Sunday, April 18, 2010

As Poland Mourns, Ice May Be Melting With Russia

CNN: Grieving Poland Eyes June Vote for New President
NY Times: Kaczynski Often a Source of Tension Within E.U.
Newsweek: What’s Next for Poland?
Reuters: Poles Bury Kaczynski, Eye Better Ties with Russia

Lech Kaczynski, 60-year old Polish President, his wife Maria, and 94 others died suddenly this week as their Russian-built plane crashed in the western Russian city of Smolensk in dangerous fog. The travel group, which also included top military commanders, central banking officials, and Catholic clergy, had been traveling to Russia to remember the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish officers during a battle in the Katyn Forest in western Russia. The city and story of Katyn is a significant element of Polish history during the Second World War, when Joseph Stalin and his army killed 20,000 Polish officers to eliminate political opposition.

For a long time, Russian leaders attempted mitigate or hide Russia’s true involvement in the event, but with the fall of communism in the late 1980s also came a partial, and some say half-hearted admission of Stalin’s participation in the murders. More recently, in an effort to rebuild Russian-Polish relations, Vladimir Putin and Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Katyn together where Putin more fully admitted, but also justified the crimes, leaving Poles somewhat dissatisfied. The tragedy that followed days after this latest meeting seems to have had a warming effect on the two nations’ war-tattered relations. Vladimir Putin, Russian Prime Minister, and Dmitry Medvedev, Russian President, have extended sympathy and condolences to the Polish nation and victims’ family members as the two countries try to determine the cause of the crash and what comes next.

Closure will not come easy for the Polish nation or surviving relatives, including Kaczynski's idential twin brother Jaroslaw, chairman of the conservative Law and Justice Party. President Kaczynski and his wife were laid to rest this weekend with fewer guests than expected as the result of an Icelandic volcano eruption this week. The eruption sent a cloud of ash into the air over Europe, putting a ground stop on all air travel within the region and preventing heads of state from all over the world from attending the funeral. The date for a Polish election selecting Kaczynski’s successor will be announced this week. Poland’s election was originally scheduled for June, but Poles anticipate the election will be held sometime mid-June because Poland’s constitution calls for an election to be held with 60 days of an acting president’s death.

Discussion Question:

Could EU economic distress caused by PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) nations help revive an economic alliance between former Warsaw Pact countries?

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