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Europe

Poland divided over plan to move Kaczynski cross

The death of President Lech Kaczynski and many of Poland's political elite in a plane crash united a nation in grief in April. Now, plans to move a memorial to the tragedy reveal Polish society's true fault lines.

Wooden cross

Plans to remove the cross have sparked a heated debate

Protesters loyal to the Poland's late President Lech Kaczynski are picketing Warsaw's presidential palace over plans by the new administration to move a cross dedicated to their political hero.

Nationalist and Roman Catholic protesters are demanding that the cross remain at the palace instead of being moved to a religious location.

Poland's President Elect Bronislaw Komorowski, who is to take office in August, wants the wooden cross moved first to a church in Warsaw's historic old town before going on to a shrine in southern Poland.

The presidential palace has agreed on the course of action along with the Roman Catholic Warsaw Diocese and a scout group that erected the cross soon after the air tragedy in April.

Kaczynski and his wife Maria were killed in an air crash in Russia last April along with 94 others - including much of the country's political elite.

In the months after the president's death, the cross became a shrine for those who valued Kaczynski's patriotism and Roman Catholic values.

It has been adorned with floral tributes and candles by visitors from across the country.

Disregarding Poland's tradition?

Acting president Bronislaw Komorowski

The election of Bronislaw Komorowski as president marks a change of direction

Opponents to its removal include the late president's identical twin, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who narrowly lost the snap presidential elections earlier in July.

"If President Komorowski does get rid of the cross then we'll all be able to see him in his true colors," said Kaczynski. "He has already demonstrated his disregard for Poland's historical tradition."

"The cross is a symbol not just of the late president but also of all the victims of the air disaster in which they lost their lives. Not until a monument is erected to honor them will it be possible to move the cross," Kaczynski said.

The row over the cross has also highlighted divisions between Roman Catholic groups and secularists, who felt Kaczynski was too close to the church.

Critics of Kaczynski also say that his nationalist and euroskeptic policies placed Poland on an isolationist course, straining relations with the European Union. Komorowski is expected to take the country in a more pro-European direction.

Commentators say Kaczynski is likely using the issue as a political weapon to gain support before the country's parliamentary elections in 2011.

President Lech Kaczynski

Kaczynski's policies were not universally liked

Divide within church

The church also appears split on the issue. Meddling with the affairs of state could have far-reaching implications for the church, according to Zbigniew Nosowski, editor of the liberal religious magazine Wiez.

"Polish bishops are divided. There are some bishops who support this type of thinking, they like this political stance, and others who are publicly critical. But since they haven't reached a common opinion, no move was made," he said.

"The biggest danger is that young people may identify the church's message with a closed way of thinking, which is a kind of besieged fortress. If problems last for too long and are not solved, the price has to be paid for it. And this price can be speeding secularization in Poland."

Meanwhile, Polish authorities have agreed to place a plaque in front of the presidential palace to honor all the 96 victims of the air disaster.

Author: Rafal Kiepuszewski /rc
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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