Divisions – word that is representing what is embedded in the polish society for ages. Stateless in the XIX century, divided during world war o, occupied by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Poland was left on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain until 1989. This are just some episodes of the history that are haunting Poles and dividing the society between being more liberal or conservative.On April 10th, 2010, a Polish airplane, carrying a delegation of 96 people including Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, many military officers, MPs and other public figures was heading to an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. The aircraft crashed near the city of Smolensk, killing all people on board . The place of the accident is symbolic, due to the mass execution that happened there in 1940. Massacre was planned and order by Stalin and cost lives of dozens of thousands of Polish military officers.. After the plane crash in 2010, both Polish and Russian committee concluded, that the most likely cause of the accident was the pilots’ attempt to touch down despite heavy fog. From the very day of the plane crash some political groups in Poland claimed that what really happened was not an accident but a planned act of assassination. This claim were never confirmed, but fuelled conspiracy theories and became a ground of the new myth that brought a visible cleavage into the already divided Polish society.
Since October 2015, Poland is ruled by the conservative Law and Justice party lead by the late president’s twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Already in the election campaign Kaczynski and his colleagues promised to reveal the truth behind the events from April 2010. A investigation that was commissioned by Law and Justice party suggests the plane was probably destroyed by a mid-air explosion. The ones to blame are political rival of Kaczynski, former Polish Prime Minister and President of European Council- Donald Tusk who was accused of “abuse of trust in foreign relations”. Jaroslaw Kaczynski emphasizes that the society shall never forget what have happened, the victims are commemorated by numerous statues, memory boards and most interestingly by monthly commemorations that are happening in the capital city of Warsaw.
For 95th months already, a monthly remembrance march takes place on every 10th of the month. The march is supposed to honour the victims of the plane crash but also inform the society about the progress in the so called Smolensk investigation.The monthly gatherings are turning the one of the main streets of Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmieście into arena on the commemorations. The monthly commemorations are attended by supporters of Law and Justice, but also by people who are voicing concerns about the activities conducted by the previous government and the honesty of the investigation carried out by both Polish and Russian aviation committee. The plane crash issue is heavily politicized and used to fight the political opponents, which also motivated the anti-government groupings to get involved.
Once a month the capital is divided by barriers to separate the demonstrators and protect Jaroslaw Kaczynski during his monthly speech. All this happens under Polish flags and symbols, including catholic crosses and is often accompanied by collective prayers. The idea of betrayal of the Polish nation, that is surrender by the “unfriendly” others: Germany and Russia, but also by the traitors within the Polish nation can be felt around. This notion is very much embedded in the conservative, ethnic based idea of Polish nation and the feeling of endangered Polish identity.
On the other side of the fence, more liberal oriented protesters call for an end to a so-called “political campaign “and usage of the plane crash as a political weapon. Informal groups, as well as opposition parties are voicing a need to put to an end what they call a “Smolensk religion” and to recognize the findings of the international experts, who claim that the only reason for the plane crash was the bad weather conditions. Every month hundreds of police officers, sometimes coming from outside Warsaw region, take their positions along the street to divide the gatherings. Symbolically, sometimes they outnumber the protesters. The “Smolensk divide” is representing something more than just a different perception of the reasons of the plane crash, it represent an old cleavage in the Polish society that is based on different understanding of nation, national identity, geopolitics and the role of Poland in the united Europe.