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Interview: 'The Only Politically Acceptable Explanation Is To Blame Polish Pilots'


Parliament speaker and acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski

Parliament speaker and acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski

Twenty-two candidates are planning to participate in Polish presidential elections following the April 10 plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of members of the country's top military, political, and church elite. The candidates include the president's twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the former prime minister.

As the country reels from anger and shock over the crash, Poles are also facing the possibility of a shift toward warmer relations with Moscow once the country is under new leadership. Evidence of such a thaw could be seen in today's decision by Moscow to release a batch of previously sealed files related to the 1940 Katyn massacre.

RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Nino Gelashvili talked to political expert Przemyslaw Zurawski vel Grajewski of the Natolin European Center in Warsaw and the University of Lodz about the emerging political situation in Poland.

RFE/RL: April 10 must have been a very emotional day. What were you most worried about upon hearing about the crash?

Przemyslaw Zurawski vel Grajewski
Zurawski vel Grajewski:
Well, political stability is not the best word, but perhaps the political "balance" in Poland. Because even though there were politicians from all political camps who died in the crash, it was still the presidential camp -- connected to the Law and Justice Party -- that suffered the largest number of casualties. And this was the main party of opposition to the government's Civic Platform Party. Try to imagine 80 politicians from the U.S. Republican Party dying in a plane crash. That was the scale of the impact on the Polish political scene.

RFE/RL: How important was Lech Kaczynski in determining your country's domestic and foreign policy?

Zurawski vel Grajewski:
He was a public enemy of the government. So Poland is deeply divided now. This has been the situation for the past two years. The president was the official head of the minority camp. I stress the word "official" since the real operational head was his twin brother. And the president was the target of very cruel and, in my opinion, unjust attacks during his presidency.

On the other hand, his supporters think that he was the symbol of a policy based on the dignity of Poland -- Poland as a real independent country that has its own point of view and that respects the point of view of smaller neighbors from the region, and not only that of great powers from the West. So for his camp, and for me as well, he was the symbol of an independent position -- the subject, not the object, of Central and Eastern Europe in relations with France and Germany, as well as Russia.

RFE/RL: Current polls show the Civic Platform candidate Bronislaw Komorowski, the parliament speaker and acting president, with a strong lead over Jaroslaw Kaczynski. But those polls were conducted before Kaczynski formally declared his candidacy. The elections are in mid-June. Is it possible to predict an outcome for the vote at this point?

Zurawski vel Grajewski:
Every public poll that has been conducted in Poland since 1989 has proved to be wrong. They never guess the real result. I have no idea what the reality is right now. What I can say is that Komorowski was heavily criticized publicly for the speeches he gave during the period of mourning [following the crash]. They were very official and delivered without real sorrow. It was obvious that they weren't sincere.

But I don't think we can build any prognosis on that simple statement because a president is something more than a man who delivers speeches at funerals. There are two months ahead, and a lot depends on the results of the investigation of the origins of the crash.

RFE/RL: Are you hopeful the real cause of the crash will be uncovered?

Zurawski vel Grajewski:
By the Russians? Of course, no. Whether the Polish services are able to do that, since the crash took place on Russian territory, I don't know. What I can say is that the only politically acceptable explanation is to blame Polish pilots. Because any other explanation would be cause for a huge scandal.

It could have been a mistake by the Russian air-traffic controllers, or the crash of a Russian-produced and Russian-repaired plane, or a deliberate action by the Russians -- all three of these scenarios would cause a huge international scandal. So the only acceptable political explanation is to blame the Poles. I think this will be the result of the Russian investigation.

The late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, who also died in the crash
RFE/RL: Many people think Poland's relationship with Russia is going to change. Some say they will grow warmer, some say colder. Both of those views are now colored by the events of April 10. Do you see any potential for ties to improve?

Zurawski vel Grajewski:
There's an expectation among a large part of the Polish population that ties will improve. In my opinion, it's very naïve, but that's the way it is and that's part of our political reality. It's based on emotions. Ordinary Russians showed sympathy for our tragedy. On the other hand, we have to remember that there are real, tangible contradictions of interests between Poland and Russia. I mean contradictions in the energy dimension, contradictions as far as the future enlargement of NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine.

A lot depends on the Americans. If they maintain this "reset" policy with Russia, there will be no external power to support us. If we are too weak to oppose Russian interests, that could help reduce tensions. But the real reason for the reduction would be the fact that Russia was winning the game, not because the contradictions would disappear. Very few people speak publicly about this contradiction of political interests. The ones who could died in the crash.

RFE/RL: Do you think the Polish people care about the stance their future leader will take on Russia? Will it be an important election issue?

Zurawski vel Grajewski:
Yes, I think it will. But Poland is deeply divided on that. I mean, there are a lot of people who think that we are too small and too weak to act independently. We currently have no American support, and of course no support from the EU, which is governed by the pro-Russian Germany and France. So we can do nothing -- that's one point of view.

The other point of view -- represented by a minority, by the late president's camp -- is that we have no other choice but to defend our own interests in cooperation with our smaller partners in the region. But I think this political camp is on the retreat. It has suffered the worst casualties.

I'm afraid that this naïve point of view of relying on Western support will prevail and that we will try to "reset" our relations with Russia as well. And I'm afraid that Russia will play the way it played in 2006, with the Hungarians and the Czechs on one side and Poland on the other. At that time, the Czechs and Hungarians were good guys, and we were bad. Now, I think, we'll be chosen to be the good guys while the Baltic states will be the bad guys. And Poland won't be able to support Georgia as a state. The Polish state is paralyzed now. It will take a year, maybe two. ...It's a dangerous situation for all of us.

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