Poland: Smolensk Report Blames Both Polish and Russian Sides

On July 29, 2011, Poland presented its final report (available for download in Polish, English and Russian) on the 2010 Smolensk plane crash, in which 96 people died, including the then president of Poland Lech Kaczynski.

While placing the majority of the blame on the Polish pilot's error, the report also pointed to defective lighting at Smolensk airport and Russian air controllers, who misinformed the crew about the altitude. Poland's Defence Minister Bogdan Klich stepped down [pl] in the wake of the report.

The Polish president and his wife, together with many leading political and military officials, were on their way to a memorial for the victims of the Katyn massacre when their plane crashed as it was trying to land in heavy fog on April 10, 2010.

The Russian report [.pdf], released in January, placed the full blame on Poland, which caused many controversies in the Polish political and civic circles. Back then Poland, while accepting some of the fundamental findings, said [pl] that the report was “incomplete” and started its own investigation. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the conservative opposition party PiS and the twin brother of Lech Kaczynski, had previously accused Prime Minister Donald Tusk‘s government of being soft on Russia [pl]. Now, after the Polish report, Kaczynski critised Tusk [pl] again, saying Tusk didn't have the courage and honour to take responsibility for the crash and tried to shift the fault to his helpers.

Smolensk report caused many controversies among netizens. Photo by Flickr user bylemwidzialem (CC BY-NC 2.0).

The report has generated an avalanche of various opinions not only in the international press [pl], but also in the Polish blogosphere. Bloggers were focusing both on the report's conclusions about the fatal condition [pl] of the Polish air forces and the difficult relations with Russia.

Blogger Lukasz Foltyn thinks [pl] that the investigators – the so-called Miller's commission [pl] – were trying to find a diplomatic way out of the uncomfortable situation:

Miller's report gives the major blame for the catastrophe in Smolensk to the pilots and therefore to the military training system. And that's how Miller's commision found the “Solomon's solution” for who to blame in order not to blame the government on the one hand and not to charge Russia on the other, so the relation with this country won't be demaged as the current coalition wants to improve it…

Maia14 is positively surprised [pl] that the report doesn't give the blame to the president and the psychological pressure he might have applied on the pilots:

Yesterday the report was presented […]. A lot of deficiencies on the Polish and Russian sides were pointed out. Briefly: the eternal Polish improvisation overlapped with the Russian mess. In my opinion the report is reliable and identifies the most important issues […]. What is surprising – I have the impression that especially for the opposition – is that the report doesn't talk about blaming the then head of the state, about applying pressure on the aircraft's crew. On the contrary, it remarks that it was the crew indeed who – from the beginning to the end – made all the decisions and the main passenger let them decide freely what to do.

Kajetan Skalski writes this in his post titled “Trash, mess and recklessness”:

This situation [mess] is one of the costs of populism, which is the cost of democracy. You can find it everywhere, but in our country it is excesivelly high […]. It is little comfort that the Russians are even worse. Trash, mess, recklessness. The boorishness of the Russian report consisted of omitting the Russian share of responsibility for the crash. In the [Polish] Miller's report, it is included.

On her blog mojapolskadomowa, the blogger is indignant [pl] at the opposition's critics about the report:

Well, first they demanded the truth, now they talk about honour, and actually it is all about resignation of Donald Tusk from the PM post. I don't understand this position. Does the one and only truth always have to give evidence that the Poles are always right, don't make any mistakes and are always innocent? […] Let's be proud of the best that we have, but let's be able to admit our own mistakes. Avoiding the truth to defend honour is pathetic. In this very case it is less important that we win over Russia. It's not going to make a superpower out of us. What is much more important is to learn from our own failures and to make conclusions that will protect us from making the same mistakes in the future.

Further, the blogger complains [pl] about the surfeit of the Smolensk topic in the media:

Actually, I feel tired of this topic. For the past 15 months, PiS [the opposition party] has been playing the Smolensk card so much that it led to a total surfeit. […] To inflame emotions, they will surely expose the pictures of Maria and Lech Kaczynski or other killed politicians of this party many more times. The Smolensk fraction in PiS will have its five media minutes.

Indeed, the oppositon party released a very emotional election campaign spot with the presidential couple, titled “They are waiting for the truth”, uploaded on YouTube on July 29, 2011, by gazetapl [pl]:


A blogger going by the name niekatolik is outraged [pl] about the spot and calls it “scandalous”:

Of course, it is a contestation of the report's authenticity. In the spot it is said that Lech and Maria Kaczynski were living in a world of betrayal, among people without honour, people taking care of their own interests only. For me it is scandalous to lie through one's teeth like this, to use the death of the nearest persons for political games, to use the emotions of ordinary people. This is disgusting!

According to a survey [pl] ordered by the television channel TVN24, 24 percent of the Poles think that the report explains unambiguously the reasons of the Smolensk catastrophe, while 49 percent still think that the reasons remain unclear.

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