Was Kaczyński A Hero?

Royal Wawel - Place of Kings
Royal Wawel - Place of Kings

The tragic death of President Lech Kaczyński and the 95 other passengers of flight 101 in Smolensk has opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of constitutional, political and moral issues. The first is whether or not President Lech Kaczyński should be buried in the hallowed chambers of Wawel Royal Castle, Kraków, final resting place of Poland’s kings and queens, greatest poets, military leaders and heroes. The news that President Kaczyński might be buried in Kraków hit the headlines on Tuesday 13th April after which protesters took to the streets in Kraków with banners reading “Kraków for Kings, Presidents for Powązki (Warsaw’s finest cemetary). The decision has already been taken (by Kaczyński’s family and the Archbishop of Kraków) but was it the right decision?

Is Kaczyński Another Piłsudski?
Is Kaczyński Another Piłsudski?

Lech Aleksander Kaczyński had always been in awe of former President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces Józef Piłsudski. Therefore, the decision by the late President’s family to bury him alongside his hero was a natural choice. Many believe it only right for Poland’s patriotic leader and Catholic family man to rest alongside the great Piłsudski. They also believe it fitting for Lech Kaczyński to be buried in Wawel Castle as he is the first non-communist President to have died after Poland’s independence in 1989. Many are calling for the new national stadium to be named after Kaczyński, others are calling him a hero as he died serving Poland while visiting those who died in Katyń. Was he a hero? Are his accomplishments comparable with those of, for example, Piłsudski?

Piłsudski Waits for Kaczyński
Piłsudski Waits for Kaczyński

I have no doubt that President Lech Kaczyński, may he rest in peace, was a good, warm, caring person who had Poland and the good of Poland at the very core of his being. I also have no doubt that the tragic Smolensk air crash will change the world’s conception of the Katyń massacre and for this I will forever be in debt to all those who died in the shocking air disaster on the 10th April. Let us also remember that the crash was an accident, a terrible, terrible accident and therefore can we speak of heroism? History has been changed and whatever we may have thought about Lech Kaczyński before the accident is now no longer relevant. He will lie in the crypts of Wawel Castle whether we like it or not, whether we agree with this decision or not. How the world sees Kaczyński, how it sees Katyń, how it sees Poland will now depend on how Poland, and the people of Poland, react to what has happened and what follows. For the time being, the people of Poland have again shown the world the meaning of solidarity, the meaning of unity and the meaning of peace.


34 thoughts on “Was Kaczyński A Hero?

  1. “…calling him a hero as he died serving Poland.”

    The appellation “hero” is a matter of perception, Raf, best defined when the emotions are cooler and the thinking is clearer over time. As an advisor, keeping a cool head was part of my job description.

    For example, Stalin might be the great people’s hero in Russia but we would not consider him a hero in other parts of the world. In still, other parts of the world, the sentiment for anti-hero would be quite certainly stronger. The reaction to any loaded term, like “hero,” is no different: emotional in the heat of the moment and then rational over time. An emotional rush to judgment serves few heroes for very long. Take the Russian “hero” Stalin as a good example of that maxim – and the political problems Putin has to face at Katyń because of the appellation hero.

    I do not care one way or the other on the matter as I have no stake, emotional or political, in wheresoever President Kaczyński is ultimately laid to rest. Much as the role of advisor, I am dispassionate.

    But in defining Kaczyński in heroic terms one must seek a balance and ask oneself: is there any another reasonable opinion? Poland’s democratically elected government at Katyń already represented Poland. Could there be reasonably argued to have been an alternative, perhaps selfish or egocentric, purpose to fill up an aeroplane for a dawn departure of so many political friends, whom the media would report back to the Polish electorate?

    Hero is a loaded term to use before the voice recording of the final moments of what happened inside the cockpit has been released. At that time, the question begs, will the relatives of all those people share the definition of hero given to the late President Kaczyński? Will the dimly lit corridors of the PiS party be speaking in hushed tones of reverence…?

  2. Greets from germany.

    And no, he was not a hero. He was a normal politician … no, wait, he wasn’t even that – he was the president of poland.

    A great pole died – but not a hero.

  3. While I think the Kaczynskis should have been buried at Powązki, it strikes me that at lot of the outrage about their being buried in Wawel is manufactured, or at the very least reflects the emotional turmoil that a lot of Poles are feeling as the initial shock of the catastrophe wears off. The main problem is that it sets a precedent, but let us hope that Kaczynski is the last Polish president who dies in the line of duty for a long time. Actually, space at Powązki is getting pretty tight, especially in the special section near the gate for notables. There will be a number of fresh graves there before another week is out.

