Memorial cross exposes Poland's religious divide

A cross honouring the victims of the plane crash that killed the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski has provoked thousands of protesters to take to the streets to demand its removal.

Polish scouts erected the 30-foot wooden cross in front of Warsaw's presidential palace nearly four months ago to commemorate the 96 passengers, including the president, who died when their plane crashed in thick fog in western Russia on 10 April.

Official attempts to move the cross to a church have led to violent clashes between police and Catholic pro-cross demonstrators and mass counter-protests by youthful secularists who insist the emblem must go. "The cross has no place in front of a presidential palace in a secular state," one protester told Polish television yesterday.

Television footage of the scene outside the President's palace has shown the surrounding streets thronged with placard-waving protesters confronting a hard core of pro-cross demonstrators who are holding a round-the-clock candle-lit vigil. "We will not move from here until a permanent memorial for the victims has been approved," said one pro-cross demonstrator.

The Polish government and the Warsaw city authorities have called off all attempts to remove the cross while the dispute simmers. Commentators argue that the row has become a symbol of the social divide in Poland, where a staunchly Catholic and conservative older generation is struggling to hold sway in an increasingly emancipated post-communist society.

The row has since turned party political. The late president's twin, Jaroslaw Kaczyniski, who heads Poland's conservative Law and Justice Party, has made a public appearance at the cross site, laid flowers at its base and insisted that it should be allowed to remain in place.

Mr Kaczynski, who also served a term as a conservative Polish prime minister, had hoped to succeed his brother as president but lost out in last month's elections. The country's new President, Bronislaw Komorowski, is a leading member of Poland's liberal Civic Platform party, which is pro-market and favours reform.

However, Mr Kaczynski managed to confound most of his critics on the left by softening his usual hard-line conservatism to secure 47 per cent of the vote and force the contest into a second round. His critics have suggested that he is now trying to make up the political ground he lost in the presidential race by openly campaigning in the cross dispute.

Mr Kaczynski, who is renowned for opposing gay rights and abortion, boycotted President Komorowksi's official swearing in ceremony last week and has since argued that he was elected "as a result of a misunderstanding".

President Komorowski has opted to stay away from the presidential palace while the dispute continues and has set up a temporary office in the city's Belvedere palace.

Poland's Civic Platform Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, has since criticised Mr Kaczynski for politicising the issue.

Public opinion remains divided. One poll showed that 71 per cent wanted the cross removed, while a second suggested that 57 per cent wanted it kept in place until a permanent monument for the crash victims was built.

Poland's powerful Roman Catholic Church is also split over the issue. In Warsaw the Church favours moving the cross from its palace site to the city's St Anne's church. But Radio Maryja, the country's radical nationalist Catholic broadcasting station, has called on the faithful to rally to the defence of the cross in Warsaw.

Kazimierz Nycz, the Archbishop of Warsaw, has appealed to President Komorowski to intervene. "It is not up to the church to solve this issue, it is the job of the new president," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us