Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

EYE ON AFRICA

Court ruling expected on Gabon's contested election results

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Clinton's Comedy Turn

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Sarkozy's Populist Pivot, Bahamas Leaks, Syria Truce, Rome Olympic Bid (Part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

US Police Shootings: Race relations and the race to the White House (Part 1)

Read more

#TECH 24

Breaking the wall between technology and people

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Rural France: Challenges and opportunities

Read more

REPORTERS

Video: In Burma, ex-political prisoners struggle to return to normal life

Read more

ENCORE!

Xavier Dolan: Wunderkind of Québecquois cinema

Read more

FOCUS

The battle for UK Labour’s leadership

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

2016-09-23 UK

The battle for UK Labour’s leadership

D-Day is fast approaching for the embattled leader of Britain's Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn. Just a year ago, the election of this radical London MP brought about a sharp swing...

Read more

2016-09-22 Vietnam

Vietnam's communist regime embraces capitalism, foreign investment

Critics say it's a country ruled by a communist regime which stifles any kind of political opposition. On the other hand, Vietnam has chosen to embrace a market economy, and...

Read more

2016-09-21 corruption

Will Spain's anti-corruption pact help clean up politics?

Systemic corruption by politicians divides political parties in Spain. It's also one of the main causes of the current political impasse. Spain's conservative People's Party has...

Read more

2016-09-20 migrants

Video: Cooking workshops spring up at French migrant camp

Grande-Synthe, near the northern port of Dunkirk, is France's first refugee camp to meet international standards. It is currently home to almost 1,500 people, mainly asylum...

Read more

2016-09-19 France

Video: Living with the aftermath of Nice's terror attack

This year's Bastille Day will stay firmly in the minds of those who celebrated on Nice's Promenade des Anglais - but for all the wrong reasons: 86 people were killed, and scores...

Read more