Ten years after the Smolensk tragedy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Mourning the victims of the plane crash, with candles and flowers, in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on 13 April 2010. [Kalisz Paweł/gov.pl]

10 April marks the tenth anniversary of the Smolensk plane crash that killed 96 people including the Polish president, central bank chief and military commanders. Ambassador Andrzej Sadoś explains how this tragic incident further deepened the divide between Poland and Russia.

Andrzej Sadoś is the permanent representative of Poland to the European Union.

This morning at 8:41 CET marks ten years since the biggest and yet unanswered tragedy in Poland’s most recent history – the President together with 95 highest-ranking officials, on their way to commemorate the Katyn massacre, perished in a plane crash in Russia

The Katyn forest, alongside Mednoye, Kharkiv, Bykivnia and Kuropaty, is where a terrifying act of mass executions was carried out by the Soviet authorities in the spring of 1940. It took more than 22.000 lives of prisoners of war and imprisoned civilians, members of the country’s elite.

For over half a century, the Soviets have rejected their responsibility for this crime and some Russian media have been doing so even in recent days.

Already in the first minutes after the crash, there had been an overwhelming cacophony of misleading claims and lies, like the one about several failed attempts to land the plane. The disinformation campaign did not stop there and it was soon followed by horrendous claims blaming the pilots, and the highest-ranking passengers for the tragedy. This defamatory narrative is still the dominant in the mainstream Russian media.

The presidential plane wreckage regardless of the international law and standards is being kept in Russia, with Polish prosecutors and forensic investigators facing multiple obstacles to access the site. The official investigation started almost immediately after the tragedy is still ongoing as it cannot be closed due to the lack of access to the most important evidence.

The 10th anniversary is no exception and even today in an unprecedented move, Polish highest-ranking officials and the families were denied the possibility to commemorate and pay respect to the victims at the site near Smolensk.

Numerous representatives of Russian institutions on various occasions manipulated and falsely accused the victims for causing the crash. During the national mourning in Poland, while the families were grieving, some media did not hesitate to publish embarrassing, offensive and false claims defaming the victims.

The crash in Smolensk is Poland’s national disaster and thus for many of us it is also a tragedy on a very personal level.

I had the privilege of working for the late President Lech Kaczynski, on board of that plane ten years ago was Poland’s elite, amongst them many of my friends and colleagues. I still remember the exact words exchanged during our last conversations and the details of our last meetings. I will remember this forever. For many reasons, the Smolensk tragedy to the Poles, especially to my generation is still a painful and tormenting experience. I have a very intense recollection of all that happened on the 10 April 2010 and in the dark days of national mourning that followed – it still feels like it was yesterday.

The link between this tragedy and the massacre of the tens of thousands of my compatriots brutally killed in Katyn in 1940 makes both events inseparable.

The highest-ranking representatives of the European institutions should seriously consider whether the fact of not supporting Poland during the last decade, in the difficult relations with the Russian authorities in investigating the causes of the disaster and in dealing with the manipulation and lies about the responsibility, does not undermine the reiterated calls for European solidarity.

Realizing that the current Presidents of the European Council, the Commission and the European Parliament have been in office for several months only, I hope this anniversary will be an inspiration to reconsider their individual as well as institutional approach.

Poland is an advocate of European solidarity and there are many tangible examples of our assistance to others in need – most recent is the help offered to Italy and the regions worst affected by the pandemic.

Poland always remains ready to do its share as far as the EU solidarity is concerned.

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