    1. Peter, I don’t think it’s manufactured. In that case, we could say the same thing about everything that’s cracking off. Polish people are an emotional lot. This is at the heart of their solidarity and also, unfortunately, the cause of so many divisions.

  4. To be honest, the hype about the crash at Smolensk has made me sick and tired of hearing about it. Apart from being an emotional lot, Polish people also like to exaggerate and idolise strange figures.

    1. Annie, is it a bad thing to be emotional? Is it a bad thing to grieve the dead?

      Richard, your implication is that this is a ‘story’ is far from accurate. It is just a piece which, actually, is not very interesting.

      1. I do not think Annie is advocating that Poles (or anyone) aspire to a Spock-like emotionless existence. I believe Poles, as a culture, could channel emotions better. I think she is saying “Turn It Down” not off. One Pole describing, in serious terms, the “Polish lot” to a member of the foreign press compared it to Christ’s crucifiction. Unfortunately, not only is this view common to Poland but it is on world display as a consequence of emotional over reaction.

        Does POland need to be a laughing stock or another punchline?

        Without a thought I say it’s bad leadership (personal, corporate, political) to make emotional decisions which shackle our future to the ever increasingly emotional consequences those decisions bring. Wouldn’t you?

        It could be, of course, that Poles have nothing better to do than react to the perpetual movement of emotional consequences.

        I think Annie is sounding the clarion call against such perpetuated movement.

      2. My God, Richard! Can you hear yourself?
        “I believe Poles, as a culture, could channel emotions better”.
        Who on earth are you to say what an entire NATION should or should not do?
        Giving one-off examples of someone talking about Christ’s death or Lukashenko’s attitude to Kaczyński DO NOT IN ANY WAY represent Poland.
        Poland is neither a laughing stock or another punchline. Take a look at the list of VIPs who are planning on coming.
        Your opinions are neither objective nor accurate.
        I was not a fan of Kaczyński (as I often pointed out on this blog) but I’m not going to take away from Poland their right to mourn their President. His death has changed the world’s attitude to Katyń.
        Was the mass hysteria that surrounded Princess Diana’s death unwarranted? Probably, but who are we to say if it’s right and wrong.
        Live and let live, Richard. Please.

  5. Very nice response Raf, I don’t think I could be so diplomatic. And I am sorry all, by Lukashenko should not be used as an example for anything or anyone.
    And if anyone thinks the Poles are a laughing stock for caring that they lost so many of their leaders, then they can go and **** themselves. Their opinion does not matter to me. These are the same people that tell me to get over about Katyn and other pages of Polish history. But at the same time they will weep when Michael Jackson, or some other insignificant celebrity dies.
    I too did not agree with Lech Kaczynski on most things. But he was the president of Poland. And many others who were leaders of the Polish nation perished too. Its pathetic that others want to tell me how I should mourn that loss. Next thing you know people will be going around funeral homes telling others to tone it down because they don’t like seeing people cry for their loved ones.
    What happened? Was he too Polish for some people? Too Catholic perhaps? Had too much historical national identity? Its times like this that make me feel ashamed of being a left wing person.
    And Richard, Stalin? Really? You used him as an example? Unreal.
    BTW, Josef Pilsudski, the father (grandpa) of 20th Century Poland was also a divisive figure.
    As best he could, Kaczynski also fought for a free Poland, and that makes him a hero, among, thousands of others. He loved his country, he did not fit the modern pan-European model of a politician according to the left. But that is not the point. He had his principles and stuck by them. What I may call backwardness he called moral Christian values. Where we agreed was on patriotism and historical identity. And for that I will remember him, and those who died. Poland lost its leaders. Like a family that loses a father, there were problems yes, divided opinion, but most of Poland feels orphaned right now, and they have a right to grieve as they see fit without some assholes telling them to tone it down.

  6. Just a word about him and his wife being buried at Wawel. Personally I would not make that decision. I would have buried him at Powazki. But the decision was not mine and I have no real problem with it. We used to bury every king there, good or bad. So who am I to say he does not deserve to be buried there.

  7. Was he a hero?

    The number of people who turned up to pay thier respects to him and his wife clearly show that he was a hero to many, if not to all.

    The question only becomes relevant if we are talking about Lech Kaczynski, rather than the President of Poland.

