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.
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.
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.
A scout offers water to the crowd.
A scout takes a mourner's candle to place it with the others.
Part of the city of light in front of the Presidential Palace.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.)
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.)