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?
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?
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.