Friday, 2 November 2012


Sitting in the lobby area of Toruń's Hotel 1231 on Tuesday lunchtime, I was glued to the big screen broadcasting a live press conference at which PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński accused premier Donald Tusk of complicity in covering up the murder of his twin brother Lech and 95 others at Smoleńsk. Under the image of Kaczyński and PiS press spokesman Adam Hofman were newsflashes; the daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita had run a story stating that traces of TNT (trotyl in Polish) and nitroglycerine had been found within the wreck of the Polish Air Force Tupolev Tu-154M. 

For several hours, this news put me into a state of personal crisis. If this is true, and a bomb was the cause of the Smoleńsk tragedy, my world view would be turned upside town. I would have to apologise to my readers, presenting an act of contrition. It was not, after all, a dreadful concoction of foolhardiness, slackness, contravention of safety procedures, misunderstanding, bad habits and political pressure - but a bomb, a bomb placed in the passenger cabin. A bomb within Poland's equivalent of Air Force One or the Queen's Flight.

Numbing, shocking news. If true, it changes everything. After more than 30 months, the smoking gun comes to light. The hardcore faithful that have ever stuck to the line that Smoleńsk = murder, had finally been vindicated. So where does this leave the majority of people, who believe it was monumental cock-up rather than sinister conspiracy? We'd all be eating humble pie, in industrial quantities, for many, many years to come. I can now feel myself in the shoes of the Smoleńsk conspiracy faithful - believing in a cock-up theory and holding to it for so long was just an act of faith, something that I wanted to believe in, rather than something that held with the truth.

The political scene would witness a revolution.

I flicked through my copy of Rzeczpospolita - not a word (it was an early edition for the provinces). Later, on the train back to Warsaw, I was cut off from the outside world. Would my train be greeted by cordons of armed Interior Ministry troops and armoured personnel carriers?

Not a bit of it.

It turns out the Rzeczpospolita article was, er, misguided. After some furious back-pedalling from the publisher, a statement appeared on the paper's home page (may disappear soon), pledging a full investigation into how and why the trotyl story got published. Over the past few days, numerous experts were paraded on the pages of Gazeta Wyborcza, none giving any credence to the explosion theory. There were no traces of explosive on any of the bodies, nor did their eardrums bear any tell-tale signs of concussion caused by a blast.

If it's time for a conspiracy theory - here's mine. In the past months, PiS has effectively caught up with PO in the polls and the past few have shown the two main parties neck-and-neck. Chairman Kaczyński had dropped the Smoleńsk rhetoric in favour of a policy-focused approach; public debates on the economy and healthcare had portrayed the party as one keen to listen to experts, to offer new initiatives on taxation and social security - and this new approach was working. Working so well, indeed, that PO, five years in power, was looking decidedly tired.

What could be better, then, to trip up Kaczyński than a simple provocation? Nimbly plant a made-up story in the right-wing media, and watch Kaczyński reveal his true self. It worked perfectly, timed perfectly too - on the eve of the long All Saints'/All Souls' public holiday, when the media and their consumers would be operating at a more leisurely pace.

In the meanwhile, PiS is sticking to its guns. The two links at the top of this post are active as on Saturday 3 November - will they be retracted, corrected - or simply disappear in the hope that this faux pas will quickly be forgotten?

POSTSCRIPT: 10 November 2012. An article from today's Rzeczpospolita (translation courtesy of PolandAM):
PiS losing support
The recent turmoil following the controversial article in Rzeczpospolita about explosive traces found on  Tupolev wreckage didn't help the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, show the results of the latest TNS Polska poll. The support for PiS has slumped to only 30%, compared to 39% in a similar poll carried out a month ago. On the other hand, the ruling Civic Platform (PO) is enjoying a 9% increase in support. As many as 42% of Poles declared they would vote for PO, were the vote to be held today.

If my conspiracy theory is correct - it worked.

This time last year:
Wilanowska - south Warsaw transport hub

This time three years ago:
Powiśle on a cold, clear autumn morning

This time four years ago:
Okęcie "to remain Warsaw's only airport"

This time five years ago:
Searching for autumnal perfection


student SGH said...

Michael, aren't you excessively focusing on yourself, eating humble pie, appearing contrite, etc. rather than on the unbelievable dimension of the tragedy that could have been a felony? Is it worse for you that you'd have had to say sorry to your readers, rather than taking in the dreadful account of events?

Your conspiracy theory - well, holds water. But at the end of the day, you can come up with a plausible explanation for virtually any happening. A PiS-believer would tell you about secret service agent calling to the editor of Rzeczpospolita and asking politely to back out of everything unless they want to get into serious troubles - here's my own contribution to conspiracy theories.

Pozdrowienia dla Pana Krzysztofa aka Toyah od Studenta!

Michael Dembinski said...

Through what I was going through while watching that news conference, I was able to get some insight into the mindset of those who believe that the plane crash was a deliberate act of murder. It needed a personal, subjective, emotive filter through which to pass the news (or non-news at it's turning out).