Smoleńsk plane crash (10th April 2010)

On April 10th, 2010 a TU-154M plane crashed in Smolensk (Russia) a 1km short of the runway in foggy weather conditions, killing all passengers on board. The plane was carrying a delegation of 96 members of the Polish elite, including the Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, former President Ryszard Kaczorowski, the entire general army command, the Chief of the Polish General Staff and other senior Polish military officers, the president of the National Bank of Poland, Poland's deputy foreign minister, Polish government officials, 15 members of the Polish parliament, senior members of the Polish clergy, and relatives of victims of the Katyn massacre. An event regarded by many as the worst national disaster to befall on Poland since World War II. They were on the way from Warsaw (Poland) to attend an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre (22 thousands of Polish officers executed by the Soviet NKWD in 1939 and 1940).

These official concusions has not been accepted by the part of the public opinion, group of victims' families and Kaczynski's supporters, his former party's members (Law and Justice party) and his twin-brother – Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of parliamentary opposion. The crash remains a traumatizing memory for many Poles - according to the pools approx. 25% of Poles belive that the crash was not an accident but a result of purposive actions (CBOS 2012). The topic become a bone of contention in political discourse and in many terms overlaps with the message regarding the national identity.

The cross that has been put in front of the Presidential Palace by the Scauts just after the crash. This become a place where the first manifestations and commemorations took place. The cross itself has been removed (to the nerby church) shortly after, by the officials (head of the Chancellary of the President). Since that, the „Defenders of the Cross” Association along with the opposition party and supporters („Solidarni 2010” Association) dissapointed with the official undertakings (the investigation and its preliminary results, official commemorations, mainstream media coverage) here organise monthly marches and anti-goverment protests.

The biggest events takes place on the April 10th. Since 2011, the annual commemoration of this tragedy is organised separately by: the Law and Justice (PiS) - Kaczynski's party members and supporters, some of the Catholic church officials and several TV and press agencies and the Warsaw city and state agencies. Both gather substantial audience and are transmitted via traditional and internet channels. The national character of this events is put in the frontline although the context built around the same event and symbols is apparently different.

The key element of the commemoration ceremony in case of PiS party, is the annual march that takes place in the evening on the 10th April in the capital centre, next to the Presidential Palace. This event is open to the public, led by party officials and Jaroslaw Kaczyński himself, attended by thousands of people. The picture below captured the first line of the march that took place a year after the crash. The march stops in front of the Palace, where the speeches are given. The main speaker is Jaroslaw Kaczyński and members of the families whose kin has died in the crash. In the meantime, the national anthem as well as patriotics songs are sung and prayers are recited by the crowds.

The commemoration of the crash is attended the most prominent politicians: President Bronislaw Komorowski and his wife Anna, Prime Minister Donald Tusk of ministers, the Sejm and the Senate of the Parliament Speaker and Bogdan Borusewicz with a delegation of parliamentary clubs except PiS. Former prime ministers and presidents i.e. Jerzy Buzek, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, diplomats from Celestino Migliore Apostolic Nuncio and Ambassador of the Russian Republic (Alexander Alexeyev). The largest group consisted of relatives of the passengers of the tragic flight.

It is an official event, state rank, in accordance with the protocol, assisted by Polish army guard of honor, the priests of several denominations, and of course the media.The ceremony is reserved for persons invited, the audience can only watch the events from a distance. After the speeches given by the President and representative of the families, clerics recite ecumenical prayer. The announcer read the names of the 96 victims of the disaster. The army gives three volleys of honor, and the delegations make ​​the wreaths at the monument