Czechs mark deep sorrow at Polish loss from aircraft crash

Погибший президент Польши Лех Качиньски (Фото: ЧТК)

Czech leaders and ordinary people are still in shock at the death of the Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and many of the country’s elite, when the government plane they were travelling in crashed. None of the 96 people on board survived the crash on the outskirts of the Russian city of Smolensk. Czech official reactions stressed sorrow at the depth of the tragedy in the neighbouring country with which Prague has strong and friendly ties. Chris Johnstone reports.

Photo: CTK
One of the first to react to the death of the Polish president and all on board the government plane on Saturday was Czech president Václav Klaus. He had been given the first, still hazy news about the accident, ahead of the inauguration of a new Prague archbishop. As the worst was confirmed, including the death of Lech Kaczynski, President Klaus said he had lost a close friend and ally.

“I have personally lost a real friend. I do not like it when politicians and presidents play at being friends. But in this case, this was the real situation. It is a great and terrible loss.”

The Czech and Polish presidents shared similar conservative views on a range of issues across the board from traditional family values to the last ditch fight against the EU’s reforming Lisbon treaty which they perceived as an infringement on national sovereignty. President Kaczynski was one of the most frequent statesmen to visit President Klaus at his Czech country retreat in recent years.

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
In honour of his memory, President Klaus ordered the Polish flag with black ribbons be flown from Prague castle.

As well as the Polish president, a large slice of the country’s political, military, and economic elite was wiped out in the crash.

The Polish delegation had been on the way to Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers at Katyn on Stalin’s orders in 1940. The Soviet leader wanted to wipe out the country’s elite. Relatives of the some of the 1940 victims were also on board the plane. Poignantly, history appears to have repeated itself, albeit in a different guise.

Former Czech president Václav Havel, who knew Lech Kaczynski before he became president, said the scope of the Polish tragedy made it difficult to even begin trying to comprehend. But he said it would certainly leave a long lasting scar.

“It is something that is almost unbelievable. At this moment we probably do not have enough distance to be able to even attempt at coming to terms with it.”

In Prague, flowers and candles were left outside the Polish embassy in the centre of the city. Silence was observed before Czech first and second division football matches on Sunday with the action to be repeated on Monday.

A picture of Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, photo: CTK
A special mass will be conducted by Prague archbishop Dominik Duka on Friday. The Czech Foreign Ministry has announced a day of mourning with a minute’s silence and flags flown at half mast from government buildings to mark the funerals of the crash victims when the funerals take place.