Poles still divided over Russia crash five years on
Poles on Friday marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly plane crash in Russia that killed then president Lech Kaczynski and 95 officials, amid continued controversy over the causes.
With the May 10 presidential elections just around the corner and fresh leaks of cockpit transcripts, opposition politicians allege the accident was a political assassination the government is trying to hush up.
Polish military investigators have found no suggestion of foul play in the crash, which occurred in thick fog at a derelict military air strip in Smolensk, 360 kilometres (225 miles) southwest of Moscow.
Earlier this week transcripts of cockpit recordings leaked by local media pointed to superiors pressuring military pilots into making the risky landing in extremely bad weather.
Two competing memorial ceremonies took place Friday in Warsaw.
Outgoing centrist President Bronislaw Komorowski, expected to win a second term in May, and centre-right Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz paid tribute to the victims at the historic Powazki military cemetery.
Meanwhile, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of the president who died and leader of the official opposition, told thousands of supporters that “questions about (what happened) in Smolensk, must have priority”.
Kaczynski, who laid a floral wreath in front of a large cross of burning candles outside the presidential palace, has long insisted the crash was deliberate.
“The Polish state has failed the test” of managing its fallout and determining its causes, Kaczynski told the mostly elderly supporters of his conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, who also insist the crash was no accident despite there being no evidence to back the claim.
“It was an attack, for sure,” said Warsaw pensioner Stanislaw Kornaszewski, sporting a “Polish and proud” badge.
He alleges the centre-right coalition government of the time — and in power now — had been “set up by military intelligence on orders from Moscow.”
Opinion polls show that about 20 percent of Poles share that view, a figure that broadly reflects the number of PiS voters.
Andrzej Duda, the presidential candidate running on the PiS ticket, trails Komorowski significantly in opinion polls.
Memorial marches wound through Warsaw Friday, as an official state delegation visited the crash site.
The crash occurred as a state delegation including the central bank head and military chief of staff headed for memorial ceremonies in Russia’s Katyn forest for thousands of Polish army officers who were slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940, a massacre the Kremlin denied until 1990.