Streetwise Professor

April 10, 2010

Irony in Tragedy

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 4:44 pm

The death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, along with his wife and a large number of Poland’s political and economic elite, is replete with irony.  A Polish patriot, deeply suspicious of Russia and intent on freeing his country (and the wider region) from Russian domination, he died in a Russian aircraft built by the successor to the Soviet Tupolev design bureau while landing in Russia to commemorate the deaths of over 20,000 Poles at Soviet hands in Katyn. Poland and Russia, still inextricably intertwined, and almost never in a happy way.

The Tupolev TU-154 aircraft which crashed has the world’s most appalling accident record, but initial reports suggest pilot error rather than mechanical failure was responsible.  That said, the unseemly haste with which the local Russian officials in Smolensk immediately laid the blame on the pilot does not inspire confidence that the crash inquiry will be thorough and objective.  A joint Polish-Russian team should perform any investigation.  Russia should welcome Polish participation; given Kaczynski’s implacable opposition to Russia, his antagonism with Putin (who had pointedly invited Polish PM Tusk rather than Kaczynski to attend the Katyn commemoration), and the longstanding suspicions of Russia within Poland, conditions are ripe for conspiracy theories.  That’s the last thing anyone needs right now.

Kaczynski’s death does not come at an opportune time.  (No, death never does, but there are some times that are less opportune than others.)  Russian truculence, American and European fecklessness, and economic turmoil, added to the weight of centuries of history, have made a volatile region even more so.  Although Kaczynski’s post was a ceremonial one, his passing, and the deaths of so many top Polish officials, will inject uncertainty into the country’s politics.  And more uncertainty is not what Eastern Europe, and the world, need right now.

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  1. The Tupolev TU-154 aircraft which crashed has the world’s most appalling accident record…
    Just curious. Can you provide your source? According to wiki, TU 154 is as good as Boeing 727.

    Comment by boba — April 10, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  2. Its mechanical safety record is average. Unfortunately it’s the most common Russian airliner, and happens to be shot down, blown up, hijacked a tad too often. This casts a pall on the whole Russian aviation industry (or what’s left of it). BTW, Smolensk was a scene of much to and fro between Poland and Russia back in the day. Smolensk has the biggest Kremlin in Russia. The dark jokes have already started: “controller’s name is Susanin”, “Putin planted that tree as a boy”, “Russian plane could not bear so many Russophobes”, “If you sit by the river long enough, you will see your enemy’s Tu-154 fly by”…

    Comment by So? — April 10, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

  3. You’re an idiot.
    That’s a very powerful argument. But still it doesn’t show that Tu154 “has the world’s most appalling accident record”. Anything that can show that should involve some numbers. Do you agree? For example, from your wiki reference:

    Tu 154: There have been 66 serious flight incidents with Tu-154s, including 37 hull-losses with human fatalities. Number built: 1015

    Boeing 727: 110 hull-loss accidents resulting in a total of 3,704 fatalities. Number built: 1,832

    Statistically, they look quite similar.

    Comment by boba — April 10, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

  4. Where is LaR to resolve this dispute?

    Comment by So? — April 10, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

  5. Professor is quick on his biases. He might recall an earlier crash between two planes. One of them was Russian. An inquiry found the non-Russian plane to be at fault.

    France 24 said that Russian ground control warned the Polish pilot to land elsewhere because of bad weather conditions, relative to that airport’s ability under such conditions. The pilot refused and made four attempts to land. According to France 24, the Tu-154 in question wasn’t given available safety upgrades because of the late Polish president’s commitment to a restricted budget for government matters.

    Not substantiated, I heard that the late Polish president was involved with firing another pilot for taking a safety precaution around the time of the 2008 war in the Caucasus. Kaczynski wanted to get there ASAP to show support for the Georgian government.

    I give him credit for busting on Yushchenko over Bandera.

