Region: Poland grapples with Smolensk's ghosts
Politicians place high stakes on retrieving the wreckage from 2010 deadly air crash in Russia
Posted: January 9, 2013
A year after the 2010 airplane disaster, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, right, takes part in a public memorial service on Piłsudski Square in Warsaw to commemorate the 96 victims.
One of the greatest aviation catastrophes in the history of Poland continues to divide the country's political scene and remains one of the most controversial subjects of public debate. As the investigation of the 2010 air crash in Smolensk, Russia - which killed all 96 passengers, including Poland's then-President Lech Kaczyński and his wife - still continues, Poland's leaders have resorted to international channels to ensure the wreckage's repatriation.
PiS (Law and Justice), the main opposition party, continues to blame the government for breaching its obligations during the planning of the flight and for its actions taken after the crash, also regarding the retrieval of the plane wreck.
The mounting pressure on Foreign Affairs Minister Radosław Sikorski led him to admit his failure in securing the return of the wreckage to Poland. During the Dec. 10 meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union, he officially asked Catherine Ashton, European Union high representative for foreign affairs, to raise the issue of the plane wreck during the Dec. 21 EU-Russia summit.
"If bilateral communication channels regarding this matter are ineffective, we are forced to move it to the international level," he said.
Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has so far failed to declare the exact date when the wreckage will be sent back to Poland, emphasizing it should remain in Russia until the end of the investigation. Russian interrogators do not specify how much time they need.
Meanwhile, Poland's diplomats have invoked Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and say Poland has the right to regain it since all the analysis has already been finalized.
"The Foreign Affairs Ministry took all possible steps in order to regain the wreck of TU-154M, including those at the highest level, supporting the position of the prosecutor's office both during political meetings with Russia and through diplomatic notes," said ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki.
To catalog its diplomatic efforts, the ministry has published a calendar of all actions taken to regain the wreckage on its official website. According to this data, the issue was raised for the first time in December 2010 during a meeting between Russian President Dmitri Medvedev with Polish President Bronisław Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
As requested by Warsaw, Ashton touched upon the subject of the presidential plane during the last Russia-EU summit. She mentioned it during her conversation with Lavrov in the lobby, as one of many other subjects.
"The subject of the plane was not on the formal agenda of the EU-Russia summit; nevertheless, the high representative had a couple of marginal contacts at this summit and had also discussed some other issues including this," said Ashton's press officer, Maja Kocijanczicz, as quoted by the Polish Press Agency.
After the meeting, Sikorski expressed his gratitude to Ashton for mentioning the necessity of returning the wreckage. "Let's hope this will definitely make Russian realize the urgency of the matter," he wrote on Twitter.
Despite its push to regain the crashed plane, Poland has not yet determined what will happen with the wreckage after it comes back to the country. Sikorski appealed Jan. 2 for the debate in this matter during one of his TV interviews. Some politicians and analysts fear it will become a place of worship, echoing the atmosphere of the square in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. Almost every night, around a dozen of people meet there to pray for those who died in the crash. Once a month, an elaborate vigil takes place.
"Every monthly anniversary is celebrated traditionally with a holy Mass at 8 a.m., a ceremonial placement of a wreath in front of the Presidential Palace, an evening holy Mass in the cathedral and, after that, a memorial march to the palace," explained Anna Orlowska, from the civic association Solidarni 2010.
As one of many organizations established after the catastrophe, Solidarni advocates the appointment of an international commission that would duly investigate the crash. Its members support the theory that the plane crashed as a result of a terrorist attack planned by Russia. A December survey by Polish research center CBOS indicates this idea is shared by 26 percent of Poles. Additionally, 30 percent of Poles believe the current government has failed to properly explain the cause of the catastrophe.
These critical voices have grown louder regarding an autumn scandal over the misidentification of victims' remains. So far, prosecutors have confirmed that four victims were buried under the wrong name, including the former Polish President-in-Exile Ryszard Kaczorowski.
Another recent scandal exposed by one of the country's main newspaper dailies, Rzeczpospolita, indicates the pervasiveness of the terrorist attack theory in public discourse. At the end of October, the newspaper informed on its front page that Polish prosecutors in Smolensk discovered explosive materials among the wreckage.
On the same day, the Polish military prosecutor's office - which oversees the investigation - strongly denied the claims. A few hours later, Rzeczpospolita issued a retraction on its website, and a broad correction was printed the day after.
The newspaper's editor-in-chief, his deputy, the chief of the domestic affairs department and the article's writer were terminated as a result of the incident.
Karolina Drogowska can be reached at