News / Europe

Poland Mourns Death of Leaders, But Life Goes On



Poland is preparing for state funerals for President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, and is awaiting the repatriation of the bodies of many of its political and military elite - all killed in a plane crash in western Russia on Saturday.  Many Poles are slowly coming to grips with this tragedy.

More vigils and tributes - hundreds of people crowded into the Church of Saint Anna in central Warsaw for a special mass for those killed in the crash.

Many mourners young people, mostly students who earlier had marched silently through the city carrying Polish flags and pictures of the President and his wife.

This young woman, Katherine, says she came in tribute to the country's leaders and because the rector of her university was among those killed.

Nearly 100 people were aboard the flight from Warsaw to the western Russian city of Smolensk.  The plane crashed as it tried to land amid heavy fog, killing all onboard - President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and a delegation that included Poland's top military leaders as well as many political and cultural figures.

They were on their way to attend a memorial service to commemorate the murder of some 22,000 Polish military officers and civilians who were massacred by the Soviet Union's secret police during World War II.

Jacek Kucharczyk is President of the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw.  He says Saturday's plane crash has shocked the nation, but that it has not sparked a political crisis.

"I think that the reaction to this disaster was very quiet and peaceful, and people wanted to mourn the dead above their political views and how they evaluated the President and his party," said Jacek Kucharczyk. "There didn't seem to be any sense that the country is in a fragile situation that institutions aren't working."

As the Polish Constitution mandates, the speaker of parliament has taken on the role of interim president and new elections are to be scheduled within the next 2.5 months.

Meanwhile life is slowly returning to normal.  Shops are open; people are at work.  But many Poles are also asking questions such as why so many of the country's political leaders were traveling on one plane and why, if as Russian authorities say, the pilot ignored warnings against trying to land in poor weather conditions.

But for now many Poles are seeking comfort in candlelight vigils and in church services.  

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