17th Apr 2021

Opposition leader stirs up trouble for Polish EU presidency

  • The Smolensk crash deeply shocked Poland in April 2010 (Photo: Piotr Pawlowski)

Opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has depicted the Polish government as being grossly incompetent and dangerously close to Russia in its handling of the Smolensk tragedy.

A parliamentary committee dominated by Kaczynski MPs will on Thursday (30 June) publish a first draft of its report into the 2010 plane crash which claimed the life of Jaroslaw's brother, Lech, the then Polish president, and 95 officials and family members.

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The report conclusions - seen by EUobserver - speak of gross negligence and even hint at Polish collusion in a Russian plot to put the plane in danger and then to cover up what really happened.

It ultimately blames Russia for not closing the Smolensk airport despite thick fog.

But it also says Polish PM Donald Tusk gave Lech Kaczynski a faulty plane which had been tinkered with by a Russian firm with links to the Kremlin. It notes that a Polish spy arranged the ill-fated trip, which had low-level security. And it accuses Tusk of letting Russia destroy evidence and then of lying about it to press and to parliament.

"The intensity [of the disinformation campaign] and all that was linked to its wide dissemination shows an element of some kind of preparation," Jaroslaw Kaczynski said at a press conference in Warsaw on Wednesday.

The Kaczynski attack is aimed at scoring points in the Polish general election in October and comes at a sensitive moment for the Tusk administration.

The Smolensk findings are being released one day before Poland takes over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July. The Kaczynski press conference had simultaneous English translation and was web-streamed to a room in the European Parliament in Brussels, where Kaczynski MEPs invited every reporter in town.

Mateusz Kochanowski, a Kaczynski party spokesman in the EU assembly, told EUobserver the "publication of the report had nothing to do with the presidency." Kaczynski himself on the day wished the presidency success and said Poles should stand together in the international arena.

For their part, Polish officials say the report is part of normal democratic debate, which can in any country spill into international fora.

The Smolensk assault is not an isolated incident and Warsaw is not as nonchalant as it makes out, however.

When Kaczynski MEPs last week invited Roman Catholic radio-evangelist Tadeusz Rydzyk, a political ally, to the EU parliament, the priest said that Tusk's Poland is becoming an "uncivilised" and "totalitarian" country.

The Polish foreign ministry reacted by sending a note to the Vatican asking it to make sure, in the words of ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki, that "they will prevent these kinds of statements in future."

Speaking to the Polish parliament on Tuesday about the importance of the EU presidency to Poland in reputational terms, foreign minister Radek Sikorski said: "We are fully aware that every one of our mistakes, whether of substance or organisation, will be painfully visible and could have more important consequences than in normal times, outside the presidency, both for the reputation of Poland and our position vis-a-vis our European partners."

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