Protests Over Polish President's Final Resting Place

Throughout Polish state television's coverage of the plane crash that killed the country's president and 95 others on Saturday, there has been a graphic on the screen with a black ribbon and the words "Badzmy Razem," meaning "Let's Stick Together."

But Tuesday's announcement that President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria will be buried at Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, where several of Poland's kings and most famous historical figures are buried, has fractured the national unity that followed the crash.

VIDEO: Polish President Plane Crash
What Happened in Polish Plane's Cockpit?

"The final decision is that the most dignified place is Wawel, where he can rest together with those who have achieved so much for our fatherland kings, heroes, commanders," the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, declared Tuesday.

The decision was met with protests in Krakow, hundreds gathering late Tuesday night with banners reading "Not Krawkow, not Wawel," and "Is he really worth of the kings?"

Others took to Facebook, forming a group Tuesday called "NO to Kaczysnki's burial in Wawel," amassing over 30,000 members by Wednesday afternoon.

Emotions Run High Over Where to Bury Polish President

"Emotions are speaking for people," Edita Zalewa, a Warsaw lawyer, said. "I don't think he was one of the most honored people. There are so many places he could be buried. Leaving emotions aside, I don't think he should be buried there."

VIDEO: Plane Crash Kills Polish President and Many Others
Polish President Dies in Plane Crash

Kaczysnki was considered a controversial and divisive leader with polls showing approval ratings of around 20 percent at the time of his death. He was running for re-election but was widely expected to lose in October's election. However, Poles have prided themselves on the way the country has come together in the days following the crash, a unity now being threatened.

"Instead of having us united as long as possible, we have the first kind of real division which is unnecessary," political commentator Tomasz Lis told ABC News, adding that he hopes the country will move past the debate over Kaczysnki's final resting place soon in favor of more civil politics.

"To prolong the discussion will not change anything, it will only deepen the divide," he said about

But to many, Wawel is sacred ground, akin to London's Westminster Abbey. Oscar-winning film director Andrejz Wajda wrote an open letter published by one of Poland's biggest newspapers, calling the burial plans "misplaced." "President Lech Kaczynski was an ordinary and good man, but there is no reason for him to lie in the Wawel among the kings of Poland and Marshal Jozef Pilsudski," he said, referring to the founder of modern-day Poland.

Protests Over Polish President's Final Resting Place

Protests are planned again in Warsaw and Krakow for Wednesday night, a movement that appears to be gathering steam just days before several world leaders, including President Barack Obama, are set to arrive in Poland for the funeral.

"What's the difference between him and one of the kings who lived 300 years ago?" asked Monika Karkosza, an economist walking past one of the many memorials in central Warsaw. "He was fighting for our independence during the communist period. It's a proper place for him to be buried."

The deaths of the 96 people aboard the plane has been especially painful for Poles because they were on their way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre - when 22,000 Polish officers were murdered by the Soviet secret police considered one of the greatest tragedies in Polish history.

Kaczynski had long fought for recognition of the Katyn murders by Russia, this year Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the annual memorial, a sign that perhaps Russia-Poland relations are on the mend.

"Maybe this is something bigger than just him as a president," said Warsaw resident Anna Zaganska. "If he died in a normal situation I don't think he would be buried in Wawel."

" For Polish people the memory of Katyn is really unforgettable. In the next century, the next generation will be taught about this at Kaczynski's grave, so maybe it's a good decision," Zagansk added.

On a cold and overcast Wednesday, there were reports that the line snaking out of the presidential palace to see the Kaczynskis' lying in state was up to eight hours long. Mourners will be able to pay their respects around the clock until this weekend and the official period of mourning has been extended until Sunday night.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10374781. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10374781. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10374781.
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...