Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plane Crash: After Effects: The Memorial

I put off a long time writing about this for reasons I can't really explain.

I went to the Saturday memorial; Ogrod Saski was flooded with mourners and Plac Pilsudskiego was mostly taken up by official guests and the whole stage anyway. Scouts were everywhere, directing people; handing out water bottles from massive storage piles; later on, they help distribute communion. Ogrod Saski had a huge screen and speakers so the crowds could see the action. Warsaw banned the sale of alcohol until 6PM or something. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and it was one of the nicest days all week.
The crowd was somber and almost no one took pictures. The whole ceremony started out with the choir singing a baleful lament. Then came the listing of the names and titles of all those who had perished. There were speeches (I couldn't recognize who was speaking and I didn't understand what they had to say), plus a company commander ordering the troops about with a firing salute. Then came a Mass. Even the Polish Orthodox prelate was there with his funny hat and funny beard. There was an army of bishops with their funny miters and excellent getups.
I snagged one of the programs, which the scouts were handing out. In it was a selection from Kaczynski's speeches, a brief history of the Kaczynscy, and thoughts on Kaczynski from prominent leaders from around the globe. The very first blurb was from none other than the Pope, then Obama, Barroso—the President of the European Commission, Merkel, etc. One thing very noticeable about the order was that Sasakashvili was listed directly before Medvedev (a slight against Russia that I couldn't miss.)
The next day, I watched the funeral on TV, which was held in St. Mary's in Krakow. I was shocked at how much weight Jaroslaw had lost (he looked either terrible or in the best shape of his life—it depends on how you look at it.) There were more speeches and the walk down to the Wawel was very, very long. Then there was a blessing of the coffins in the Wawel Cathedral, and then they put them into the crypt. Apparently, Medvedev came for the funeral and left just as Saakashvili came for the blessing (perfectly timed.)

A scout distributing water.

The stage and some banners.

Giving communion.

Crowds in the Saxon Gardens.

Free water.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Plane Crash: After Effects: Memorial Plus Volcanic Ash

Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull (try saying that five times fast) has erupted, hurling plumes of ash into the sky. The ash has caused the cancellation of more than half of the EU's flights, and a great deal of transatlantic flight. The skies over Ireland, the UK, and Scandinavia have become virtual no-fly zones. Today, at around 9 AM, the cloud apparently nudged into Poland (near Szczecin.)
This ash plume is cause of some concern for Poland, since it may cause the cancellation of world leaders' plans to pay their respects to Kaczynscy on Sunday. The Poles were even mulling over delaying the funeral if Obama could not make it.
Volcanic ash is notorious in its ability to clog airplane engines (car engines have air filters, which make them less susceptible.) Mount St. Helen's eruption caused cancellations across the northwest, and volcanoes in Alaska routinely cause cancellations for Alaskan Airlines.

Volcanoes aside, there is still an uproar over the choice of the Wawel as a burial place. Facebook groups such as, I want to be buried at the Wawel, and, We Want a National Stadium Built on the Wawel (how retarded is that group?) have tens of thousands of members. The decision to bury them there basically came down to the Catholic Church, which usually throws its weight behind PiS, which in turn claims to be the party representing the Catholic Church. Oh, and I still don't care either way, but I think it's rather shameful the way that people are literally taking to the streets over this. Honestly, I think Kaczynscy being buried at the Wawel is a political move, and that it would be better if he was laid to rest in Powazki in Warsaw. Kaczynski was from Warsaw and probably should be laid to rest here as well. BUT, I can see that he might want to be buried in the Wawel. That's just my two cents.

Tomorrow, Saturday, there is a memorial for Lech Kaczynski at noon at Plac Pilsudskiego. There is a general prohibition of alcohol in Warsaw until 6 PM and all public transportation will be free. I'll be reporting on it and will write more about it tomorrow.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Plane Crash: After Effects: Lying in State

