Poland on Monday observed the seventh anniversary of a plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 others, marking the day with wreath-laying ceremonies and prayers — and renewed suggestions from those in power that foul play was involved.
Poland’s ruling party, Law and Justice, is headed by Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has led regular commemorations of the tragedy and who still thinks many questions surrounding the crash need to be answered.
Kaczynski has questioned conclusions by Polish and Russian aviation experts who said the crash was an accident resulting from errors by the crew trying to land at the rudimentary airport in Smolensk in dense fog.
According to official investigations, the plane crashed after one wing broke when it clipped a tree while trying to land in poor visibility.
But doubters have put forth other theories, including that Russia, which has refused to return the wreckage and the plane’s flight recorders, might have placed a bomb on board the plane to assassinate a president that had been critical of the Kremlin.
Kaczynski and his supporters, most notably Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, have also heaped blame on Donald Tusk, the then-Polish prime minister who is now one of the European Union’s top officials.
Both Russia and Tusk have denounced the accusations as absurd.
A commission appointed by the government to re-investigate the crash presented preliminary findings Monday, suggesting there could have been an explosion on board before the plane crashed and repeating allegations that Russian air traffic controllers played a role in the disaster.
“Actions on the Russian side had to lead to the catastrophe,” the committee said in a film presentation.
In its presentation, the committee illustrated the experiments and simulations it used in recent months, all of which undermine the official findings.
Among its findings, the committee said the plane started to disintegrate before it hit the tree and that the loss of a wing’s tip could not have led to a crash. In addition, it said the spread of the debris and the burns on some of the bodies pointed “most probably” to an explosion from a bomb.
However, Maciej Lasek, who in 2010-2011 led the previous inquiry into the crash that concluded it was an accident, said there were no traces of explosives on the wreckage. He also noted that the voice recorder did not register any explosion.
Lasek, who was fired from his job as chief expert of air crashes last year by the current government, dismissed the present investigating team as a “group of amateurs” who were introducing “chaos, misunderstanding” or “conscious manipulation.”
Though the ruling party’s use of state bodies to pursue its theories on the crash appeals to its backers who are traditionally suspicious of Russia, many are critical and hundreds staged a protest in Warsaw in the evening.
“You have told these lies about Smolensk because these lies paved your way to power and to revenge,” Jaroslaw Kurski, the deputy editor of the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, wrote in a front-page article Monday addressed to Kaczynski and Macierewicz.
Speaking at the unveiling of a plaque at the prime minister’s chancellery to his brother and two other politicians who died with him, Kaczynski spoke of the deep divide between those who share his suspicions and those who don’t, describing an “explosion of evil” by his opponents.
Lech Kaczynski and a delegation of Poland’s political and military elite had been flying to Russia to pay tribute to some 22,000 Polish officers, prisoners of war, killed in the forest of Katyn and at other locations by the Soviet secret police during World War II.