WARSAW, Poland: Wooden Cross Fuels National Controversy. The simple, lightly constructed, wooden cross that began its existence as a national unifying expression of grief and sympathy has now transitioned into a contentious symbol of political and cultural division in Poland. The cross has become a political football inflated with religious zealotry that is being used in a somewhat bizarre national ball game with no lack of players from every station in life as participants.
On April 10, 2010 President Lech Kaczynski and his entire entourage perished in a catastrophic plane crash near Smolensk/Katyn Forest, Russia. A tidal wave of grief and mourning spontaneously swept over Poland. The entire spacious area in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw became an undulating sea of floral bouquets and lighted candles. On April 15 Poland's Boy Scouts erected the now controversial cross on the site, three days before the presidential state funeral.
Newly elected President Bronislaw Komorowski (Civic Platform Party) stated on July 10 that the cross would be ceremoniously removed to a more appropriate religious venue. Jaroslaw Kaczynski (Law and Justice Party), twin brother of the recently deceased president - and who had just lost a hotly contested run-off presidential election to Komorowski - resisted the cross removal until a permanent on-site memorial could be constructed. Depending on one's point of view, protests and counterprotests along sharp political and religious lines followed
The police, citing security concerns, removed the pro-cross vigil-keepers, along with everyone else, to the sidewalk on the other side of the street - leaving the cross in place - and erected chest high metal barricades on both sides of the street. As witnessed on August 17, the animated crowds and muscular police presence have now diminished to a large degree; vehicular traffic has resumed along the channelized roadway.
It has been a hot summer in Poland this year - in more ways than one.
Editor's Note: As of the September 9, 2010 PAJ deadline, no practical solution to the memorial cross problem has been found.
Update: At 8 AM on the morning of September 16, 2010 the cross was quietly removed to the Presidential Palace Chapel. A survey conducted by GfK Polonia indicated that 77% of Poles interviewed approved of the temporary solution pending the final resting place of the cross.
Polish American Journal, Washington, DC Bureau, September 12, 2010