News / Europe

Poland Prepares for State Funeral Amid Dispute About Burial Site

Poland is preparing to bury President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and 94 other prominent military officials and civilians killed in a plane crash last Saturday in western Russia.  But, some people object to the burial site chosen for the late president.   

Poland is in mourning.  In Warsaw, preparations are underway for a memorial service on Saturday for all those killed in the crash.

A state funeral is planned Sunday for President Lech Kaczynski and the first lady.  A number of world leaders are expected to attend, including U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of Russia, France and Germany.

But the location of the burial that is stirring controversy.  Wawel Cathedral in the southern city, Krakow, is the traditional burial site of Polish kings and national heroes.  Some Poles say, although they mourn the death of President Kaczynski, they do not believe he falls into that category.

Hundreds of people have demonstrated in Krakow to make that point.  In Warsaw, a smaller crowd of several dozen mostly young people gathered late Wednesday with a similar message.

Speaking with VOA, protest organizer Martina Schultz explained why she posted an Internet petition against the burial.

She says we think President Kaczynski should be buried in Warsaw not at Wawel.  I am not talking about his achievements, she says, I am not trying to diminish them, I tried to write the petition so as not to hurt anyone's feelings."  

Shultz says she believes the decision to bury President Kaczynski at Wawel was taken in haste and under emotional stress and not considered properly.

She says 10,000 people have signed the petition and another 35,000 have signed it on Facebook.  And, she says the protests would continue.

Polish officials say the burial site was chosen by leaders of the Catholic Church and the Kaczynski family, which include the late president's twin brother Jaroslaw, the leader of Poland's opposition.

Magdalena, 18, says she came to the protest meeting to express her feelings, even though she believes it is too late to change burial plans.

At one point she says "I may be young, but I know what I think and can say it."  She says she believes people's emotions of grief are being manipulated.

Those sentiments are not likely to hold sway with the many thousands who have lined up in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw to file past the coffins of the president and first lady lying in state inside.

Krzysztof is with a delegation of coal miners, who have come from near the city of Katowice in southern Poland.

He recalls that President Kaczynski came to the mining area on several occasions, he respected the president and he says it would be inappropriate not to be here to pay tribute.

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