Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

FOCUS

A day in the life of an Indian entrepreneur

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

US department store Sears faces possible closure

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Thomas Friedman on technology, Trump and the media

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Terror in Westminster'

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Internet users say 'we are not afraid' after Westminster attack

Read more

FOCUS

Pakistan faces water crisis

Read more

ENCORE!

Film show: 'Midwife', 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Girl Asleep'

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

The hidden collection: Iran exhibits contemporary art masterpieces

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

2017-03-23 Asia-pacific

A day in the life of an Indian entrepreneur

India is the world's fastest-growing major economy. With an annual growth rate of 7%, an emerging middle class and a thriving startup scene, the country is on track to become a...

Read more

2017-03-22 Asia-pacific

Pakistan faces water crisis

To mark World Water Day we head to Pakistan. According to the UN, the country's water crisis is becoming the most pressing issue of our times. Pakistan is the fourth-largest...

Read more

2017-03-21 France

World Down Syndrome Day: The fight to raise awareness

Today's Focus marks the World Down Syndrome Day, an annual global event that helps raise awareness about the syndrome and what it means to lead a life with it. In France alone,...

Read more

2017-03-20 Middle East

Caught in the crossfire: The human cost of the battle for Mosul

It's been one month since the Iraqi government launched its operation to retake western Mosul from the Islamic State group. The government says more than 180,000 people have fled...

Read more

2017-03-17 Europe

After Brexit, is Scotland heading for independence?

In Scotland, a second independence referendum could well be on the cards, and it is all due to Brexit: Scotland voted by 62% to remain in the EU in 2016. This week, Scottish...

Read more