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Belmont Club

The Woods of Smolensk

April 10th, 2010 - 3:16 am

The Polish President and numerous top officials died aboard a TU-154 while trying to land at Smolensk airbase.He was on his way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre which took place in the woods near that city. Lech Kaczyński “was an activist in the pro-democratic anti-Communist movement in Poland … During the martial law introduced by the communists in December, 1981, he was interned as an anti-socialist element. After his release from internment, he returned to trade union activities, becoming a member of the underground Solidarity.” A BBC blog soliciting reader reactions said “Mr Kaczynski has been a controversial figure in Polish politics, advocating a right-wing Catholic agenda.”

The New York Times described him as “a source of tension within the EU”. It described him as a firm believer in close military ties with the US, an arrangement which Kaczyński believed would keep his powerful neighbor at bay.

As soon as he took office in the presidential headquarters in the center of Warsaw, Mr. Kaczynski forged very close relations with Ukraine and Georgia, determined to bring them closer to NATO and eventually have them admitted to the American-led military organization.

But his staunch defense of these two countries often upset leading members of the E.U., especially Germany, which was concerned that an expanded NATO would threaten Russia, or lead to new East-West tensions….

He lobbied hard for the United States to deploy part of its controversial anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland, believing it would add to Poland’s security vis-à-vis Russia. Such plans, supported by President George W. Bush, were scaled back by President Obama.

Dozens of important Polish officials died with him. Among those in the crash were Poland’s first lady, the head of the National Security Bureau, the Chief of the Polish Army General Staff, the President of the National Bank of Poland and the Bishop of the Military Ordinariate of the Polish Army. In terms of loss it is a miniature of the decapitation event he gone to commemorate: the Katyn Massacre.

After Poland went down before the onslaught of Nazi and Soviet forces in 1939-40, Joseph Stalin and Lavrenty Beria decided to decapitate the country’s society. Since the Polish army required all university graduates to become reserve officers, the NKVD decided to kill two birds with one stone and eliminate the both the trained military manpower of Poland and its “intelligensia”.  In 1940 the Communists shot more than 22,000 Polish officers in woods near Smolensk.  These included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 20 university professors, hundeds of physicians lawyers, engineers and teachers, more than 100 writers and journalists among others.

In true Bolshevik style, there was a cover story: the Soviets claimed the Nazis did it. But although the Nazis were guilty of many other crimes, Katyn was not one of them. “In April 1943, when the Polish government-in-exile insisted on bringing the matter to the negotiation table with the Soviets and on an investigation by the International Red Cross, Stalin accused the Polish government in exile of collaborating with Nazi Germany, broke diplomatic relations with it, and started a campaign to get the Western Allies to recognize the alternative Polish pro-Soviet government in Moscow led by Wanda Wasilewska.”  That government in exile continued until the end of Communist rule in Poland in 1990. In one of the crash’s cruel ironies of the accident, the last Polish President in Exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, was onboard the doomed aircraft.

Two days ago, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became the first “became the first Russian leader to ever commemorate the Katyn massacres with a Polish leader [Prime Minister Donald Tusk]“.  But Putin stopped short of opening the archives on the subject, which are still sealed. According to Russian sources, the Polish Presidential plane clipped the trees short of the runway as it tried to land in foggy conditions.

Damien Thompson, editor of the Telegraph Blogs says “the conspiracy theorists will go crazy … because Poland, like most East European countries, is obsessed with conspiracies … these explanations are so much more emotionally satisfying to traumatised people than the likely truth: that the Polish politicians – like so many politicians in less developed countries – were accustomed to risking their lives in dodgy planes.”

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