Lech Kaczynski laid to rest next to kings

Article published on April 21, 2010
Article published on April 21, 2010
Images of mourning in Poland which circulated the international media revealed one quite unexpected crack. After Lech Kaczynski’s family chose Wawel Castle in Krakow to be the president's last resting place, many citizens were outraged. Can you imagine French president Nicolas Sarkozy being laid to rest next to Napoleon in the Invalides?
Or Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi finding peace in Rome’s Pantheon?

On 18 April, the fallen presidential couple Lech and Maria Kaczynski were buried neither in St John’s Cathedral in Warsaw nor at the family burial place, but in the royal Wawel Castle in Krakow. The decision, made by the surviving Kaczynski family, divided a population previously brought together in mourning. 'Powazki Cemetry* yes, Wawel no', 'Not at the Wawel', 'Kaczynski was no king' - these were some of the banners belonging to the over 500 people who gathered outside Krakow’s curia on the night of 17 April. 'I have been mourning the president and the other victims since [his death on] 10 April. I find it tragic,' says Barbara, a resident of Krakow who is part of the group. 'But to bury him at the Wawel, that I find excessive.' One young man added that he just did not fit in with the others buried there. The pictures from Krakow that night divided a Polish nation which had spent the previous few days in mourning.

Kaczynski: no king?

The Poles aren't sureOn the evening of 13 April it was announced that Kaczynski and his wife were to be buried at the royal castle in Krakow, Poland’s former capital. Funerals were held there regularly up until the seventeenth century. After then, exceptions were only made for the mortal remains of the most renowned leaders and poets: for example, national and Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz and the 'founding father of Polish independence' Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, who was buried in 1935. Other high-ranking politicians, such as the last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, and presidents of the interwar period, rest in Warsaw’s St John’s Cathedral. This rule, to the surprise of many Polish citizens, is now to be broken.

Since the plane crash near Smolensk, increasing speculations had been made as to where the president and his wife, as well as the 94 other victims of the disaster should be buried. The rumour mill undoubtedly saw speculation of possible locations in Warsaw: either St John’s Cathedral in the Old Town, where pre-war presidents in office lay; the newly built national temple of divine providence; or Powazki cemetery, the biggest cemetery in Warsaw where other illustrious Poles lie and where the Kaczynskis own a burial plot. The decision to bury the presidential couple in Krakow is reported to have been made by the Kaczynski family, in particular by the late president’s twin brother, Jaroslaw. Rumoured to be now standing for president, the other Kaczynski’s admiration for Marshal Jozef Pilsudski is well-known. Even Lech Kaczynski was fascinated by Pilsudski and often referred to him in his policies. Now he is to find peace in a crypt near the Marshal.

Should the name 'Lech Kaczynski' be mentioned next to prominent heroes?

Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow, said that Wawel Castle was the right burial place for Lech Kaczynski. 'The president died under extraordinary circumstances, one could call it heroically, as he flew to Katyn in order to honour Polish martyrs.' The Cardinal emphasised that, for this reason, the name Lech Kaczynski should be mentioned next to prominent Poles and recognised heroes. He hopes that this decision will further unite the Polish population. 'It is a symbolic honour for all of the victims of the disaster, as well as for the officers and all those who were murdered 70 years ago in Katyn,' said the ruling party Civic Platform delegate Jaroslaw Gowin. Straight after the burial site was announced, a number of critical voices emerged. 'It is a rather unfavourable idea,' judged philosopher Jan Hartman. Theologian and bishop Tadeusz Pieronek indicated that it was not just the family, but also the nation who should decide on the president’s funeral. The London-based last president of the Polish government-in-exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, who also died in the plane disaster in Russia aged 90, will be laid to rest in Warsaw. 'For me personally the matter is clear – heads of state are buried in the capital, and right now this is Warsaw,' said Pieronek. Further protests were announced in Krakow.

Funeral on Sunday 18 April 2010

Update: Before the ash cloud spill from a volcano in Iceland prevented flights in the European airspace from 15 April, politicians from all around the world had confirmed they would attend the official funeral of the presidential couple on 18 April, including: US president Barack Obama, German chancellor Angela Merkel, German federal president Horst Köhler, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, president of the European Commision José Manuel Barosso, president of the European council Herman Van Rompuy, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the presidents of Georgia, Estonia, Bulgaria, as well as representatives of other states. Russian president Dmitri Medvedev did make the event. A remembrance ceremony for all 96 victims was held in Warsaw the day before the funeral in Krakow. The mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, had said that she would ensure all interested parties be offered a space in Warsaw’s famous Powazki Cemetery

The author of this article, Agnieszka Hreczuk, is member of the German writer's correspondent network n-ost

Images: ©Piotr Pawłowski; ©Nick Lüthi/ both courtesy of Flickr