    Things are less controversial when people focus on the office of president– a symbol or figurehead. Burying him in Wawel could be a lasting memorial to the 96 victims of Smolensk, even of the victims of Katyn.

    If we focus on the personal achievements of Lech Kaczynski then things become more complicated and divisive.

    On one hand, the decision to bury the first couple in Wawel might have been taken during a moment of (understandable) high emotion and will look less and less appropriate with hindsight.

    On the other hand, Kaczynski was the first post-communist president to die, in or out of office, so there is no specific rule, tradition or precedent which says that he shouldn’t be buried in Wawel.

    I’m not Polish so it is all the same to me. It is just a bit sad that this controversy had to disturb the general feeling of consensus during the week of national mourning.

    1. True. I tend to think that the PRESIDENT was buried in Wawel (as opposed to Lech Kaczyński). I also think it wonderful that if someone so divisive as Lech Kaczyński can go out with such honours then it says a great deal for tolerance in Poland.

  8. Seriously you guys – he is not a hero, ok? Until his death in the crash his polls were going down as a Singaporean prostitute on a Russian tourist. Once he died media and church build this irrational hype upon on the tragedy. No questions – this was a great tragedy – a lot of great people died including the cabin crew!

    The only fact that actually served Poland was that Russian authorities and media admitted Stalin’s genocide on Polish officers in Katyń back in 1940. I see this as the only way this tragedy might have served Poland. But calling Kaczyński a hero?! Wrong fuckin’ plane! He is not a hero…

    1. qbp,

      The answer to your question will be revealed in the upcoming elections. If Lech’s twin brother wins he WILL go down in history as a hero. If on the other hand he doesn’t win, things could be quite interesting…

  9. About Kaczynski, i did not know him, but i am puzzled about his personality. Don’t you see any responsibility for that deadly accident?
    I have read that the pilot was forced to land by Kaczynski’s insistence, nothwithstanding landing had been forbidden by the flight controllers on the ground.
    If that were true, the death of many people is Kaczynski’s fault.

    1. This is all conjecture, hearsay and rumour. Until all the facts of the air crash are made public, there really is no point in wondering about what ‘might’ have happened.

  10. I see havyy doubts on Kaczynski’s role in the accident.
    It seems an undisputable fact that there was heavy fog at the time, and that Smolensk is an archaic airport without instrument guidance systems. I think no pilot, under such conditions, would have tried to land.
    Even though there is no definitive conclusion (when that will be released, i fear it will be ‘fixed’ by political reasons), it seems too early to argue about heroism.

    See here below suspects about what has happened, by Lech Walesa, Anatoly Muraviev, an ex pilot and Polish defence analyst Gregorsh Haldanowich

    best regards

    —- enc

    – Colonel Anatoly Muraviev, an ex pilot
    from http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2010/04/13/polish-crash-pilot-forced-to-land-jet-115875-22182124/

    The pilot of the doomed Polish presidential plane may have been put
    under pressure “to land at any cost”.
    A Russian air traffic controller involved in the crash which killed
    President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria believes airman Arkadiusz
    Protasiuk, 36, was told his VIP passengers could not miss a tribute to
    22,000 Poles slaughtered by Stalin.
    Colonel Anatoly Muraviev, an ex pilot, said there were also language
    problems with the Russian control tower.

    He believes the captain “was desperate to land because of the
    high-ranking passengers he was carrying”.
    He said: “It killed both the crew and the passengers.
    “Now try to imagine yourself in the chief pilot’s shoes. Fear, false
    shame, thinking that going to another airport is a disgrace. I’m a
    former pilot myself, I understand.”

    – Polish defence analyst Gregorsh Haldanowich
    from http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1234042/Kaczynski-may-have-forced-pilot-to-fly

    The president and several senior government officials were flying to
    Russia to mark 70 years since Soviet troops massacred 20,000 Poles in
    the Katyn forest.
    “The pressure of the day, the pressure of the 70th anniversary of the
    Katyn Massacre – the ceremony was so huge that all aboard the aircraft
    wanted very much to land,”
    leading Polish defence analyst Gregorsh Haldanowich told the ABC.
    British newspaper the Guardian and the New York Times reported that
    Kaczynski had a history of pressuring pilots to land depsite bad
    Previous case
    On a flight to Tbilisi during the war in Georgia, Kaczynski reportedly
    entered the cockpit after the pilot said it was too dangerous to land.
    The pilot refused to yield to the president’s will, landing instead in
    Attempts were subsequently made to sue the pilot for failing to obey
    orders, but the case was thrown out by prosecutors, the Guardian

    “If someone decides to become a pilot, he cannot be fearful,”

    Kaczynski reportedly said.

