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Poland's Smolensk tragedy still smoulders

Poland's Smolensk tragedy still smoulders
By Euronews
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Two years ago, on 10 April 2010, the plane carrying Poland’s President Lech Kaczyński crashed while attempting to land at Russia’s Smolensk airport. None of its passengers survived. Among the lives lost were also the wife of the head of state, the army chief of staff, government officials, members of parliament and the governor of the national bank. Poland, devastated, went into mourning.

The Polish delegation had been on its way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre in WWII, a moment in history that had poisoned Polish-Russian relations for a long time. Still today, there are unanswered questions about the national catastrophe for Poland.

Russian and Polish investigations and reports multiplied. Was the fate of those on board the Polish Air Force Tupolev 154 due to pilot error, fog, speed, bad lighting at the military airport, the instructions of the Russian air traffic controllers? Polish public interest has maintained intensity.

Further revelations about the accident hold the potential to undermine the Polish government. Two years after the crash, the pressure it created around political life in Poland has abated little.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk, recently reconfirmed in legislative elections, is criticised for not having ensured that Poland could have a direct role in examining the plane wreck, which is still in Russian hands. No Polish investigator went to the scene of the accident or took part in the autopsies of the victims’ bodies.

This has not been ignored by the twin brother of the late president – Jaroslaw Kaczyński – who is still the strongest force in the opposition and the second most prominent in the country with his rightwing Law and Justice party. He plans to run in presidential elections in 2015. He holds Tusk responsible for the accident that claimed his brother’s life and so many others’, going so far as to suggest that the accident was planned.

A recent public survey found that almost one third of Poles think the accident was the fault of the Russians. Twenty-eight percent blame the pilots. Many hold the Polish government responsible and 18 percent believe it was intentional.

To look further into this, euronews spoke to Dr. Bartlomiej Biskup, a political analyst from Warsaw University.

euronews: Dr. Biskup, is the Smolensk crash still a prominent topic in Polish politics?

Dr. Biskup: Polish politics and politicians still debate the topic. But it is the people of Poland who really want to know what happened that day two years ago.

euronews: Can you make political capital out of the crash if you are a politician?

Dr. Biskup: Yes, you can, but I believe you can try and explain every detail of the tragedy. There are many unknown issues on the Russian side. The wreck of the plane is still in Russia, though it belongs to Poland.

The process of investigation is going to take some time and knowing our common Polish-Russian history it may be a long time. The fact that the case is very important in Russia will also lengthen the process.

euronews: So is there any possibility it was an attempt to kill the delegation?

Dr. Biskup: From what we know it wasn’t an attempt, but that is just what we know. Not everything has been explained.

euronews: Who would have benefited from killing the delegation to Katyn?

Dr. Biskup: There are many interested groups in politics and business, companies which deal with gas and oil. We should also remember that Lech Kaczyński was trying to create a sort of a strong group of countries in central and eastern Europe, also in the former Republics of the Soviet Union.

He was supporting their interests when it came to independence or strengthening the economy. Poland also had vital interests in that region.

euronews: How do you think the rest of the world views the Smolensk tragedy? It seems to be ignored by the media across the world. Do you think that means no one cares about what actually happened at Smolensk any more?

Dr. Biskup: I think the world doesn’t care because it has no interest in it. It’s the same for the EU which has no political or economical interest in it.

Poland never asked the EU for any form of help or support in the Smolensk case. So the EU can’t do much and sees no advantage in being involved in the case.

I also think it’s because of the two-speed policy of the EU. Because Poland never formally asked for help, the EU is saying “take care of this on your own”. As Poland is a neighbour of Russia, they are saying deal with it on a bilateral level.

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