The decision to lay the Kaczynscy to rest in the Wawel has created a minor uproar in Poland. The Wawel is the castle compound overlooking the Kraków Old Town and the Vistula. It's the traditional burying place for Poland's Kings and national heroes. Pilsudski, Kosciuszko, and Mickiewicz lie in the Wawel's crypt. The Poles lobbied the Vatican for John Paul II's heart to be entombed in the Wawel, but were unsuccessful. So, one could understand why the Poles hold this place rather sacred, and have serious reserves to who is buried there. Many Poles say that Kaczynski (whose approval rating hovered around twenty percent when he died) may have been important to Poland, but not that important.
On Facebook, there has been an explosion of anti-burial-in-Wawel groups. I see that many have turned from mourning to anger and indignation. After all, does PiS think that Kaczynski was as important to Poland than Poland's nobility? Well, actually, Kaczynski probably deserves to be buried there more than some of the shitty kings do (the ones whose crummy reigns and ineptitude allowed Poland to shrink from the largest, most powerful state in Europe to a non-existent entity.) I'm not saying Kaczynski was a hero, saint, martyr, or anything, I'm just saying that they should probably be uprooting some sarcophagi before staging protests over whether or not he should be laid down there. To be perfectly frank, I honestly don't care that much (but then again, I'm not Polish, so my opinion on this matter is moot. (The bold text is on purpose, to emphasize.)) But I do understand the huge split in opinion and the feelings-running-high; it's a controversial move.

Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning flag Holy Cross Church

While this whole debate is raging on, the Kaczynscy are lying in state at the Presidential Palace. They are expected to be joined by Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last President of Poland in Exile. The Kaczynscy (plural of Kaczynski/a) will be buried on Sunday with many world leaders in attendance. I stated in an earlier post that I wouldn't have expected Obama to come, but apparently he will.
Yesterday, I sauntered over there, hoping to get in line and pay my respects. There was a small crowd in front of the castle (which has two huge screens running a live feed of the coffins.) The President's death has led to a deluge of nuns in public (there were always a lot in Warsaw, but I have noticed an increase of late.) They're everywhere! Mostly they walk around in small groups, but now, it seems, entire convents are hitting the streets in roving gangs.
I was searching to get in line, sifting through the crowd to find how I could gain entrance to the palace. It turns out that visitors are lumped into groups, which are let in one at a time to view to coffins.
Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning Kaczynscy sign Warsaw Warszawa
The forest of candles and crowd in front of the palace.

I began searching how to get into one of these groups, and started walking down Krakowskie Przedmiescie. As I walked, I was confronted with how enormous the line really was. There was a point where the segmented groups of visitors became one unbroken queue to enter the palace. At first I estimated I'd have to wait an hour in line; when I neared Plac Zamkowy (about a quarter of a mile away) I stretched that up to three hours; when I reached Plac Zamkowy, I figured on five-plus hours at least. By then, the line started snaking around and doubling in on itself (several times) and I couldn't even see where the end was. It was so confusing, with lines going in every sort of direction. I don't even think some of the lines were even connected into the main one, but rather were just lines of people going nowhere (how they started, is anyone's guess. It seems that a long line at the ice cream place might have been mistaken for the line to get into the palace and so being started filling behind it.) I decided to trash my plans to see the President and his wife lie in state. As I walked back down Krakowski Przedmiescie, a light rain fell. As mushrooms are apt to do in the fertile loam of the forest, thousands of umbrellas blossomed almost in unison.
Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning Kaczynscy Warsaw Warszawa Crowd Presidential Palace Krakowskie Przedmiescie lying in state funeral
The line in goes all the way down the street.

Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning Kaczynscy Warsaw Warszawa Crowd Presidential Palace Krakowskie Przedmiescie lying in state funeral queue
Umbrellas in the sprinkling.

Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning Kaczynscy Warsaw Warszawa Crowd Presidential Palace Krakowskie Przedmiescie lying in state funeral line queue
This 'crowd' of people, is actually one huge, twisted, curvy line.

Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning Kaczynscy Warsaw Warszawa Crowd Presidential Palace Krakowskie Przedmiescie lying in state funeral line queue Plac Zamkowy
A group near the front of the line awaits entry.

Along with the recently flooding of nuns to Warsaw's streets, an uptick in handkerchief-wearing scouts has also happened. The Presidential Palace is teeming with adorable youths wearing a variety of uniforms. Their uniforms range from the tradition 'Boy Scout' to the naval blues to some that look rather militaristic. The scouts light and place candles, remove the ones that are burned out, direct traffic and help control the crow, hand out water, or just stand guard. Their volunteerism has allowed the city of Warsaw to save thousands of zlotys by not having to pay overtime for extra police officers or hiring security guards.

Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning Kaczynscy Warsaw Warszawa Crowd Presidential Palace Krakowskie Przedmiescie lying in state funeral line queue scouts
A scout directs the foot traffic on Krakowskie Przedmiescie. We must respect her authoratay!

