past, under foreign occupation, when they struck up the patriotic hymn God, Who Protects Poland, they would sing "Return to us, O Lord, a free fatherland". Now they all sing, without hesitation, "Bless, O Lord, the free fatherland". For no one doubts that Poland is today a free fatherland.
Even more remarkable is the contrast between the international reaction then and now. This time round, the British party leaders fall over each other to join the US president and the chancellor of a democratic Germany in sending messages of condolence.
The first Katyn catastrope was concealed for decades by the night and fog of totalitarian lies; the second was immediately the lead item in news bulletins around the world.
Most extraordinary has been the reaction of the former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, who has gone to exceptional lengths to demonstrate Russian sympathy, repeatedly visiting the crash site, announcing a national day of mourning today, and ordering Andrzej Wajda's film Katyn (which spares you nothing of the cruelty of the KGB's forerunners) to be shown on primetime Russian TV.