Crash Remembered by Polish Leaders Who Scorn Smolensk Story

  • Organizers expect up to 100,000 to take part in ceremonies
  • President, premier mark first anniversary under Law & Justice

Poland’s president and prime minister for the first time took part in commemorations of the Smolensk plane crash after rejecting years of investigations into the tragedy that devastated a swath of the country’s ruling elite.

QuickTake Poland's Populist Turn

The ruling Law & Justice party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski is planning a new investigation into the 2010 crash in the Russian city, which killed 96 people including then-President Lech Kaczynski, his twin, as well as the head of the central bank and top military officials. The reopening of Poland’s most painful event since World War II accompanies a government push for policies that have drawn criticism for undermining democracy.

“We have been long hoping that our efforts to remember those who died in Smolensk will yield results,” Kaczynski told the crowds that marched from from Warsaw cathedral and gathered in front of the presidential palace. “These results must entail remembrance, truth and justice.”

Reconciliation is possible after justice is done, Kaczynski told a gathering that organizers anticipated would swell to as large as 100,000 people, referring to a call by President Andrzej Duda for reconciliation earlier Sunday. The ceremony, also seen as a show of support for Law & Justice, which is pursuing family-oriented, euro-skeptic policies, was expected to dwarf this year’s protests by Polish opposition groups. They oppose sweeping changes to courts and other top institutions that fellow European Union members and U.S. officials have criticized as endangering democracy.

Investigations Rejected

Law and Justice has rejected the conclusions of two separate investigations by Poland and Russia that blamed the crash on pilot error by the Polish crew as they tried to land in heavy fog in Smolensk.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said last month that a bomb on board may have been the cause. Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told the Polish wSieci magazine in January that Russia had “something to hide” because it denied Poland access to evidence and didn’t return the wreckage.

“In essence we have to start from scratch,” Kaczynski told Gazeta Polska newspaper Thursday. “The past six years have seen the rule of people who didn’t want to find the truth, no matter what the truth is.”

Politicians of the opposition Civic Platform, which ruled from 2007 to 2015, have repeatedly said that claims that the crash wasn’t an accident are groundless. The government plane was carrying officials to Russia for a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II massacre of thousands of Polish officers at nearby Katyn in 1940.

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