Poland President Lech Kaczynski mourning Kaczynscy Warsaw Warszawa Crowd Presidential Palace Krakowskie Przedmiescie lying in state funeral line queue scouts
Scouts take cover.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Plane Crash: After Effects: Conspiracy Theories

Today the First Lady of Poland's body returned to Warsaw to lay next to her husband at the Presidential Palace.

But, let's get on to fingering someone to blame for this giant fiasco. The victims are not even in the ground yet and the idiot-mills have been churning out the most ludicrous ideas about the whole plane crash. Some say the Russians did it, the Germans, Civic Platform, or even Law and Justice themselves. All of these people get too far ahead of themselves to really ask the question: Cui bono? Who benefits?
When looking at the case: no one. The Russians don't really benefit: their air control system and airplanes come out looking like junk, and it brings Katyn to full media attention, which Russia must then address. OK, the Polish archivist and the last president of the Polish Government in Exile are killed, but that really isn't a boon for Russia. The world already knew of Katyn and the Government in Exile was dissolved twenty years ago. It's not like the situation with Kremlin critic, Alexander Litvinenko, who was causing all sorts of problems for the Kremlin. I don't really understand how the Germans would benefit at all (there was something like PO was getting cozy with them or something.) As for the political parties, ugh, it's just too stupid to contemplate.
Why listen to facts and reasoning when it is easier to pull something straight out of your ass? It's like those moronic 9/11 Truthers and the even lamer 'Birthers'. People are not necessarily interested in the truth, which is often incomplete, they care more about a convenient 'complete' version of events. In fact, arguing with such people is an exercise in futility, since they can always revert to calling everything a coverup.
What conspiracy theorists fail to do is a benefit-risk analysis. As in, what are the potential rewards to be reaped, and what are the risks if the whole thing goes sour? What would the problems for Russia be if it came to be known that Russia had killed a foreign head of state and the head of the military? Well, probably not something the Kremlin could afford just yet. Certainly a great deal of foreign investment (which Russia is needing and craving) would be pulled out of the country, as happened in the 2008 Georgian War. (In fact, the whole war rather hurt Russia because of the economic warfare that the West did, i.e. pulling out investment.) There's no party or entity that would be able to risk this much for what little benefit there is to be reaped. Plus, I'm sure that whatever aim someone had to have all these people killed could have been reached by a far simpler, less lethal method (one that would be less titillating, but more effective.)
Sikorski! Everyone yells back to Sikorski (who died in a plane crash near Gibraltar.) Sikorski was also a potential threat to the Soviet Union with his aims of Polish nationalism (so were all the leaders of the Warsaw Uprising, who were also murdered by the Soviets.) Kaczynski was not exactly enemy number one for the Russians or a real threat (if he was Ukrainian, I'd give this scenario a little more weight.)
Even the deaths of those who were in the military (notably, all the heads) is no great win for a foreign power. Poland is still backed by NATO and all the generals' deputies have now stepped into their shoes. Poland learned its lesson with a 2008 plane crash that killed a lot of generals from the air force.

The investigation is far from being concluded, and the contents of the plane's data and voice recorders have not been released. Still, international aerospace experts have weighed in on the matter and proposed several reasonable causes (or mix thereof): pilot error, plane malfunction, weather factors, ground control error. The fact is that I do not know why that plane crashed; no one does just yet. We can all surmise and make guesses, but most people know nothing of airplanes and piloting, but they have seen a film or two with some convoluted plot with a sinister enemy pulling all the strings.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Plane Crash: After Effects: The Results

It is undeniable that Saturday's plane crash robbed Poland part of the cream of the Polish Government and military. Regardless of your opinions of those who died (and if you consider them the 'cream'), there were many high-ranking casualties in all areas of the Government. The numero uno of them all, Lech Kaczynski, will be laid to rest this coming Saturday. His body will lie in State on Tuesday for two days.
Krakowskie Przedmiescie Nowy Swiat candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying crowd
Krakowskie Przedmiescie has been turned into a pedestrian zone.

Yesterday, Sunday, the body of Kaczynski came back to Poland. A motorcade wound its way through the city and ended at the Presidential Palace. Personally, I missed the entire thing, not aware what was happening. I did hear the two blasts of sirens, one marking when the plane crashed, and the other at noon for a moment of silence. The remainders of the other victims are apparently still in Russia, awaiting identification before they are returned.
candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying Krakowskie Przedmiescie Nowy Swiat
A side street off Krakowskie Przedmiescie. A mourner lights and leaves a candle in the growing collection.

