By Dmitry Babich
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who will attend the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski this weekend, will find himself in a strange company.
Some state leaders he will have to shake hands with in Krakow are highly critical of Russia, such as Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who vetoed a bill that would have allowed the destruction of the controversial WWII monument The Bronze Soldier, instead in 2007 ordering its removal from the city center, and Valdas Adamkus, a former Lithuanian president and political emigre from the Soviet era.
Thankfully, Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili so far has no plans to attend the funeral; he has paid his tributes to Kaczynski on Facebook.
Despite the somber occasion, Medvedev’s visit will be important in that it will be his first visit to Poland and a chance to understand our western neighbor better. He is visiting Poland at a difficult period of transition, as the country is preparing for an early presidential election.
Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, speaker of the Polish parliament, is currently consulting representatives of Poland’s largest parties on the date for the election. June 20, the last possible day, is most likely to be chosen.
The opposition parties Law and Justice (PiS) and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) lost their candidates, Lech Kaczynski and Jerzy Szmajdzinski, in the air crash and therefore need more time to collect signatures, nominate new candidates and conduct the election campaign.
Komorowski himself will run for the presidency on behalf of the ruling party Civic Platform. He was nominated after a poll of the party members, who chose him over Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.
The radical rightwing party Law and Justice, Civic Platform’s main rival, has not yet chosen its candidate. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of the late president, is known for his hot temper and was the “brains” behind the election campaign. “Mr. Chairman, your order has been fulfilled,” Lech Kaczynski told him by phone when his victory in the previous election was announced.
However, Jaroslaw is not a public politician and so not a preferred candidate. He is single and has no children, which is also a black mark against a politician in Catholic Poland. Moreover, the death of his twin brother has crushed him.
“No one dares talk with the chairman about politics until after the funeral,” a source in the party told the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
Russian-Polish relations have become warmer following the tragedy, but there are apparently no presidential candidates “suitable” to Russia. Therefore, it should tone down its aggressive style in relations with Poland and highlight common values instead. There are many such values, even though the West likes to speak about alleged Polish-Russian antagonism.
But each side can use their differences as a learning experience. For example, Russians are only just starting to use the Internet to pressure state officials and businessmen guilty of outrageous acts, such as an oligarch running over a pedestrian or an Interior Ministry official treating rudely a citizen who needs help. But Poles have long been doing this, encouraged by Poland’s press, radio and television.
Even the notorious Polish arrogance is nothing more than an extreme feeling of self-esteem and possibly even civic courage. It is rooted in the country’s past. There is a joke from the 16th century about a magnate telling a Polish gentleman at a congress of nobles that tackled political problems: “Shut up, you fool.” The gentleman responded: “I’m not a fool; I’m a respected citizen who elects kings in a state that is feared by tyrants.”
To be able to give such an answer is what many people in many countries dream about even now, in the 21st century.
President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, who died in a plane crash in Russia on April 10 together with 95 other people, are to be laid to rest on Sunday, April 18, in the Wawel Castle in Krakow.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti, where this article was first published.