A man holds a cardboard bearing a portrait of late Polish President Lech Kaczynski during a memorial ceremony held on Pilsudski square in Warsaw on April 17, 2010. Sirens wailed and church bells rang across Poland on April 17 at 8:56 am (0656 GMT), the exact time a week ago when a plane crash in Russia killed the Polish president and 95 others on April 10.
(THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE) A week after the airplane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others in his delegation, Poland is preparing for a mourning service and a state burial over the weekend that will be among the largest in its history.
Used only on the most solemn occasions in the nation’s history, the nearly 500-year-old Sigismund Bell rang at 8.56 a.m. local time Saturday at the Wawel Castle in Krakow as the sound of sirens ripped through the air in Warsaw.
Exactly one week earlier the president and his delegation crashed on approach near Smolensk, western Russia, as they headed to the commemoration of the Stalin-ordered 1940 Katyn Massacre of Polish soldiers and intelligentsia.
Authorities expect around 500,000 mourners at a Saturday service near Warsaw’s Old Town, at Pilsudski Square, the city’s largest square and the site of three papal masses, including two celebrated by Polish-born John Paul II.
All 96 names of the victims will be read out during the service scheduled to begin at noon local time. Pictures of the victims were placed above the altar in the square. Poland’s acting President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk are scheduled to speak before a mass celebrated by several dozen bishops.
Another mass in the St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw, which saw the late president’s first mass after his inauguration in 2005, is scheduled for the afternoon before a vigil is held until the morning hours on Sunday when the caskets of President Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, are set to make their final journey to Krakow, Poland’s capital until the 16th century in southern Poland, for a state funeral set to begin at 14.00 p.m. local time.
Delegations from 96 countries are expected, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. After the funeral mass, the caskets of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife will be interned at the crypt of the Wawel Castle’s cathedral, alongside the nation’s most revered kings and generals.
Since Friday, airspace over Poland has been closed due to an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano that has disrupted traffic across Northern Europe. Polish authorities said late Friday none of the high-level delegations due to land in Krakow had canceled their attendance, but the funeral will go ahead on Sunday, in line with the wish of President Kaczynski’s family, despite air traffic disruptions.
Sunday’s funeral will conclude more than a week of national mourning and rarely seen unity around the late president who in his lifetime was a strongly divisive figure.
With little chances for reelection this year, President Kaczynski was a divisive character within Poland and across Europe. He pressed hard for conservative Catholic values and sought to expose ex-communist collaborators who flourished amid the compromises made to ensure Poland’s peaceful release from communism.
He pushed for recognition of historical wrongs from Germany and Russia, at times creating severe friction with allies in the EU and also with Moscow.
Russia’s sympathetic response, Russian assistance given to the families of victims as they traveled to Moscow to identify their loved ones, and the country’s readiness to cooperate with Polish investigators have led to a warming of relations between the countries.
Photo taken on April 17, 2010 shows photos of late Polish President Lech Kaczynski (C, L), his wife Maria (C, R) surrounded by other victims of the Polish presidential plane crash, on Pilsudski square in Warsaw. President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and scores of other top Polish political and military officials died on April 10 when their plane crashed near the western Russian city of Smolensk.
Nuns gather at the Pilsudski square in Warsaw on April 17, 2010 prior to a memorial service for victims of Polish plane crash. President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and 95 other top Polish political and military officials died on April 10 when their plane crashed near the western Russian city of Smolensk
A woman lays flowers during ceremonies for President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and scores of other top Polish political and military officials held at Pilsudski square in Warsaw on April 17, 2010. Sirens wailed and church bells rang across Poland on April 17 at 8:56 am (0656 GMT), the exact time a week ago when a plane crash in Russia killed the Polish president and 95 others.
People gather on on Pilsudski square in Warsaw on April 17, 2010 to attend a memorial ceremony for late Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and scores of officials killed in a plane crash in Smolensk on April 10. Sirens wailed and church bells rang across Poland on April 17 at 8:56 am (0656 GMT), the exact time a week ago when a plane crash in Russia killed the Polish president and 95 others on April 10.
WARSAW, POLAND – APRIL 17: Mourners gather at a memorial service for late Polish President Lech Kazcynski, his wife Maria and the 94 other people killed in the recent Polish presidential plane crash in Smolensk at a memorial service at Pilsudski Square on April 17, 2010 in Warsaw, Poland. Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and leading members of the Polish military, government and the arts were killed when the presidential plane they were traveling in crashed while attempting to land at Smolensk, Russia, on April 10. A memorial service for those killed is being held today and the state funeral for the Kaczysnkis is to be held at Wawel Castle in Cracow on Sunday.