Poles have been noting the actions of Russia, particularly their prime minister and de facto tsar, Vladimir Putin. Putin declared himself head of the investigation into the incident, while sock puppet Medvedev, made a passionate speech. Russia declared a nation day of mourning and told relatives of the deceased that they could come to Moscow to identify the bodies and take them home, with Russia footing the bill.
This all comes at a crucial time for Russia, which has been rocked with a sour economy and protests, which have been violently quashed. The turmoil in Kyrgyzstan has been blamed on the Russian-back opposition. Recent bombings in Moscow leave questions to whether Russia can provide safety to things such as the 2014 Sochi Olympics, plus they bring unwanted attention on the horrific situation that still festers in the Caucus Region (something Russia would like to sweep under the rug if it could.) Russia stands to polish (pun intended) its image abroad as conciliatory, supportive, and sympathetic. I even heard that Russian state TV played the movie Katyn unedited.
candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
Remembrance candles burning in front of the Presidential Palace.

The investigation has not been concluded, but it seems that pilot error was the main reason. Many people question why so many VIPs were flying in one plane. The Polish Government had wanted to buy more newer planes for official use, but budget concerns made them think otherwise. It would not look good (especially in an election year) to buy a fleet of new planes while the rest of the world is in a recession. People still might remember Obama nixing a fleet of twenty-eight new helicopters (price tag: $11 billion) as something analogous.
Poland itself has been trying to trash its Soviet-built aircraft. It recently acquired a whole fleet of F-16s, with hopes of buying the JSF F-35 as well. LOT flies an almost-exclusive Boeing fleet (with some ATR and Embraer planes) and is the European launch customer for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It makes a point to advertise its Boeing fleet, and for a while boasted about the 787 on the front page of its website.

candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
A scout offers water to the crowd.

candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
A scout takes a mourner's candle to place it with the others.

candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
Part of the city of light in front of the Presidential Palace.

candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
Foreign TV personalities (the nearest one was French.)

Well, what I did head downtown yesterday, I was simply awestruck. It wasn't just the crush of people in front of the Presidential Palace or the seas of candles that were growing like some sort of amoeba or colony (or even that there were more roses than Valentine's Day); it was the sellers of such products. Well, there are always a LOT of flower sellers in Poland. They are at almost every subway stop. BUT, I didn't even know that Warsaw had this amount of candles on hand. They are all the church candles (you see them particularly in cemeteries) enclosed in red glass. Hawkers have pallets and pallets of them (plus, where did all the Polish flags come from? Who has this amount of paraphernalia on hand? Probably kept in storage in anticipation for the Euro Cup.)
Krakowskit Przedmiescie has been closed off to traffic (aside from government cars and police/emergency vehicles.) Crowds of people stream in both directions. The thickness of the crowd leads to some pushiness (I can still feel the hand of a dzialka on my left should blade has he essentially pushed me through the throng.) Even though there's a great mass of people, it's not as loud as one would think (I'm used to gatherings greater than forty people shouting "Yankees Suck!") Most people converse in hushed tones, leaving the crying of babies to ring clear.
In front of the Presidential Palace, the crowd was pressed tight. Some small tents covered TV crews and international media personalities. Bouquets were lashed to light poles, and a few ever-growing pools of candles dotted the streets. Directly in front of the Palace, tens of thousands of candles flickered. When a gust of breeze blew across them, it hit the crowd with a sooty warmth. Scouts kept the crowd a bay; when people brought up candles or flowers, they handed them to the scouts, who would place them amongst the ocean of light. Every so often, a scout would walk past handing out free water. Sometimes a scout would come with a trash bag and pick up all the extinguished candles, but this hardly made a dent in the great collection. Journalists and photographers held free reign and went about, unmolested by authorities, in search of epic and solemn shots. Those amongst the crowds touted their own high-priced equipment, snapping photos at every instance.
At Pilsudski Square, more oceans of candles lay around half-masted flags, the giant cross, and the Tomb of Unknown Soldier. The largest one was at the cross, where a few old women led the surrounding crowd in prayer, reciting Hail Marys (I think they were doing the whole rosary.)

candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
Some babci lead the crowd in prayer.

candles Poland Lech Kaczynski Warsaw Warszawa Mourners plane crash Poles Polish scouts funeral Presidential Palace Pilsudski prayer praying
Poles gather and reflect near the forest of candles.

