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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy