Warsaw

The Presidential Cross

Who would have thought two planks of wood could cause so much trouble?

A story that dominated the news here for much of summer 2010 concerned an improvised cross put up outside the Presidential Palace by scouts following the death of President Lech Kaczyński, his wife and 94 others in April. While the cross seems to have been placed with the intention of acting as a temporary monument to the President and his wife at a time of intense national grief, the whole issue about removing it highlighted the huge tensions present in Polish society and threatened to spill over into prolonged civil unrest.

The cross was adopted by one group comprising in general of older, devout Catholics who had the support of the late president’s political party PiS (Law and Justice) and its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, the late president’s twin brother. When attempts were made by the new president’s office, the church and the scouts themselves to move the cross to a permanent home in the nearby St. Anne’s Church all hell broke out. Poles were treated to the quite remarkable sight of the ‘defenders’ of the cross, mainly grey haired pensioners, fighting battles with police and city guards who at one stage used pepper spray to regain control of the situation.

A series of attempts to move the cross were thwarted and a permanent vigil was set up to ensure the cross was not moved. Singing hymns and patriotic songs, the defenders accused police of acting like the ‘Gestapo’ and even harangued the priests and scouts who tried to move the cross.

A counter protest movement then sprung up, helped greatly through a Facebook campaign, organised by generally younger Poles who felt that the whole disaster was being hijacked by right wing fanatics. This brought thousands out onto Krakowskie Przedmiescie in front of the Presidential Palace and Bristol Hotel and developed into a standoff with police and city guard forming a barrier between the two groups. Government leaders and the President called for restraint but a stalemate ensued. Various attempts were made to pacify the defenders including the unveiling of a plague on the wall of the palace (see that just to the right as you stand looking at the palace) and the unveiling of plans for a more permanent memorial.

And then suddenly at 8am on the morning of September 16th the cross was snatched and moved to the chapel within the presidential palace.

While the streets have now cleared, you will still see people coming to the spot where the cross stood to pay their respects and it is still an unofficial place to pay respects to the Presidential couple. The cross itself has since been moved to St. Anne’s and can be viewed by the public. You’ll find it in the chapel next to a memorial remembering the victims of the Katyń massacre in 1940, the event which the President was flying to commemorate on that fateful day.

Metro

Ratusz Arsenał

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