Saturday, April 10, 2010

Massive Loss for Poland

Polish plane crash, Smolensk

Today’s news about Poland’s great loss has obliterated any other story out there. This event is so thickly tragic that it demands a response beyond mere sympathy for the Polish people. This is one case where we do rail against an event as immensely unfair, deeply, horribly unfair.

There are several estimates of the numbers of people killed in the plane crash:

There were conflicting reports today of the number of people on board the flight. Russian news agencies reported at least 88 people died in the crash near Smolensk airport in western Russia, citing the Russian Emergencies Ministry. They reported 132 people were aboard the Tupolev Tu-154.

But Polish officials said 88 people were on board when the plane crashed. Sky News reported 96 dead.

This echo of the USSR’s slaughter of Polish Army officers by the Russians in 1940 is twisted barbed wire stuck into the heart of the Polish people. It is beyond irony that the president, Lech Kaczynski, along with many political and business leaders in Poland were killed on their way to attend a memorial service in Russia for that Katyn massacre:

Katyn Forest massacre 1940The president and his wife were on their way to a memorial service for the victims of the Katyn massacre which, in 1940, saw thousands of Polish prisoners of war murdered (primarily military officers), intellectuals, policemen, and other public servants by the Soviet NKVD.

Polish-Russian relations had been improving of late after being poisoned for decades over the Katyn massacre.

Russia never has formally apologized for the murders of some 22,000 Polish officers, but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s decision to attend a memorial ceremony earlier this week in the forest near Katyn was seen as a gesture of goodwill toward reconciliation.

Ironically, the blame could be reasonably laid at the door of fiscal constraints since the plane was not new:
- - - - - - - - -
The presidential Tu-154 was at least 20 years old. Polish officials have long discussed replacing the planes that carry the country’s leaders but said they lacked the funds.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been 66 crashes involving Tu-154s, including six in the past five years. The Russian carrier Aeroflot recently withdrew its Tu-154 fleet from service.

No doubt this event will certainly lead to better planes for the remaining leadership, but how sad that old aircraft and pilot error were to blame for this monstrous loss.

The Daily Mail has an initial short list of some of the victims:

Lech Kaczysnki - Polish president
Maria Kaczynska - The president’s wife
Ryszard Kaczorowski - Poland’s last president-in-exile
Aleksander Szczyglo - head of the National Security Office
Pawel Wypych - presidential aide
Mariusz Handzlik - presidential aide
Jerzego Szmajdzinski - deputy parliament speaker
Andrzej Kremer - Deputy Foreign Minister
Gen. Franciszek Gagor - head of the army chief of staff
Andrzej Przewoznik - minister in charge of WWII memorials
Slawomir Skrzypek - head of the National Bank of Poland
Janusz Kurtyka - head of the National Remembrance Institute
Przemyslaw Gosiewski - lawmaker
Zbigniew Wassermann - lawmaker
Grzegorz Dolniak - lawmaker
Janusz Kochanowski - civil rights commissioner
Bishop Tadeusz Ploski - army chaplain

For home schoolers and those interested in Polish history, Muckety has a relationship map which covers the event: people, relationships, and historical antecedents, including Katyn.

One of the first things I did was look for the Polish national anthem. Despite the static nature of this video, it will no doubt draw world wide viewing today, given that it has English subtitles:

Polish National Anthem English Subtitles via

What happens when a country’s leaders die this way? A great vacuum occurs in the living institutional memory of that nation. Poland has suffered greater losses than this and come back again and again. But this one is a peacetime loss, not an act of war.

America’s citizens of Polish descent are widely scattered throughout our country. Detroit used to be a famous enclave; Chicago still is. Anywhere there was hard work to be done under difficult circumstances, Poles were there.

I am noticing that the outpouring in America cuts across our usual polarized political boundaries. Events like this transcend those limits and we all become simply human beings grieving for this massive loss.

One can presume our president, who has whimsically blown off so many meetings and leaders during his short time in office, will actually go to Poland for the memorial service. It would be a wonderful gesture if he offered some up-to-date planes for the use of future Polish leadership. I realize that few can afford to fly around in American presidential luxury, but perhaps he could give something safer than the Tu-154s the Poles are currently using. Or perhaps the Russians will beat him to it?

It is times like this, looking at Air Force One (and AF Two, for lesser beings like the Vice-President and First Lady), one realizes how well they epitomize conspicuous consumption to the rest of the world. Will there ever come a time when such ‘perks’ are seen in their true light?

To all our readers in Poland, may your hearts be soothed by those who have gone before you, may your country find in this awful experience new unity and perseverance for the hard times ahead. May Maximilian Kolbe’s life be a comforting reminder that tragedy speaks ineffably to our hearts and sometimes it creates a phoenix of new life…

Though you walk through the valley of death, you do not walk alone. The world is with you.