The Poles expect a large amount of foreign heads of state and dignitaries to come to Warsaw for Lech Kaczynski's funeral. They even explicitly hoped for Obama's arrival (personally, I think just Biden will show up, but we'll see.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Plane Crash: After Effects: The First Few Hours

With the recent tragedy that has fallen upon Poland, the outpouring has been immediate. In downtown Warsaw, Polish flags are waving everywhere, each adorned with a black strip of mourning. In front of the Presidential Palace on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, a huge crowd of several thousand showed up. Piles of flowers and a small forest of candles flicker in the cold spring air.

The flags of Poland, the EU, and NATO fly at half-mast.

Flags of mourning fly everywhere.

…even from a sex shop.

I walked around to catch the general mood of the Poles in mourning. The people are quiet, barely talking above a whisper to themselves; some say prayers, others mutter to each other; a few brave souls sing hymns aloud, creating a ghostly sound as their voices waft over the crowd. The flower and candle sellers are doing a brisk business. Many people bring bouquets of tulips or roses to plant near the lions that guard the gates at the presidential palace. Others bring wreaths, scarves, or maybe just a single rose. As I said before, the mood was quiet and glum, but the amount of cameras is absolutely astonishing. Every other person is touting a big expensive SLR and snapping away with abandon; babci wave around their tiny Exilims, teens hold up their camera phones, and TV men shoulder massive TV cameras. A small armada of dish-adorned vans were parked in a neat row, with TV personalities grooming themselves before mobile spotlights.

I am curious as to whom these TV personalities are.

Guards march to-and-fro from the palace, while two scouts stand watch.

Some scouts near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before going to pay their respects.

I was approached by an Israeli journalist. He and his team were in Poland to cover the March of the Living on Monday. The March is a walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau and attracts thousands of Jews to Poland each year. We talked a bit, (he was very nice) and he was musing if it would lead to war (I said that it wouldn't; he didn't seem to seriously think that war was possible.) He brought up the 2006 invasion of Lebanon over two captured IDF soldiers; I pointed out that Poland wouldn't be dealing with Hezbollah, but rather Russia. A couple of others of his team came by and we chatted a bit before they left for food. I asked them what they thought of the Poles and they seemed to think the world of them, but they did note that they were 'cold' in their mourning.
The reporter from Israel (Haifa, to be exact, I believe he said.)

The crowd was swelling to enormous proportions (thousands and thousands.) A truck unloaded porta-potties (Toi Toi) while police cordoned off a small passageway into the palace. Cars with heavily tinted windows rolled by every-so-often, and the police habitually came by to push the crowd back. The police were polite and respectful (not angry or aggressive, as I've sometimes have seen.) No one was causing a ruckus.

Unloading toilets.

The crowd numbers in the thousands.

I shouldered up into the crowd, cameras were snapping off all around, and waited while the police opened up a passageway through the crowd. A few smartly-dressed soldiers marched in and out; every so often a car would drive either in or out of the palace; and finally, three men walked up to the crowd. The men drew reporters like a magnet drawing metal shavings; in an instant, they were swarmed with journalists shoving microphones near them and all the while sending off a storm of camera flashes. The man in the middle spoke a few words (none that I could hear) then headed back to the Palace with his menagerie of journalists in tow. A steady stream of press folk went to the palace entrance (under colonnade), where I presume there was an address of some sort. I didn't think quickly enough to whip out my Canon and try to make it in, but stood at the entrance a little longer. Regular people were allowed in on the far side, and exited on my side.

The media circus swarms around the Government men (I don't recognize them) for a brief announcement. (This sequence of photos takes place in about twenty seconds, to give you an idea.)

The supermarkets were packed. Crowds of people, much more than are usually there on Saturdays, are stocking up in case all the stores are closed on Sunday. A one-week period of mourning has been called, with a two-minute moment of silence at noon on Sunday.

Horns (sounding like air raid sirens) blasted for two minutes on Sunday at the time of the crash, and again at noon. They were to mark the passing of the President of Rzeczpospolita Polska and the nearly-100 other souls.

Some nuns (whom I had seen earlier at the palace) pray at the cross near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while a candle seller hawks his wares on Krakowskie Przedmiescie.

The forest of candles and flowers.