There are a few aspects of this disaster that deserve further exploration at a later date, however, the question of whether President Kaczyński (and his wife) should be buried in Wawel Cathedral is, judging by reactions, something we should cover immediately. Furthermore, this is definitely an area where we foreigners need help to be able to better understand the feelings behind the reactions.
My wife and I were discussing the burial yesterday and the only options we settled on were:
- Powąski Cemetery – where numerous illustrious Poles rest including composer Stanislaw Moniuszko, pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, Noble-prize winner Wladyslaw Reymont, film director Krzysztof Kieslowski, actor Tadeusz Lomnicki.
- Warsaw Cathedral – which houses the likes of the last Polish monarch Stanislaw August Poniatowski, presidents of Poland Gabriel Narutowicz and Ignacy Moscicki and renowned Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz.
- A more private location perhaps previously instructed by the family.
- A specially created tomb that would somehow provide a collective resting place for all of the victims of this crash but with special attention given to the President & his wife.
Wawel, which boasts undoubtedly the strongest collection of tombs every one being a truly legendary Pole, did not make our list. I did actually think of mentioning it but decided not to as I’d only get one of those “you just don’t understand” looks. The inference being I suppose that we didn’t consider such treatment was appropriate in this case. I think in our mind, burial at Wawel would have been entirely appropriate for Pope John Paul II, for example, had he returned home but in general it would need to be someone of that stature to justify it.
It is therefore fair to say that yesterday’s news that they are to be buried at Wawel came as something of a surprise and it appears that we are not alone. Also rather surprising is the news that the late President’s twin-brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his daughter Marta were given a free choice of three locations – Wawel, Powązki & Warsaw Cathedral – and not unexpectedly chose the first option. I’d do the same given the choice and the power to decide, we probably all would.
I think therefore it is fair to ask why this decision has been made, or perhaps more accurately to ask why Wawel was on the short-list of options from which the family could choose? Furthermore to wonder whether, for example, the family of Lech Walęsa or Aleksander Kwaśniewski will be given the same freedom of choice when the time comes?
In trying to understand this I’ve jotted down a few possibilities for either the decision or for the reaction it is causing (in no particular order):
- Warsaw-Krakow rivalry – is there as much questioning of this decision in Krakow as there is in Warsaw?
- Logistics – I’m struggling to imagine how Obama and all the other assembled dignitaries would work their way through Powąski’s narrow alleys or even the streets of the old town, especially with the attending media and public.
- Showing off – it’s not often Poland gets this much publicity, the world will be watching for the people that are attending let alone the people being laid to rest. How can Poland give the world the best impression?
- Confusion – this doesn’t happen often, in fact it’s never happened before so is there an element of just not having any better ideas and not having any preordained plan for such occasions either in terms of where to bury people or to know who or which committee makes such decisions?
- Sympathy – who can blame anyone for displaying a lot of this at the moment, in the heat of this moment but could this lead to a case of “bury in haste, repent at leisure”?
- Inconsistency – is it possible to form any conclusions about who should be buried where based on who is already buried where? Has there been any kind of consistent approach in the past or is it just a big mess?
- Expediency – there needs to be a burial soon and Wawel is the only place able to deal with that at short notice.
I have a lot of questions, I don’t have any answers and I’m not qualified to be providing them anyway. There are going to be one hell of a lot of Polish citizens somewhere in the range between slightly miffed and downright furious about this decision so I think it would be very prudent of whoever has to explain it (if anyone feels that should be done) to have a clear answer that covers not only the present situation but also the past and future. This is not a decision that should be made for matters of short term expediency, this is history we’re dealing with and as far as I can tell this stuff has very strong currents. Poles love their heroes, their kings, their illustrious forefathers it’s in the blood and I think they/you take this stuff extremely seriously. It’s absolutely crucial, I believe, in the absence of any clearly laid down official protocol (if there is one and it is being followed then this post is pointless!) that a large majority of the population are 100% behind this decision, that the nation feels that it has made this decision or at the very least feels that those that have made the decision have made the right one. The people must collectively agree that President Kaczyński is suitably qualified to be treated in such a way. It is essential that Poles for centuries to come can walk around Wawel Cathedral with the same sense of pride as they have today. Or a greater one, of course.
I should add that the response I’ve had from many people this morning starts with “Why are you interested?”, meaning it is a personal matter and not for discussion. This is then followed up by a general feeling that they would not make the same decision but will respect the family’s wishes.