Sunday 19 November 2017

In dark times, Poland needs the light of truth

Conspiracy theories grow out of secrecy, so the Smolensk air crash investigation must be open, writes Ben Macintyre

A Russian soldier guards the wreck of the Polish government airplane that crashed near Smolensk on Saturday
A Russian soldier guards the wreck of the Polish government airplane that crashed near Smolensk on Saturday

IN 1943 Poland's wartime leader accused Moscow of ordering the Katyn massacre, the systematic murder of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals. A few months later he was dead, the victim of an air crash. Was it murder? Almost certainly not, but Poland's painful past, combined with official secrecy, created precisely the muggy conditions in which conspiracy theories thrive.

In 2010 another Polish leader, President Lech Kaczynski, heads to Katyn to commemorate the appalling massacre that took place there. Within hours he too is dead, along with his wife and 94 other members of Poland's elite, the victims of another air crash. Was this coincidence? Almost certainly, but a similar climate of suspicion ensures that the conspiracies are already sprouting.The thread connecting these events is secrecy, for it is concealment that turns a tragedy into a festering historical sore.

Britain still has not released all the files on the death in 1943 of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish Government-in-exile.

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