Mourning Kaczynski

The Polish people are burying a leader of uncommon integrity, especially against the background of unabated and unabashed cynicism worldwide.

April 17, 2010 19:19
3 minute read.
Poland's President Lech Kaczynski

Lech Kaczynski 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Genuine affection is almost nonexistent in international affairs. What motivates nations to bond is more often than not an affinity of interests.

This fact of geopolitical life a priori deprives small beleaguered Israel of allies. Lech Kaczynski, Poland’s deceased president, who is being laid to rest today, was a noteworthy exception to the rule.

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When the plane carrying him, his wife and 87 other prominent politicians and high-ranking military officers crashed near Smolensk on April 10, Israel lost a rare and sincere friend. The fact that we aren’t spoiled for friends makes Poland’s tragedy all the more painful for us.

We know that the Polish people today are burying a leader of uncommon integrity, especially against the background of unabated and unabashed cynicism worldwide. Although fellow Europeans exude shortsighted self-interest and haughty arrogance toward Israel’s existential struggle, Kaczynski never subscribed to the prevalent penchant for Israel-bashing.

It’s easy to write this off as having been the self-interested  policy of the country on whose soil the Holocaust’s greatest bloodletting occurred and whose history bristles with anti-Semitism. Poland has every reason to rehabilitate its image as it integrates in the EU.

However, neighbors like Belarus, the Ukraine and the Baltic states – all traditional bastions of ingrained Judeo-phobia – have evinced none of the profound sympathy and empathy which Kaczynski had displayed toward Israel.

There was no political forum where Kaczynski would not go out of his way to speak up for Israel and aid its cause. This was above and beyond what could even be expected from a well-disposed head of state.

Kaczynski had made it a point to gain proficiency in Jewish history. Those who knew him were struck by his familiarity with the Israeli scene. And they did not come away from their contacts with him with the sense that his interest in Jews and their state was artificial or tactical.

Indeed, his pro-Israel stance can be seen as another aspect of his refusal to run with the herd. Uncommonly on the global stage, Kaczynski opted for what he considered to be just, rather than what might be opportune. This made him a thorn, in particular, in the side of Russia – no less than the Kyrgyz president whom Moscow recently helped depose, or Georgia, which Russia crushed in 2008.

Kaczynski took on corruption in post-Communist Poland, the Catholic Church and the EU Constitutional Treaty, but most of all, he clashed with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin. Kaczynski supported American action in Iraq, sent Polish troops to Afghanistan and sided with Georgia.

It was no surprise, therefore, that Putin didn’t want Kaczynski at the memorial to the Soviet-perpetrated Katyn massacre and pointedly invited only Kaczynski’s rival, Polish Premier Donald Tusk. Kaczynski was thus flying to Katyn uninvited, making his death en route especially poignant, indeed almost symbolic.

More than anything in a long history of adversity, Katyn marks a horrendous nadir in Russo-Polish relations.

In March 1940, nearly 22,000 Poles were executed on Stalin’s direct orders, thousands of them shot into ditches at the Katyn forest. Erased in one deliberate stroke was most of Poland’s upper crust.

The victims included half of Poland’s officer-corps (including 14 generals), captured when the Soviets co-invaded Poland with Nazi Germany (under the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact), as well as pilots, landowners, public officials, physicians, lawyers, engineers, journalists, writers, teachers and refugees who fled the Germans. Many of the dead were Jews.

For decades, the Soviets blamed the Nazis for the slaughter until in 1990 they admitted responsibility. Over the next two years, then-president Boris Yeltsin released official documents bearing signed orders to execute over 25,000 Poles then in Soviet POW camps or otherwise under Soviet jurisdiction.

Foremost, Katyn remains a dreadful reminder of treachery in international relations. The infinitely more bloodstained Germans made hypocritical hay of the butchery while the guilty Soviets had no compunctions about pinning their crimes on others. To some extent, though in different guises, this kind of perfidy still remains rife, and Israel gets much of the flak.

We will remember Kaczynski as an exceptional player on the world stage. He persevered against the odds in resisting the forces of duplicity which expediently and maddeningly persist to claim the moral high ground.

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