Mourners streamed by Poland’s embassy in Oslo to leave flowers and light candles over the weekend, after a plane crash killed Poland’s president and many other top Polish officials. An estimated 100,000 Poles live in Norway, and as Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said, “they need our attention and sympathy today.”
The mood outside the elegant embassy building was somber, with Poland’s flag at half-mast and groups of people gathered near the embassy gate, talking in hushed tones as more flower bouquets were laid down. Cards written in Norwegian expressed sympathy, and wishes for “peace over the deceased and over de ulykkelige (the sorrowful left behind).”
As traffic rolled through the busy intersection where the embassy sits, a jogger glanced at its impromptu memorial and crossed himself as he ran by.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre went on national radio shortly after news of the plane crash broke, noting that “no country in Europe has come closer to Norway than Poland in recent years.” He said as many as 100,000 Poles now live and work in Norway, and that it must be “extra difficult” for them, to be away from their homeland during a time of crisis.
“Our thoughts are with you,” Støre said. “I extend my sympathy to the thousands of Poles who live and work in Norway and who make a considerable contribution to the development of the Norwegian economy and society.”
Støre had hosted Poland’s foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, in Oslo only the day before. The two had agreed to work towards removal of all sub-strategic nuclear arsenals in Europe, with their initiative directed at Russia and the US.
Støre said he and Sikorski want to see an end to current exclusions of these weapons from disarmament deals. The two hope to bring up the Polish-Norwegian initiative at a meeting in NATO foreign ministers in Tallinn next week.
Now Sikorski’s deputy, Andrzej Kremer, is among the dead after a plane carrying Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria Kaczynska and a long list of top government officials crashed while on its way to a memorial for victims of a World War II massacre at Katyn. Also among the 96 killed were the head of Poland’s central bank, the head of the country’s National Security Office, the army chief of staff and two top advisers to the president.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that Poland and Europe had lost a major political leader, who “had contributed to Poland establishing its place among Europe’s democratic countries.” Stoltenberg noted that Kaczynski had been active in the Solidarity movement, an adviser to Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa and a mayor of Warsaw before being elected president in 2005.
Tragedy won’t stop Poland’s progress
As Poland entered a week of mourning, several political observers claimed the government of Poland was stable and that the country’s unprecedented growth and progress of the past 20 years would continue. “Poland has moved from being a poor, unstable communist country to being a stable European society,” the leader of a Polish-Swedish chamber of commerce in Gdansk, Tadeusz Iwanowski, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Our country’s development is no longer dependent on a few individuals, as it was even just 10 years ago. Even in the midst of this tragedy, I maintain that Poland’s course won’t change.”
The tragedy may also serve to further unite the Polish people, after several years of quarrels between the late president and Poland’s prime minister. “Now both the Polish elite and the Polish people must get hold of themselves, and think more about what’s best for the country than for short-term political party interests,” Nina Witoszek, a Polish-Norwegian professor and commentator in Oslo, told Aftenposten.
Meanwhile, the mourning will continue, with a requiem mass to be held later this week. Hundreds of Poles gathered for a special mass held in St Olav’s Church in Oslo Saturday evening. Sitting in the first pew was Poland’s ambassador to Norway, Wojciech Kolansky, and Foreign Minister Støre.
Aftenposten reported that Kolansky was a close friend of the late president, and their families always celebrated New Year together. The ambassador called Kaczynski “an exceptional politician, a great patriot … always honest and direct.”
Støre used the occasion to thank Poles in attendance for the contribution they make in Norway. “Today Norwegian women and men join you in your sorrow,” Støre said. “We think about you and pray for you.”