    “After returning to the country, we shall deal with this matter,”

    the NY Times quoted Polish newspaper Dziennik as reporting.

    Polish president Lech Walesa also suggested the president may have
    insisted on landing despite the severe fog blanketing the approach
    to the airport, but said it was too early to lay blame, the Guardian
    Pilot suffers depression
    Despite receiving a medal for his service, the pilot suffered depression
    in the wake of the incident, the NY Times said.
    The flight voice recorder has been recovered, the New York Times
    reported, but no transcripts of conversations in the cockpit have yet
    been released

    1. Here is the official question of PiS MP Przemyslaw Gosiewski to the Polish minister of defense after the latter awarded a medal to the pilot who did not agree to land in Georgia which was against president’s Kaczynski will:


      The pilot decided not to expose the president to any kind of danger and offended him by not fulfilling his will to land. The pressure from Kaczynski however was massive. After this decision the pilot thought he would lose his job. However the minister thought this was actually a very wise decision and gave him an award.

      After this fact MP Gosiewski questioned the minister why he was awarding pilots who are insubordinate to their superiors and who are cowards.

      No more comments to that.

      1. What does this prove though? Absolutely nothing. Everyone knows there was direct or indirect pressure to land if possible. Obviously, the very competent and responsible pilot believed that despite the bad conditions he could attempt to land the plane. If he did not believe that he would never attempt it. This was not some inexperienced kid at the controls. If he thought he was risking his and his passengers lives he would never attempt to land.
        Again, as I stated below, why this need to attach blame? Even if the pilot was ordered to land, despite some misgivings, its not as if someone cashed the plane on purpose. And as I said, if the pilot feared for his life he would never land. No one is that suicidal, no matter what it would do to their career. What gives folks? You never liked Kaczynski (neither did I btw) and now need to blame him for the deaths of 95 other people? You hated that Poland cried for him and the 95 others who lost their lives? You were glad he died and now want an icing on the cake that is blame? What is it?
        We have no new information from the investigators, we wont for weeks or months, or have we judged already? Do we kick him out of Wawel if he ordered the pilot to land?
        I don’t get it.

      2. Kick him out of Wawel – that’s a hell good idea! 🙂

        I suppose that Pilsudski has already banged his head against the coffin lid.

        What about president Narutowicz? Was he any worse? He was asassinated and somehow Powazki is fine for him…

        With all respect you don’t become a hero by dying on a plane.


      3. If you read my comment below you would know that him being a hero or not has nothing to do with him dying on a plane, at least IMO.

        I do not presume to know of Dziedek’s feeling about the matter, whether he has any, being dead and all, is another issue.
        With respect to Narutowicz, I have no opinion really, I also did not have an opinion on Kaczynski being buried at Wawel. Personally I would not have chosen it, but it was not up to me, and once the decision was made I don’t have a major issue with it. There are kings buried there who certainly do not deserve to be there, yet we don’t dig them up and throw them out. SO its not that big a deal to me.

  11. Paolo:
    It is quite probable that the pilot was under direct or indirect pressure to land. He knew the sense of the occasion, and the political fallout that would inevitably come if the president and the rest on board did not make it to the commemoration events. But that is not an indictment on anyone.
    Right now it seems, after a short lived period of unity and remembrance, people need someone to blame for the accident. And that is what it was, an accident. There is no need to blame people. Shit happens. Yes a lot of it can be prevented by logic and thought, but not everything, that’s why they are called accidents in the first place. Perhaps the president or someone in his circle did not think of the consequences. Perhaps the pilot was too courageous. It still was an accident.
    Seems to me that those on both sides, those who want to put blame on Kaczynski and those who want to present him as a saint, are doing this because of political motivations. The truth will only interfere with or justify what they “knew” in the first place.
    The “heroism” bit however, has nothing to do with the accident itself. It has to do with his earlier life and work. The crash was just how his life ended, along with 95 others. It does not justify nor nullify the rest of his life.

  12. “Many believe it only right for Poland’s patriotic leader and Catholic family man to rest alongside the great Piłsudski. ”

    Hmm, Piłsudski converted to Protestantism in order to marry, and then for years lived with his second future wife in concubinage, until the first wife, who didn’t want to agree to divorce, finally died. Being a Poland’s hero doesn’t necessarily mean being a Catholic family man, and vice versa.

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