The Ghosts of Smolensk (Foreign Policy)

Photograph: Jennifer Boyer via Flickr

On April 10, Poles will mark the sixth anniversary of that catastrophe in Smolensk, when President Lech Kaczyński; his wife, Maria; the chief of the general staff; the heads of all three armed forces; the director of the intelligence service; the president of the national bank; and many dozens of others were killed when their plane came down in thick fog, crashing into a forest adjoining a Smolensk airfield.

It will also be the first anniversary of the crash since Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, run by Lech’s identical twin brother, Jarosław, regained power last year, winning the presidency and Poland’s first parliamentary majority since 1989. Law and Justice portrays Kaczyński not just as a great president, but as a man of immense historical significance. And his death, many believe, was no accident: His immense stature had provided his enemies at home and abroad with sufficient grounds for murder. “What happened at Smolensk,” declared Law and Justice Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz last month, “was aimed at depriving Poland of its leadership, which was leading our nation to independence.”

To his detractors, Kaczyński’s confrontational brand of patriotism was dimwitted and counterproductive, his intransigence achieving little other than to burden Poland with a reputation as an impetuous and unreliable partner, his recklessness raising difficult questions about his role in the accident that killed him. They worry that Law and Justice is exploiting his memory for political purposes and that by grossly exaggerating his achievements, the party is rewriting history to justify its ongoing efforts to capture Poland’s democratic institutions.

You can read my essay for Foreign Policy here.

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