Popular wisdom has it that Russians are fond of asking two major questions about life:
- Who is to blame? and
- What is to be done about it?
Well, as for Question #1, believe me, it isn’t just Russians who are interested in knowing, whom to hold accountable for all their problems.
Proof of this is my story today, which is about Poles, still trying to come to grips with what happened on April 10, 2010. That’s when a plane carrying quite a lot of Polish government officials, including their President, Lech Kaczyński, crashed near Smolensk, Russia, killing all on board.
To quote wiki for a quick and reasonably fair-handed backstory:
On 10 April 2010, a Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft of the Polish Air Force crashed near the city of Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 people on board. Among the victims were the President of Poland Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, the former President of Poland in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, the chief of the Polish General Staff and other senior Polish military officers, the president of the National Bank of Poland, Polish Government officials, 18 members of the Polish Parliament, senior members of the Polish clergy and relatives of victims of the Katyn massacre. The group was arriving from Warsaw to attend an event marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre, which took place not far from Smolensk.
The pilots were attempting to land at Smolensk North Airport – a former military airbase – in thick fog, with visibility reduced to about 500 metres (1,600 ft). The aircraft descended far below the normal approach path until it struck trees, rolled inverted and crashed into the ground, coming to rest in a wooded area a short distance from the runway.
Both the Russian and Polish official investigations found no technical faults with the aircraft, and concluded that the crew failed to conduct the approach in a safe manner in the given weather conditions. The Polish authorities found serious deficiencies in the organization and training of the Air Force unit involved, which was subsequently disbanded. Several high-ranking members of the Polish military resigned, under pressure from politicians and the media.
Various conspiracy theories about the crash have since been in circulation, and are promoted by senior political figures in Poland, who claim the crash was a political assassination, but no evidence supporting this version was found in the Polish investigation
Yes, but Who Is To Blame?
Which brings me to two posts which I saw today in the Russian press.
This piece quotes Lech Wałęsa, former Solidarity Rebel and former President of Poland himself. According to Wałęsa, it was Jarosław Kaczyński who caused the catastrophe. When you look at Jarosław and you think you’re seeing double, that’s because Lech (Kaczyński, that is, not Wałęsa) and Jarosław are identical twins. You kill one of them, there’s still another one left. Genius!
And this other piece quotes a very bitter Jarosław himself, who hints at Dark Forces (hint: Mordor) responsible for the plane crash, but still lays some “moral blame” on the government of Donald Tusk.
Let’s turn to Lech’s version of events. Wałęsa, that is. [usual yalensis disclaimer: I am translating from Russian, which quote was translated from Polish, something may have been lost somewhere in the middle]:
“If the truth wins out,” Lech Wałęsa is quoted as saying, “and I am willing to bet my head on it on the chopping block, then accountability for the Smolensk tragedy should be laid on the Brothers Kaczyński.” (The tragedy) “was a consequence of their irresponsible decisions, their desire to use Katyn (as a theme in the) electoral race, and so on.”
Heads Continue to Roll
The Smolensk catastrophe was just a big huge deal for Poland — for Poles this was like the Kennedy Assassination for Americans, only bigger. Ramifications continue on and on… even now, six years later.
Macierewicz Changes His Story
About a month ago, 14 March, Poland’s Minister of Defense Antoni Macierewicz came out with a startling accusation: The Smolensk crash was the result of a TERRORIST ACT! Macierewicz claimed that the purpose of this terrorist act was “to deprive Poland of the people who had led it to independence.” The very broad accusation was obviously directed at Russia. Macierewicz went on to connect the incident with other Russian mis-deeds, such as interfering in the affairs of Ukraine; not to mention earlier crimes, going back into the deep past:
“One must recall, that we (Poles) were the very first victims of terrorism, in the 1930’s, and after Smolensk, we can say that we also became the first victims of terrorism in the contemporary conflict, which is unfolding before our very eyes.”
Russia’s Investigative Committee poo-poo’ed Macierewicz’s accusation and pointed out, that their own investigation had absolved the Smolensk dispatchers of any responsibility for the accident. Russian version of the crash: The plane flew too fast and too low in the fog, flight crew couldn’t see ground; ignored ground dispatchers’ warnings; plane snagged a tree branch – BAM!
And then Poland’s own Prosecutor-General virtually wrist-slapped Macierewicz for his alarmist assumptions. The official Polish investigation was led by Minister of Internal Affairs Jerzy (pronounced “Yezhy”) Miller. Jerzy waded through a mountain of factual material, and came to pretty much the same conclusions as the Russian side.
After which Macierewicz changed his tune and levelled a charge at the former government of Donald Tusk.
According to Macierewicz (with his new story), President Tusk willfully falsified the investigation into the plane crash. Furthermore, according to current Polish President Andrzej Duda, the crash was the result of “negligence” on the part of government officials of the previous administration. I don’t know what the word for “negligence” is in Polish. The Russian word is халатность (“khalatnost”), a sort of gentle word implying that some carefree nobleman is walking around wearing an oriental robe, a “khalat“. But there is nothing gentle about the concept — in Russian, this is a loaded-trigger word, as it is in any language. Because “negligence” is a legal concept, fraught with legal penalties.
On 31 March a regional court in Warsaw, Poland, began to examine the case of five Polish officials, accused of negligence in the organization of the trip which led to the plane crash. While this was going on, Macierewicz has started to publish the findings of the official investigation into the crash.
Macierewicz continues to chafe at the official findings, he and Miller obviously don’t see eye to eye, on the issue of Russian guilt in the Smolensk crash. A section of the Polish political elite are invested in the notion that the Russian government had to have been behind the catastrophe. What else could explain the simultaneous deaths of 96 Poles, effectively beheading the Polish government and military, all in one fell swoop? It couldn’t possibly have just been a chance accident, a result of human negligence, or random act of fate!