Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

Provocative sculpture "unplugged"

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

'Flying coffins' in Ivory Coast and a rich Maltese couple rescuing migrants

Read more

FOCUS

London now the world's most expensive city

Read more

WEB NEWS

USA: Ebola Halloween costumes spark outrage online

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Jokowi: 'A new hope' for Indonesia

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Christophe de Margerie, a jovial and strategic boss

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Exiled family returns to Somaliland

Read more

DEBATE

Whose boots on the ground? Turkey wary of Syrian Kurds (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Whose boots on the ground? Turkey wary of Syrian Kurds

Read more

Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

FOCUS

FOCUS

Latest update : 2010-04-19

A country in mourning: Poles prepare to bury their President and First Lady

He was a divisive figure in life and has proved just as divisive in death. The funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria has been overshadowed by an argument over whether they should be buried in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, an honour usually reserved for past kings and national heroes. But the final decision has now been taken, and Wawel Cathedral will indeed be their final resting place.

Since Saturday, Poles have been flocking to the presidential palace in Warsaw in their tens of thousands. They stand, usually quietly, in the beating sun or drizzling rain. Some wait their turn to go inside and pay their last respects to Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria; some just come to lay flowers or candles.


There are so many candles now outside the presidential palace that you can feel their warmth as you walk down the street. And you can feel a certain warmth in the atmosphere, too, as Poles pull together in their grief.


But at the same time, cracks are starting to appear in the national unity the country has been displaying since Saturday’s terrible plane crash. The decision to bury the presidential couple at Wawel Cathedral in Kraków has sparked controversy. As demonstrators' banners put it, “Wawel is for Kings, Warsaw is for Presidents”.


Kaczynski will be the first president to be buried at the 14th-century cathedral in Poland’s former royal capital. It is not only kings who are buried there, but also heroes such as Josef Pilsudski, credited with regaining independence for Poland in 1918. Many do not feel that Kaczynski should be given such heroic treatment. “He died in a plane crash, that’s all,” said Patrice Gren at Wednesday’s demonstration in Warsaw. “He was not a popular president. This is ridiculous.”


To people like Edward Dulewicz of the conservative KPN organisation, on the other hand, the late President emphatically was a hero. “He will go down in Polish history because he fought against communism and totalitarianism,” says Dulewicz.


Some supporters of Kaczynski were even to be found among the demonstrators. The administrator of a Facebook page set up to organise protests – who did not wish to be named – was very keen to stress that “we bear him great respect and honour. It is not our idea to 'break the society' or cause any more problems than we already have.”


Among the victims of Saturday’s accident there are other heroes of the Poland struggle against communism and totalitarianism. Perhaps foremost among them is Anna Walentynowicz, godmother of the Solidarity movement in Gdansk. Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last President of the Polish government in exile, which met in London from the Second World War right up until 1989, was also on the plane. Poles lined the route of his funeral procession from the airport to the centre of Warsaw on Thursday, as they had done for Lech Kaczynski and his wife. “We’re burying the wrong president in Krakow – Kaczorowski is the one who should go to Wawel”, one remarked.

By Gulliver CRAGG

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2014-10-21 London

London now the world's most expensive city

Soaring property prices and spiralling living costs are nothing new in London. But the British capital has now officially knocked Hong Kong off the top perch for being the most...

Read more

2014-10-20 Turkey

Video: Turkey ‘turns blind eye’ to border-crossing jihadists

It’s a scene Turkish activist Sehbal Senyurt has grown accustomed to witnessing.

Read more

2014-10-17 Cameroon

Tackling the taboo of infertility in Cameroon

Infertility affects up to 30% of couples in Cameroon, a figure that's well above the worldwide average. This in a part of the world where the social pressure on women to have...

Read more

2014-10-16 China

Hong Kong: Beijing stifles any risk of protests spreading

In Hong Kong, the so-called "Umbrella Revolution" has entered its third week. Protesters continue to demand universal suffrage by demonstrating against the Chinese Communist...

Read more

2014-10-14 South Korea

South Korea's army: a proud institution under fire

In South Korea the issue of military service is in the news after a series of reports of bullying and even deaths among young recruits. President Park has promised a full...

Read more