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by Sharon Rondeau

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, two of 97 people who lost their lives in today's plane crash in Smolensk, Russia

(Apr. 10, 2010) — The country of Poland is mourning the deaths of 97 people who died in a plane crash earlier today while en route to a commemorative visit to the scene of an earlier atrocity perpetrated by the Soviet Secret Police in 1940.

Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP and journalist, wrote on his blog at the UK Telegraph, “Seventy years ago, almost to the day, 21, 768 Polish army officers, intellectuals and senior civil servants were murdered by the Soviet NKVD in the forest near Katyn:  an attempt by Stalin to decapitate Poland by liquidating its elite…This morning, another decapitation occurred… “

According to an MSNBC report, “The crash devastated the upper echelons of Poland’s political and military establishments. On board were the army chief of staff, the navy chief commander, and heads of the air and land forces. Also killed were the national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, Olympic Committee head, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides.”

Relations between the two countries have been poor for centuries.  In an article entitled “Old rivalry persists as Russian-Polish relations take turn for worse from 2005, The New York Times reported that “Clearly, the present bad state of relations between Russia and Poland has plenty of historical precedents. Still, relations between the nations are as bad as they ever have been since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989.”

An article from the Russian website Rianovosti stated, “Katyn claims new victims as Polish president’s plane crashes…”

On Wednesday of this past week, a separate ceremony was held to commemorate the Katyn  massacre attended by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin along with Russian and Polish leaders.  In advance of the ceremony, McClatchy reported that the event was “expected to provide new details about Russia’s mass execution of 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1940 and may pave the way toward improved relations between the two countries.” Also according to McClatchy, Putin became the head of the police agency, the KGB, which succeeded the NKVD.

MSNBC has reported that the pilot of the aircraft was asked to land at an alternate airport due to heavy fog, but that he chose to continue his planned landing in North Smolensk.  Two explosions were reported being heard upon impact.  It was also reported that the plane “clipped the tops of the trees, crashed down and broke into pieces.”  The flight data recorders have reportedly been located and are being examined.

Following news of the crash earlier today, the Polish government called an emergency meeting in Warsaw.  According to CNN, Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated that there would be a two-minute silence at noon on Sunday in memory of the victims.

The aircraft was Russian, but had been overhauled last year.  According to the Evening Herald, Russian aviation experts stated with certainty that the cause of the crash was pilot error.  However, a Russian flight safety expert was quoted as having said, “It was a clear case of VIP passenger syndrome,” meaning that President Kaczynski or another high-ranking Polish official on board the plane could have ordered the pilot to continue with the original landing plan against the advice of the Russian air traffic controller.

While president, Lech Kaczynski strove to keep Poland out of European politics.  He was a strong supporter of extending NATO membership to former Soviet republics to prevent “Russian aggression.”  Kaczynski and his twin brother had joined Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement in the early 1980s which brought about a temporary lifting of the restrictions of the Polish communist regime.  However, at the end of 1981, martial law was imposed on the country due to fears of “Soviet armed intervention.”

Kaczynski and his brother formed the Law and Justice National Committee Party in 2001, and the following year, Lech was elected mayor of Warsaw.  He won the presidency in 2005.

Dr. Edwin J. Feulner, President of The Heritage Foundation, made the following statement (excerpted) on the passing of President Kaczynski:

Poland is a country which has suffered monstrously over the years, most notably in fighting for its freedom against Nazism and Communism. President Kaczynski will forever be remembered as a true Polish patriot, with an unflinching commitment to his country’s liberty and self-determination. Poland can take comfort that their great advances as a nation in the past two decades represent the culmination of President Kaczynski’s hard work and lifelong dedication to his beloved country.

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