    Comment by Mr. Y — April 11, 2010 @ 6:19 am

  6. Mr. Y–am somewhat mystified by your biases comment. I credited initial reports that it was pilot error. I do think that it was unseemly, and unwise given the suspicion that inevitably arises in anything involving Russian and Poland, for the local authorities to rush out a story that exculpates Russia from any responsibility. I think it’s pretty clear that my main concern was that any investigation be above reproach in order to avoid feeding any conspiracy theories. That’s a far cry, obviously, from indulging in conspiracy theories.

    Or perhaps your biases remark refers to what I said about Kaczynski. I think that what I wrote is a pretty accurate description of him, his agenda, and the ironies surrounding his death.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I will say this: I do have considerable sympathy for his view of Russia, and for his personal courage. He walked the walk, and he experienced the consequences of Russian (Soviet) domination of his country first hand.

    Poles and Russians each have Pavlovian reactions to the other. Each reaction is revealing in its own way, but I find the Russian reaction to Poles far more revealing, in a disturbing way.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 11, 2010 @ 8:48 am

  7. Poland also lost ALL of its top military commanders:

    1. Gen. broni Bronis?aw KWIATKOWSKI Dowódca Operacyjny Si? Zbrojnych RP (Chief of the General Staff)
    2. Gen. broni pil. Andrzej B?ASIK Dowódca Si? Powietrznych RP (Air Forces commander)
    3. Gen. dyw. Tadeusz BUK Dowódca Wojsk L?dowych RP (Army commander)
    4. Gen. dyw. W?odzimierz POTASI?SKI Dowódca Wojsk Specjalnych RP (Special Forces commander)
    5. Wiceadmira? Andrzej KARWETA Dowódca Marynarki Wojennej RP (Navy commander)
    6. Gen. bryg. Kazimierz GILARSKI Dowódca Garnizonu Warszawa (Commander of the Warsaw Garrison)

    Comment by deith — April 11, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  8. Excuse my not being clear in those comments Professor.

    Your comments about “Rusisan truculence” and “I find the Russian reaction to Poles far more revealing, in a disturbing way.” In an earlier post, I recall that you credited Russians for showing a sincere interest in approaching Katyn. I recollect that comment being made in realtion to Wajda’s film.

    The history of Russia and Poland is more of a bad two way street than a good number of Poles acknowledge. That observation goes for a number of people in the West who aren’t of Polish or Russian background.

    When compared to some others, Russia generally does a good job at acknowledging the past. Among some others, Turkey serves as a prime comparitive reference.

    Kaczynski appeared more qual opportunity than some others (like Sikorski) as shown by his criticism of Yushchenko over Bandera and skepticism of the EU.

    Comment by Mr. Y — April 11, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

  9. No problem, Y. Bad two way street–no lie, but traffic has been a lot heavier in one direction since about 1613. Saying that Russia’s treatment of the past is better than Turkey’s (or any other Islamic country’s), is setting a pretty low bar. Yes, Russia isn’t as insanely touchy about the past as Turkey is, for instance, re the Armenian genocide, but like I say, that’s a “not the worst” kind of response. Russia clearly isn’t anywhere close to Germany in this regard (though German response can be characterized a sort of an inversion of its previous neuroses), and probably isn’t even up to the standard of Japan, which isn’t that great.

    I think Kaczynski was a very morally serious person. You may disagree with some of his judgments, but I think they were grounded in a serious moral sense, and less influenced by political calculation than is the case for most political figures.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 11, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

