Skip to main content

Analysis: Ramifications of crash on Polish politics

By Thair Shaikh, CNN
Mourners placed pictures Monday April 12 of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria outside their former Warsaw home.
Mourners placed pictures Monday April 12 of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria outside their former Warsaw home.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Loss of military chiefs more troubling than death of president, expert says
  • Polish president Lech Kaczynski killed Saturday in plane crash
  • Top military chiefs, deputy foreign minister, head of national bank also dead
  • Election must be held in 60 days, speculation Komorowski will be new president

(CNN) -- Experts say the deaths of senior military chiefs in Saturday's plane crash could have more serious implications for Poland than the loss of the country's president.

President Lech Kaczynski was killed Saturday when a plane carrying senior Polish officials on their way to a memorial service in Russia crashed at an airport in Smolensk.

Ninety-six people were killed including the president's wife, the deputy parliament speaker, the deputy foreign minister and the head of the National Bank of Poland.

"The entire top military brass, including the chief of defense and all the services, were on the plane," said Tomas Valasek, of the Center for European Reform. "If that is true, then you're looking at a situation, in effect, of the decapitation of the military services."

Biography: Lech Kaczynski

Among the military leaders confirmed dead are Aleksander Szczyglo, head of the National Security Office, Gen. Franciszek Gagor, head of the army chief of staff and Bishop Tadeusz Ploski, an army chaplain.

They were on their way to Russia for the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn.

While Kaczynski filled the country's highest post, Valasek said the government machinery needed to run the country remained intact.

"The government is in place... this is not a presidential system."

He added that any changes to the political landscape in Poland would be related to the forthcoming presidential elections.

Video: Polish president's body returned home
Video: Poland in mourning
Video: What type of plane carried Kaczynski?
RELATED TOPICS
  • Lech Kaczynski
  • Polish Politics
  • Russia
  • Europe

President Kaczynski, 60, had been due to stand for reelection, but he was unpopular and would probably have lost, according to experts.

"This is a political earthquake, a lot of leaders have perished, and first we have to let this moment of shock pass. But the reality is that the Kaczynskis [President Lech Kaczynski has an identical twin brother Jaroslaw] are not very popular in Poland," said Piotr Kaczynski, an analyst at the Center for European Policy Studies.

An election must be held within 60 days. Piotr Kaczynski -- who is not related to the president -- said the speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, who is now the acting president, will almost certainly be elected leader.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is popular in Poland, withdrew from the presidential elections three weeks ago.

Another important side-effect of the plane crash could be Polish-Russian relations.

James Sherr, head of Russia and Eurasia at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, said relations between the two countries were strained because of the continuing tensions over the massacre of tens of thousands of Polish people in during the 1940s and becasue of Poland's close relationship with the U.S.

At the time of the crash, Kaczynski had been traveling with his wife Maria and a high-level Polish delegation to Russia for the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn.

"Katyn has been the most difficult issue up to the present moment. Everyone in Poland knows that the Katyn massacre was a very small part of a systematic effort by Russians to get rid of a whole class of Polish people," said Sherr.

iReport: Poland in mourning

Sherr added that it would be good for relations between the two countries if there was an open and swift investigation into the crash.

On Saturday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appointed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to head an inquiry commission into the plane crash.

Russia admitted to the Katyn massacre in 1990, but will not release papers that could identify perpetrators in the massacre, said Sherr.

 
Quick Job Search