When I woke this morning to read the news that Lech Kaczynski, President of Poland, had died in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia along with 87 others, I was saddened and speechless. Along with the president and the first lady, Poland lost a significant portion of her leadership, including the legendary Ryszard Kaczorowski of the original government in exile, central bank Governor Slawomir Skrzypek, and Jerzy Szmajdzinski, presidential candidate for the Democratic Left Alliance. Apparently the 20-year-old Tupolev Tu-154 they were flying in – one of the most dangerous planes in existence – crashed upon an attempted landing in thick fog outside of Russia.
Kaczynski was always a very controversial politician, and his suddentragic death is bound to provoke a number of controversial discussions. One of these debates will hopefully help to raise awareness and bringclarity and reconciliation to the historical memory of the Katynmassacre, the reason for which the delegation was traveling to Russia. Another discussion will inevitably be raised about Russia’s lackinginvestment in civilian infrastructure and public safety standards,problems which have plagued the country for many years. I hope out ofrespect for the family of these 88 victims, that we all respectfullyleave the anger on the sidelines, which will be hard to do given thebitterness surrounding the Polish-Russian relationship.
I once had the opportunity for a lengthy private meeting with PresidentKaczynski in 2008, and thought the distance between his public personaand intelligent personality in private was remarkable. Whether or notyou agreed with his policies (and there were certainly many areas inwhich I strongly disagreed), he was a determined and sincere individualwho certainly had real courage in his political convictions. Kaczynskihad deeply and firmly held beliefs, and made sure that Poland’s voicewas heard within the European Union. In many ways he transformed thecountry’s standing in the alliance, and will certainly be remembered forthis period of change.
To lose a president in a plane crash like this, especially one that wason his way to commemorate Katyn, is simply mind blowing and difficult tocomprehend. I can only hope that the tragedy can eventually lead tosomething positive for this region, and I am confident that the Poleswill move forward with courage and resilience as they always have.