(Journalistic norms call for objectivity, but I will say flat-out here that this is an opinion commentary, and thus should not necessarily be taken as objective truth... These are merely observations, and of course anyone should feel free to agree or disagree as they please.)
Days after a fatal plane crash killed nearly 100 Polish political, military, and cultural community leaders, including the President and his wife, and two Chicago residents, the search for answers continues along with mourning.
Memorials across the world
In Poland, thousands gather at mass and candlelight vigils, lay wreaths, and pay their respects to their national leaders who died ironically en route to commemorate the murder during World War II of thousands of Polish officers at Katyn, not far from the crash site near Smolensk.
Chicago, boasting the largest community of Poles outside Warsaw itself, also bears witness to small signs of a nation's suffering, such as cars and homes adorned with Polish flags and a black ribbon, people wearing "Polish" or "Poland" shirts and jackets... things that usually are not seen until the weekend of the annual May 3rd Polish Constitution Day Parade. Then there are, of course, memorial masses at various locations across the city and surrounding areas.
That is a proper way to mourn, honor, and commemorate.
... and then the conspiracies
However, what is going on in some circles of the Polish community on both sides of the Atlantic is the spread of conspiracy theories... The main to threads of conspiracy seem to be:
- The Russians did it - Since Russia has never been a friend of Poland, of course they are behind the crash, and sabotaged either the technical or communication aspect of the failed landing attempt. Plus, Russia still has been reluctant at best to recognize the wartime Katyn murders as perpetrated by its political predecessor, the Soviet Union, and it has been a major point of contention between Warsaw and Poland. The fact that the President and many top leaders died on the way to commemorate the event could not be a coincidence...
The Prime Minister did it - President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk are from two opposing political parties that have struggled for control of Poland's political and economic future recently. The Speaker of the Parliament, who has become Acting President in accordance with the Constitution, is of the Prime Minister's party. How convenient...
No proof or basis for conspiracies
These conspiracy theories are an aberration and an insult to the memory of the crash victims, including the late President himself. As a Pole who is at least somewhat aware of the politics and economics of Poland, and a journalist who follows world politics and news developments daily, I am severely disappointed at the number of people that are flocking to these conspiracy theories, and academics and professionals who propagate such ideas should themselves feel ashamed.
Firstly, there is absolutely no proof that there was any sabotage or subterfuge by either the Russians or the Prime Minister's political allies. Such accusations, then, without presenting any credible evidence, are slanderous.
Also, there would be no political or diplomatic capital gained by either of the "accused"... there would be little for the Russian government to gain - it would be a huge diplomatic embarrassment for the Russian government to be found guilty of essentially assassinating a head of state. Kaczynski was one of the strongest allies of the U.S. among European leaders, and even Russia with its assertive diplomatic policies would not risk a complete breakdown with the U.S. by killing a close ally. International condemnation would also follow, and the President - perhaps even the Prime Minister - would have to resign and wave good-bye to any political career in the foreseeable future. Yes, "even in Russia."
Similarly, for the Prime Minister's party, if he were actually complicit in the crash, that would mean he - or his allies - committed a coup d'etat. Also, there will be early presidential elections in June, which might actually go in favor of the President's party because of a sympathy vote. The "acting" Presidency is in the hands of his party for only two months... so, again, the Prime Minister and his allies have nothing to gain and potentially everything to lose in the June vote.
Conspiracy-monging cheapens a national tragedy
Political profit or loss questions aside, however, the conspiracy-monging seems to be taken as a way to discover who's responsible for the tragedy and thus somehow bring them justice. However, it is not a healthy way to deal with the tragedy. It is not conducive to national or personal healing. Furthermore, it disgraces and taints the memory of those who died.
It only cheapens the tragedy and, sadly, may foreshadow what's to come in the coming presidential campaign - the tragedy may be used by certain groups or individuals to propagate their own agenda and assume the presidency.
It is not so different than what has been going on in the U.S., with the "birthers" claiming Barack Obama is not legally the President because he is not actually a citizen, or even natural-born citizen. Not as morbid, of course, but still, in my honest opinion, ridiculous.
Baseless, nonsensical conspiracies simply destroys the abiltiy of the nation and people of Poland to move on and honor the memory of those lost, and cheapens the tragedy that has been felt by Poles as far away as Chicago as well, and commented on with deep sorrow and respect by U.S. politicians from Mayor Daley to President Obama himself.
A comment I had made in my previous article on this event may be wrong, after all: if the conspiracy-mongers have their way, this may actually be the dirtiest presidential campaign in Polish history. I only hope for the sake of Polish internal and external relations, that that will not be the case.