Lech Kaczynski's Death is a New Setback to Human Rights in Belarus

In September 2009, the President of Poland sent his condolences to the President of Belarus in connection with the death of two Belarusian pilots in a crash of Su-27 fighter plane at an air show. Today, state leaders around the world are condoling with the Poles at the loss of President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others in a plane crash.

Their deaths are not only a national tragedy for Poland, but also a deep loss for the Belarusian people because Lech Kaczynski was one of the staunchest defenders of human rights in Belarus. Just last month, condemning the detentions and trials of activists of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Lech Kaczynski wrote a personal letter to Alyaksandr Lukashenka defending the Polish minority. Having received no response from the Belarusian authorities, Lech Kaczynski appealed to the European Union's structures though the President of the European Union Herman Van Rompuy and European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek.

A devout Catholic and anti-communist, Lech Kaczynski put a lot of effort into maintaining the close ties between Warsaw and Washington. Thanks to him, Poland stood by the United States during the Iraq war and openly supported NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. Lech Kaczynski also outspokenly criticized Moscow's foreign policy, especially after the Russian-Georgian war in 2008.

On April 10, Lech Kaczynski was flying to commemorate the deaths of thousands of Poles murdered on Stalin's order and buried in the Katyn Forest seventy years ago. On March 5, 1940, Joseph Stalin signed an order to execute 25,700 POlish prisoners of war in the camps of Ostashkov, Starobelsk, and Kozelsk. Only in 1990 did the Soviet authorities admit responsibility for the Katyn murders.

Notably, Minsk did not send a delegation to the earlier ceremony in Katyn despite the fact that Katyn's victims included hundreds of Belarusians who served in the Polish Army in 1940 when Western Belarus was a part of the Second Polish Republic.

The condolences of the Belarusian President to the Polish people over the loss of Lech Kaczynski and 95 others read, "Overwhelming grief hit our neighboring country with which Belarus connects its long-standing cultural, historical and closest relations. ?The feeling of the deepest mourning for the victims of the plane crash seized our hearts. ?The authorities of Belarus and the whole Belarusian nation express our sincere condolences to friends and family of the victims as well as to the Polish nation. ?We understand that the tragedy brought irreplaceable losses to the whole country. ?In these extremely hard times please accept our words of mourning and support."

Lech Kaczynski was flying a 20-year old Tupolev Tu-154, one of the two Soviet-made aircraft left in Poland. Tupolev's long history of crashes has never been a secret, but the Polish leadership considered buying a new US-manufactured Boeings an unnecessary indulgence during the financial crisis. Ever mindful of what losing their leader would mean for the Belarusian people, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has long ago switched to the sleek and safe US Boeing.



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