Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

BUSINESS DAILY

Austria to reward companies for hiring locals

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Macron takes his campaign to London

Read more

THE DEBATE

Rogue Nation: North Korea and the death of Kim Jong-Nam (part 1)

Read more

THE DEBATE

Rogue Nation: North Korea and the death of Kim Jong-Nam (part 2)

Read more

FOCUS

Migrant crisis: How Italy is training Libyan coast guards

Read more

ENCORE!

Slapstick, stunts and a sweet 'pas de deux' in the streets of Paris

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

'Turkey is the biggest jail for journalists in the world'

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'The Evolution of the Presidential Portrait'

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

A sweeter pill to swallow: Fillon unveils revamped healthcare policies

Read more

FOCUS

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

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

2017-02-21 Europe

Migrant crisis: How Italy is training Libyan coast guards

In a bid to crack down on human trafficking in the Mediterranean, the European Union and Libya are working together. As part of the EU's operation Sophia, officers in the Libyan...

Read more

2017-02-20 Americas

North Dakota: Sioux tribe stands firm against pipeline project

In the US state of North Dakota, members of the Sioux tribe of Standing Rock have been defying oil companies and authorities for several months. They want them to scrap a plan...

Read more

2017-02-17 Americas

A closer look at former Colombian president Uribe's murky past

Colombia recently reached a historic peace deal with FARC rebels, but that's not to everyone's liking. In parliament, the peace process has a strong adversary in Alvaro Uribe,...

Read more

2017-02-16 Americas

Islamophobia on the rise in Quebec

On January 29, six Muslims were shot dead at a mosque in Quebec City, Canada by a far-right extremist. But the shocking attack did not come as a complete surprise to the local...

Read more

2017-02-15 Poland

Polish military hit by exodus of top generals

US President Donald Trump complains that NATO members don't pay their way, but Poland is one of only five nations that does meet its commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on...

Read more