Zenster said...

My heartfelt condolences to the Polish people. While visiting Gorlitz, Germany I made a point of straying across the border into Zgorzelec and a little beyond in order to meet people in Poland. Their congeniality was charming and gave me great hope for the future of their country.

It is hideous to think that some outdated Soviet Communist aircraft technology managed to reach out of its grave to smite Poland's leadership.

spackle said...

My heart goes out today to the Polish people. I am part Polish myself. It is truly a great country that had the misfortune to be geographically located where it is. I tried not too long ago to research my Polish roots but got stuck somewhere in the 1940s as almost all my Polish relatives died in the gas chambers. I hope to travel to Krakow one day as it looks truly beautiful. And they did give us Chopin too. Which is pretty dammed good in my book.

Unknown said...

Yes it is a great tragedy.I present also My heartfelt condolences to the Polish people.
lets hope that thisis nothing else but a human fault or mechanical fault.
The French president decided to upgrade the French counterpart of Air force one already a while back.
And to be honest i was shocked to read that Poland was still flying a Tu-154 as the presidential plane .

Anonymous said...

Poland's complete military high command eliminated:
1. Lt. General Bronisław KWIATKOWSKI - Polish Military Operational commander-in-chief

2. Lt General Pilot Andrzej BŁASIK Polish Air Force commander-in-chief

3. Major General Tadeusz BUK Polish Army commander-in-chief

4. Major General Włodzimierz POTASIŃSKI Polish Special Forces commander-in-chief

5. Vice Admiral Andrzej KARWETA Polish Navy commander-in-chief

6. Brigade General Kazimierz GILARSKI - Commander of Warsaw Garrison

As well as Stanisław KOMOROWSKI (Secretary of State in Ministry of Defence) and fifteen members of parliament. If I was a man leaning towards conspiracy theories, I'd say I couldn't imagine a more perfect decapitation scenario.

Dymphna said...

stratomunchkin --

Thanks for the listing...yes, I agree that the elimination of so many people makes it hard to accept as simply accident.

However, my understanding is that the pilot was urged to try another airport after his second or third attempt. Having known enough pilots to have some inkling of the bravado and...well, arrogance in that group (no, not all of them)

Perhaps this airport was the most convenient and was where they would be expecting a state reception.

Besides,the use of Occam's Razor is a good idea here. There is no simple explanation for Russia's involvement.

NOTE: stratomunchkin has opened the subject, but please don't derail the thread with stated suspicions re Russia. It won't be helpful or further the discussion.

The discussion is about Poland's loss.

Afonso Henriques said...

What to say? A disaster. But Poland will go on.

Concerning "Russian involvement", the news I got were that it was a clear accident but it is true that it "decapitated" the Poles. However, I don't believe Russia would do that.

Go on Poland!

costin said...

"Polish-Russian relations had been improving of late after being poisoned for decades over the Katyn massacre." (?)

Russia threatens nuclear attack on Poland over US missile shield deal

Russia threatened a nuclear strike against Poland after a landmark deal to site American global anti-missile shields in the country.

By Harry de Quetteville and Andrew Pierce
Published: 7:40PM BST 15 Aug 2008

<<Only 24 hours after the weapons agreement was signed Russia’s deputy chief of staff warned Poland “is exposing itself to a strike 100 per cent”.
General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said that any new US assets in Europe could come under Russian nuclear attack with his forces targeting “the allies of countries having nuclear weapons”.

He told Russia’s Interfax news agency: “By hosting these, Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 per cent certain. It becomes a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority.”
Russia’s nuclear rhetoric marks an intense new phase in the war of words over Georgia. The Caucasus conflict has spiralled into a Cold War style confrontation between Moscow and Washington in less than a week.

November 2009:

Russia 'simulates' nuclear attack on Poland

<<<b>Russia has provoked outrage in Poland by simulating an air and sea attack on the country during military exercises.

The armed forces are said to have carried out "war games" in which nuclear missiles were fired and troops practised an amphibious landing on the country's coast.
Documents obtained by Wprost, one of Poland's leading news magazines, said the exercise was carried out in conjunction with soldiers from Belarus.

The manoeuvres are thought to have been held in September and involved about 13,000 Russian and Belarusian troops.
Poland, which has strained relations with both countries, was cast as the "potential aggressor".
The documents state the exercises, code-named "West", were officially classified as "defensive" but many of the operations appeared to have an offensive nature.
The Russian air force practised using weapons from its nuclear arsenal, while in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which neighbours Poland, Red Army forces stormed a "Polish" beach and attacked a gas pipeline.
The operation also involved the simulated suppression of an uprising by a national minority in Belarus – the country has a significant Polish population which has a strained relationship with authoritarian government of Belarus

I dont think that the Russian had anything to do with it, but this is suits them very well...

costin said...

