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The Smolensk crash should be brought into the open
2011.04.11 / Annamaria Reinoso
TAGI: tragedia smoleńska MAK english page
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Trafalgar Square was decorated in red and white on Sunday. Polish flags were visible all over the square as hundreds of Poles gathered for a rally held to commemorate those who died in last year's Smolensk air crash. Organised by the PWWB and Klub Gazeta Polska, the rally also called for an international commission to investigate the crash, amidst concerns about how it has been handled by the Russian government.

As a British person, I found out about the rally and met Dr Marek Laskiewicz, head of the PWWB, earlier this year, through Polish friends of mine.

Dr Laskiewicz is a historian, economist, political scientist and chartered engineer, who grew up in London to Polish parents. He has been writing about the history and future of Poland and Russia for many years and is currently writing a book, ‘Smolensk’, about last year's crash.

When I first met him he told me that most Polish people are aware that Smolensk might not have been an accident. A minority, including himself, think it was an assassination; the majority, that there are questions. A significant number are unhappy with the way it has been investigated and reported in the media.

“There are many aspects of the air crash about which the media reports are quite simply false. The plane did not make four attempts to land: there is no evidence for this; instead the evidence shows one attempt, which the pilot tried to abort but strangely failed.”

Key details such as the fact that the plane and black box recorder haven't been returned to Poland, amongst other points, have become a cause of suspicion towards the Russian authorities. “The goal is to tell the truth, which is being deliberately stifled.” said Dr Laskiewicz.

These details formed two of the main points of his analysis, which he presented at the rally on Sunday. His analysis, he told me, is 'contrary to the official Russian one as supported by the Polish government and their media, and by the British media.'

Wanting to find out more I looked at what has been written by the UK media on Smolensk. What I found was that any suggestion that the crash may have been more than an accident has been largely dismissed as conspiracy theory. I asked Dr Laskiewicz what he made of that.

“Today, anyone who doesn't agree with what the government says is automatically called a conspiracy theorist. It's a blanket term now used simply to note that someone disagrees with the official story.”

“It should be noted that my analysis is based on official facts so cannot be simply dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Moreover history is full of at best questionable actions by States, which then try to cover up their actions, so sometimes an alternative analysis is actually true.”

Intrigued, I went to the rally to hear Dr Laskiewicz's analysis and to see what the Polish community made of it. The event was well-organised and presented some compelling arguments. There were strong words against Russia in Dr Laskiewicz's closing speech which was met by applause. He reiterated the point that Smolensk was 'not just a Polish problem, but a world problem'.

The audience was silent as Malgorzata Piotrowska, of Klub Gazeta Polska, spoke in Polish of how families of the victims of Smolensk still do not know what happened to their loved ones. My friend translated for me. 'No autopsies performed, no evidence of bodies – the coffins were sealed – no proper investigation. Because of this, time has not healed.' I found it moving to hear about the children who still do not know what happened to their parents.

After the rally, I went to meet Dr Laskiewicz again and to ask how he felt the rally went. He seemed happy with event but told me that turnout had not been as high as expected because a big Polish organisation in London had 'told people not to come'. 'You can say without a doubt that it cut out a minimum of 200 people.'

I asked Ms Piotrowska what she thought of Polish organisations discouraging people from attending the rally. 'They want to represent the whole Polish community but they did not plan anything for today. They said that they did not want to represent any political party. Our rally was about a tragedy, not politics. It was for the public.'

The rally lasted for about two hours. When the crowd started to disperse at around 4pm, I asked some people what they thought of the event. The overwhelming feeling was that there were not enough people threre. 'There are so many Poles in London. Where are they? asked Yola, 35.

'It's a sad fact that the Polish immigration is not united', said Gabriela, 49. She added, 'Many English people seem interested but most people don't know anything about it – people should be aware of the threat from Russia.'

I left Trafalgar Square feeling that the rally went well, the turnout could have been better but there were still 350-400 people there and they stayed until the end. I felt that both Dr Laskiewicz and Ms Piotrowska presented convincing arguments for a proper investigation. There is obviously a strong need for closure and to feel that the truth about the crash is brought out into the open, whatever that truth may be.

Regarding Smolensk, I am undecided about whether it was an accident or not, but I think an investigation that the Polish people are happy with is long overdue.

Annamaria Reinoso


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