  10. I will never apologize for Russia. I don’t care what the facts are.

    Comment by So? — April 11, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  11. My initial thoughts on this:
    1) Putting all your eggs in one basket / airplane = pretty stupid, no?
    2) Insistence on continuing to land in Smolensk against advice of ground control. Lech has a history of interference with pilots’ decisions. During the South Ossetian War, he fired the pilot for countermanding his orders to land in a war zone and continuing on to Azerbaijan. Will not be surprised if some similar, irresponsible stubbornness typical of Kaczynski was at play here.
    3) I am eagerly awaiting for the editorials blaming Putin, the FSB, or even NKVD tree planters from the 1940’s.
    4) It is ironic that A) the site of the crash was 70 years on from another, far bigger Polish tragedy, and B) if the investigation goes smoothly Kaczynski’s death may achieve more positives for Russo-Polish relations than he ever managed to (patriotically) damage them in life.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — April 11, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  12. Professor

    The tens of thousands of Poles who joined Napoleon in 1812 didn’t help things. Ditto the way Pilsudski carried on during the Russian Civil War. Human rights wise, the USSR was worse than Poland betwen the two world wars. However, the human rights situation in Poland nevertheless left a good deal to be desired – especially towards non-Poles. Following Pilsudski’s death and before M-R, it seemed to be getting worse.

    Putting Turkey aside, I know my share of Irish who don’t think that many Brits have been so forthcoming about some past actions. Ireland never came close to doing to Britian what Poland had done to Russia.

    When I’ve heard Poles like Sikorski talk about not being able to forget prior centuries, I don’t hear any kind of acknowledgement of any Polish wrong-doing. Other Poles have been more objective. I prefer judging folks as individuals and not so much in the collective sense. However, if put into the position to do that, Poles aren’t less chauvinstic than Russians.

    Frankly, the sovok mindset has included the manner of some Russians not being patriotically indignant towards the anti-Russian biases out there. This leads to some well founded constructive criticism of venues like RT and Inosmi.

    FYI, Mikhalkov mirrored what I think Lucas said about Wajda’s Katyn. The responsibly patriotic Mikhalkov said that the movie fell short by not specifying the culprits.

    Comment by Mr. Y — April 11, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

  13. What really grates the Poles is the fact that they came oh-so-close. It really could have been Rzeczpospolita stretching from Warsaw to the Pacific. Instead, the Eastern Barbarians prevailed. They still can’t get over it. Hence the victim complex.

    Comment by So? — April 11, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

  14. That observation touches on Pilsudski’s mindset. He had a romantic image of a prior period and to a certain degree was more reactionary than Denikin. The latter recognized Polish independence (as did the entire White leadership). In addition, Denikin was on record for being against some of the Russian policies in the Polish part of the Russian Empire. His mother was an observant Polish Catholic. Hence, we’ve an example of someone reasonably objective – whereas Pilsudski (to my knowledge) never acknowledged the aggressively imperialist and repressive manner of a prior era in Polish history – which has been sugar-coated by some.

    Comment by Mr. Y — April 11, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

  15. «?????????? ??????????? ???? ????? ??????, ?? ????????????? ??????? ????????? ??????????? ?? ??????????? ???????. ??, ????? ????, ???? ?? ?? ????????? ?? ???????? ???????? ????????? ??????????? ?IV ????. ?? ??? ???? ?????? ?????????, ??????? ????????? ? ?????????? ??????? ?? ? ?????????? ????????????, ????? ?????? ???? ????????, ??? ??? – ?????????? ???????????? ???????????» ???? ????????????

    Google translation, slightly fixed. (It could be just me, but lately google seems to have gotten better at Russian-English translation).

    “It is impossible to imagine the kind of Russia, on the existence of which most Poles would graciously agree. Well, maybe if it were reduced to the size of the Grand Duchy of Moscow fourteenth century. But only such a duchy, that would have globally and radically broken with Russian patriotism, to the extent that it would be difficult to recognize that it is a Russian national state ” Piotr Skwieci?ski

    There you have it, Poles and Palestinians have more than just the letter P in common.

    Comment by So? — April 11, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  16. Refer to Brzezinski’s circa 1990s Foreign Affairs article which hypothesizes in a seemingly approving manner, a broken up Russian Federation along such lines.

    Comment by Mr. Y — April 11, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

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