*"but this suits them very well..."

Rocha said...

It's just that hypocrites and damned politicians exist everywhere. A few years ago when Brazil got a new presidential plane these damn politicians cried out loud... They even named the plane "aerolula" (in reference to Lula our president) i supported the buying seeing that mere political oportunism made them act that way, now it looks like i was right. On the other way we could be without Lula.

Rocha said...

Now about the Polish Anthem.
A few years back when i was trying to learn polish (supporting my wife) i was "scared" by the nationalism the poles in the embassy showed (the classes are sponsored by the polish goverment), that kind of nationalism specially when singing the national anthem is a rare thing in Brazil.

When my teacher told me that i was considered pole now (being married to a etnic pole) i held back (being proud of being Brazilian and ethnic Portuguese) a bad answer. Even feeling myself an outsider in that class it was a beautiful to see so much pride in those people.

linbetwin said...

When my mother was in labor with me, she was taken to the hospital by our Polish neighbor, Mrs Stenkowski. She and her husband really loved me and I loved them too. They died of old age, many years ago. Our other next door neighbors were also Polish, Mr and Mrs Kososki. They had all come from Poland during WWII. Many Poles fled to Romania at that time, including the Polish government.

I am so saddened by this news. Cruel irony! 70 years after Katyn, 20 km away from the place where Stalin and Beria massacred the elite of the Polish army and society, Poland again loses a part of its military and political elites.

Leaving grief aside, I think questions will be raised over the next weeks over Lech Kaczyński's possible responsibility for this crash. Even though we shouldn't speak ill of the dead, it appears the Polish president threatened to dismiss another pilot in 2008 for refusing to land in Tbilisi, during the war between Georgia and Russia, despite safety warnings from the control tower.

This time it was dense fog on an airport without ILS! The pilot was advised to go to Moscow or Minsk, but he refused and tried three times to land before crashing the fourth time. Given the incident in Tbilisi, is it inconceivable that the President himself pressured the pilot to land in Smolensk? And how is it possible for a country to send so many of it's leaders on an old shoddy Tupolev plane?

"in late 2008 Kaczynski had suffered a couple of scares. Problems with the aircraft's steering mechanism delayed his departure from Mongolia, forcing him to take a charter flight to Tokyo. (...) However, the aircraft had recently undergone a major overhaul and Aleksey Gusev, the head of the maintenance plant that carried out the work, told Polish TV that it should not have had technical problems."

This is why a president shouldn't risk the leadership of his country for the sake of fiscal conservatism.

The delegation was so large that journalists had to take a separate plane. And there is a "survivor" of this crash:

An 89th passenger, presidential aide Zofia Kruszyńska-Gust, felt sick just before the trip and did not board the plane.

I can't imagine how the poor woman feels right now.

You can find all the details of the crash on Wikipedia.

Have courage, my northern neighbors, jeszcze Polska nie zginęła.

Homophobic Horse said...

Russia has taken responsibility for the plane crash.

BBC News

Alan in Kansas said...

Of course, there have been Kremlin assassination attempts in recent times; Yushchenko, the former President of Ukraine, and Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian critic of the Putin government! These poisonings were rather clumsy. But, a really good assassination WOULD look like an accident. Worthy of Stalin!

Félicie said...

Zenster: "It is hideous to think that some outdated Soviet Communist aircraft technology managed to reach out of its grave to smite Poland's leadership."

Zenster, your russophobia knows no bounds, does it? Now it's the Russkies fault because they palmed off on the Poles a defective airplane. And it doesn't matter that all preliminary reports say that this was the pilot's fault.

Anyway, this is a great tragedy. I empathize with the Polish people tonight.

History Snark said...

I'd be lying if my first thought wasn't about the likelihood of Russia committing such an act. But as many above have said, the cause here seems clear.

Years ago, as a student in History, I did a paper on the 1944 uprising of the Home Army. Going in, my expectation, and yes, my working thesis, was that the Red Army allowed the Poles to be massacred in order to "decapitate" Poland. However, I discovered that to be false. Before the uprising was launched, the Soviets warned that they would be unable to launch supporting attacks. The Polish government in London warned the commander about the risks, but gave him the freedom to make the final decision.

Sadly, I wonder if there isn't a trait in the Polish blood (one which I surely seem to have gotten from my Polish ancestors), which leads to Hubris. Perhaps some Poles believe that, having survived all that Russia and Germany have thrown at them over the centuries, they can survive almost anything.

Still a sad day for all Poles, and all of us Polish Americans.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing is just so sad. No, I do not think Russia did it (they would have nothing to gain and everything to lose), but it is still a terribly tragic event.

I did not agree with President Kaczynski on everything, but he held back on signing that stupid Lisbon Treaty and he was against Kosovo's independence. I respected him greatly for both of those things.

