No - President Komorowski, government, Catholic church top-frocks and cops were not on their knees in prayer. They were in such an ungainly position before a bunch of protestors outside the Presidential Palace, who said they would “defend to the death” the removal of a simple wooden cross put their in commemoration of the death of a president in western Russia.
Last Wednesday, the then president-elect, in agreement with Poland’s Roman Catholic establishment and national scout movement (responsible for the planting the wooden cross in front of the presidential residence after the Smolensk disaster) agreed that the spontaneous memorial to those who died should be moved to the nearby St Anne’s church.
Come the hour of cross removal, cometh the wroth of a couple of thousand Defenders of the Cross. They pushed against police lines; they shouted “Gestapo”, “Traitor” and “Communist” as the police pushed back. One woman grasped the cross, to be quickly disentangled from it. Cops fired tear gas from small aerosol cans when they thought the Defenders had gone a bit far.
See video by gazeta.pl of as bad as it got - which was never that bad - below.
The result of what was a bit of push-and-shove by quite a small crowd of protestors? President Komorowski et al backs down and the cross stays where it is.
Who are those guys?
The self styled Defenders of the Cross - egged on by Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw’s Law and Justice party - are a motley bunch of the ultra-religious, the nationalist, the anti-Russian, the alienated, the anomic and downright deranged.
Occasionally individuals possess all the above traits simultaneously.
For instance, one of the more prominent protestors is veteran cross defender Kazimierz Switon.
If the name sounds familiar it's because Switon - a one-time Solidarity activist, catholic fundamentalist, owner of his own little workshop during communist times, middle ranked trade unionist and post-1989 oddball - hit the headlines in 1999 when he went on hunger strike in protest at the removal of a small forest of crosses which had been placed outside the gates of the Auschwitz museum during a visit by John Paul II.
When authorities decided to remove the cross forest, Switon and fellow cronies went into action, blaming…the international Jewish conspiracy, of course, for wanting the Christian symbols removed from outside the Nazi Auschwitz death camp.
A news report from 1999 reads eerily like reports this week about the Defenders of the Cross.
“Catholic activist, Kazimierz Swinton, who led the campaign to erect the crosses against the wishes of the church's leadership, had mined the area to deter attempts to remove him. Swinton will now be prosecuted for the possession of explosives and inciting racial hatred after he distributed leaflets calling on Poles 'to wage merciless war on Jewish-Communist masonry, the biggest enemies of the Polish state’.”
Fast forward to 2010 and the now 79 year old Switon is back. Switon has been working alongside Leszek Bubel for many years, the leader of the nationalist Polish National Party, another attendee at Defenders of the Cross rallies in Warsaw.
Following the argy-bargy in front of the Presidential Palace on August 3, sent a letter, and email, on behalf of Bubel and the other Defenders to Prime Minister Donald Tusk.: “Despite the many protests […] at the instigation of Satanists you started a war over the Cross on Polish soil,” he wrote. “The Cross commemorating the murders [of Lech Kaczynski and 95 others] must stay in front of the Presidential Palace. If you start another war over the Cross then prepare for the end of your government,” Switon warned, spookily.
Of course, if you received a letter like that from a marginalised delusionist like Switon you would probably read it, have a chuckle, then throw it in the bin. But not Tusk, not the Church, not the Polish Establishment, terrified of the likes of Switon and the Defenders of the Cross.
President Komorowski had argued that a religious symbol such as cross should be in a religious place, such as a church. And he’s right. But Komorowski and the rest don’t seem to have the courage of their convictions. Terrified that they might seem insensitive to the view that Russia and other dark forces might have been the authors of the Smolensk disaster - that they were “murdered” - and scared that they might seem insensitive to a religious symbol, they backed down. Despite the relatively low level of support for the Defenders of the Cross, they sank to their knees in submission at the sight of the protests in front of the Presidential Palace.
Consequently, they have shown that Poland’s political elite remains as weak as it ever was. And unable to show authority and leadership, they have opened themselves up to all sorts of marginal groups who want to get even with the harbingers of modernity in Poland.
As all sides haggle over the future of the Smolensk Cross, the new power monopoly of President Komorowski-Prime Minister Tusk-Civic Platform party seems more like a rickety boat, vulnerable to cross-wind.