Civic Platform against honouring President Lech Kaczyński

Councillors from the Civic Platform (PO) who have a majority on Warsaw City Council have said they do not think any Warsaw street should be named after late President Lech Kaczyński while the Law and Justice party remains in government at central level. Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski had pledged during his run for President of the country last year that he would ensure that a street in Warsaw would be named after the President who was killed in the Smolensk air tragedy in 2010.

Keeping election promises is not the be all and end all of political discourse, but it remains important. During the Presidential election Rafał Trzaskowski promised that once the presidential poll was over he would see to it that late President Lech Kaczyński would have a street named after him in Warsaw. During the election campaign he praised the deceased President's stance over the conflict in Georgia, said that Lech Kaczynski had been proved right on Russia and also praised him for the Warsaw Uprising Museum and for his stance on judicial independence.

It is now over six months since that election. And the Civic Platform's city councillors, who back Trzaskowski have just announced that there will be no street named after Lech Kaczyński while Law and Justice are in power. Their move angered Law and Justice (PiS) councillors and was criticised even by Councillor Monika Jaruzelska, the daughter of the last communist ruler of Poland General Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Widely honoured, but not in his home city

Several Ukrainian, Georgian and Lithuanian cities have streets named after President Lech Kaczyński. Many Polish towns and cities do too. It is sad that Warsaw, the city in which Lech Kaczyński grew up and for which he was elected Mayor in 2002 has not honoured him yet. It took the regional prefect's intervention for a monument to be put up and for one avenue to be named after Lech Kaczyński. Unfortunately the decision taken by the prefect to change the name of People's Army (AL) Avenue to Lech Kaczynski Avenue was overturned on a judicial appeal launched by the Civic Platform's councillors. So we still have the People's Army Avenue honouring a small pro-Soviet group that killed many Home Army (AK) fighters and who colluded with the Soviets who stood on the other side of the VIstula waiting for Germans to kill off the AK's uprising.

History embroiled in party strife

The PO’s stance is explained by their bitter conflict with the ruling PiS. This conflict now means that the PO is far more willing to honour figures from the communist past than anyone associated with the present ruling party. When the PO was in power President Bronisław Komorowski gave General Wojciech Jaruzelski a full state funeral with military honours.

Many years may have to pass before modern Polish history is assessed in a less partisan way. It took some time for all three of the fathers of Poland’s independence in 1918: Marshal Józef Piłsudski, Roman Dmowski and Ignacy Paderewski to be fully recognised and honoured for their roles as there had been conflict between them. The communists when they ruled Poland tried to belittle the AK fighters to vilify those underground opponents who kept on fighting the new communist authorities after the war. Today, the AK fighters are universally acclaimed as heroes. Only the postwar opponents of the communist regime spark any controversy, and then only in cases where there were allegations of them having committed crimes against the local population in their struggle against the communists.

It may be some considerable time before a full balanced summing up can be made of much more recent Polish worthies such as Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Jacek Kuroń, Bronisław Geremek, Jan Olszewski and Zbigniew Romaszewski. But their names do not provoke big divisions in Polish society.

Given the heated exchanges between PO and PiS it may be much harder when it comes to honouring in future the leader of PIS Jarosław Kaczyński on the one hand and Donald Tusk and Lech Wałęsa on the other. Since they are still all active public figures their history is not finished yet.

However, Lech Kaczyński is someone who should not be dividing Polish society and should not be held responsible in any way for anything that has happened since he ceased to be president. His life was one of public service and patriotism. It is sad that the PO cannot bring themselves to accept that in the spirit of recognising his worth.