Zenster said...

Félicie: ... your russophobia knows no bounds, does it? Now it's the Russkies fault because they palmed off on the Poles a defective airplane.

No, I just have a very healthy aversion (as do many other world travelers), to flying in anything designed or built by Soviet era factories.

While this tragedy certainly appears to involve pilot error or an overly insistent head-of-state as passenger, I am still obliged to wonder if a different craft might have withstood such an impact better than the one involved.

Russian civilian air carrier Aeroflot soon will be flying almost exclusively Boeing and Airbus craft. Supposedly, it has nothing to do with the quality or design of Tupolev planes. Go figure.

Engineer-Poet said...

FYI, one of the most common root causes of fatal aircraft accidents (because almost no accidents have just one cause) is "continued flight into adverse conditions".

If the Polish president had an unrealistic view of what the pilots could safely do, it would be another contributing factor.  I suspect that the cockpit voice recording will be not unlike a horror film, where the disastrous outcome is obvious in retrospect.

1389 said...

Zenster, the Soviet Union that produced those aircraft so many years ago is not the same as modern-day Russia.

And the Russians warned the pilot to divert from that fog-bound airport, but the pilot refused to do so. I don't see how Russia should be blamed in any way for this.

Armance said...

I find it somehow amusing (as much as possible in these sad circumstances) to see how conspiracy nuts are eager to blame Putin and Russia for sabotage against the Polish dignitaries, for a tragic accident.
Equally amusing (in the same tragic circumstances) is the mourning of the Western media for the death of president Kaczynski.

Let's remember that the Western media, the liberals everywhere and the Euro-crats have called the Kaczynski brothers all the names in the book: from far-right to populists, from Catholic fundamentalists to demagogues, from provincial to ignorant. President Kaczynski had the guts to be first and foremost a Polish patriot, to the chagrin of his enemies - and I am afraid Putin was not exactly among the greatest of them. RIP

One_of_the_last_few_Patriots_left said...

Armance said: "President Kaczynski had the guts to be first and foremost a Polish patriot, to the chagrin of his enemies - and I am afraid Putin was not exactly among the greatest of them."

Hhmmmm....... an interesting point, Armance!

Since Putin is "ex" NKVD... ooops, I mean, "ex" KGB... the simplest conspiracy theory would have him decapitating the Polish government in order to "Finlandize" Poland.
But then, the EU(SSR) elites have no use for nationalist, patriotic East European leaders, either, and would love to see them "replaced" by transnationalist oligarch clones of themselves.

One_of_the_last_few_Patriots_left said...

One hesitates to speak ill of the dead, but was it wise to put so many high level government officials on a single obsolete Soviet built flying bucket-of-bolts?

My last trip to Poland to visit relatives was way back in 1991. I was scared out of my mind that we would be flying on some Soviet era deathtrap. In fact, I had seen pictures of some of their passenger airplanes and they looked like converted bombers that had been painted civilian colors (like putting lipstick on a pig.)

Fortunately, the Polish airline LOT had just purchased brand new Boeing 767's. Also the service and even the food were excellent! LOT was subsidized by the Polish government to earn hard currency (I don't know what the current arrangement is.)
Although that was some years ago, my experience with LOT was very positive.

Alan in Kansas said...

I used to know of a famous string quartet that always booked its members in pairs on two different flights, just so that in the event of an accident two players would survive and the quartet tradition could continue. It is hard to believe that the Polish leadership could have been so unwise as to put all the heads of state and top military on one flight! Very sad indeed, whatever the cause.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a relatively long post about this, but my laptop turned off so I won't rewrite it. I won't pity the economic situation of the Poles, considering they're the only European country with a sounder financial standing now than 2 years ago. They and the Czechs are one of the few sane Europeans. It's sad that the Polish president died considering I watched some of his speeches and he was a person I probably would have voted for.

The plane of my president is 38 years old and he wanted to get a new one but the parliament didn't approve due to a vendetta. Oh well, I hope he won't crash.

costin, I really don't get why the Poles don't get nukes too. It's quite funny that people either hate Russia for irrational reasons or love it and ignore it's imperalism.

Green Infidel said...

Baron, thank you for posting this. The condolences from all over the World is unprecedented, and very appreciated (even from those one would hardly expect, like Hugo Chavez).

A couple of days back I was near the presidential palace here in Warsaw. I say near because it was impossible to get through the crowd to the front of the palace itself. The sense of loss is immense, perhaps the only parallel being the death of Pope John Paul II. Even if the president was disliked by many (most) people while he was alive, everyone is now united in grief. There are few situations to unite Poles, but this is one of them.

This a sample of the mourning in Warsaw.

And here, the Polish students' way of commemorating the dead. (how would that fare in more culturally-enriched countries to the West?)