Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE INTERVIEW

Exclusive: Erdogan to rid institutions of ‘separatist cancer’ after coup attempt

Read more

ENCORE!

The best of summer music festivals in France

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Going for gold: French athletes train for Rio Olympics

Read more

#TECH 24

Digital beauty

Read more

FOCUS

Women doctors in Pakistan challenge the status quo

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Trump hopes to reset America's trade relations

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Donald Trump's speech was just another scam'

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Cazeneuve at the heart of Nice security controversy

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

South Africa: Prosecutors seek longer sentence for Oscar Pistorius

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

2016-07-22 Pakistan

Women doctors in Pakistan challenge the status quo

While the majority of medical students in Pakistan are women, the workforce is largely made up of men, leading to an overall shortage of doctors in the country. The reason is...

Read more

2016-07-21 World War I

Bomb disposal experts comb World War I battlefields, one century on

In recent months, ceremonies have been held to mark the centenary of major World War One battles at Verdun and the Somme in northern France. Hundreds of thousands of men were...

Read more

2016-07-20 Mozambique

Mozambique's reputation tarnished by hidden debt scandal

A massive hidden debt scandal has tarnished Mozambique’s reputation with the international business community. In April, the southeastern African nation acknowledged that it had...

Read more

2016-07-19 US Presidential Election 2016

US presidential election: Muslim voters determined to make their voices heard

After Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States, the country's Muslim minority has found itself in the spotlight. Muslims...

Read more

2016-07-18 Iran

One year after Iran nuclear deal, economic benefits slow to materialise

It has been one year since Iran reached a landmark deal with world powers on limiting its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international sanctions. But most Iranians...

Read more