Georgia Mourns ‘Hero’ Kaczynski

Lech Kaczynski may have been a controversial figure in his native Poland, but here in Georgia, he was seen as a great and principled leader, and many people are genuinely upset by his death in a plane crash on April 10. That’s because of Kaczynski’s robust support for this country during and after the war with Russia in 2008. Since his death, President Mikheil Saakashvili has awarded him a ‘Hero of Georgia’ medal, saying that he played “an amazing role in terms of fighting for Georgia’s freedom”. Kaczynski was a regular guest in Tbilisi, and the two presidents were good friends; they ran into trouble together here a couple of years back when their convoy carrying the two presidents came under fire close to the de facto borderline with South Ossetia. A street will soon be named after him in the Georgian capital.

But while Georgia mourns Kaczynski, many people here will be hard to convince that his death was an accident. “Conspiracy theories swirl over Polish air disaster,” suggested a headline on The Guardian’s homepage this morning. But the rumours that the newspaper refers to are tame compared to the ones circulating here. The first Georgian friend I spoke to about the tragedy said that she thought she could see “the hand of Russia” in Kaczynski’s death. In a vox-pop survey, Tbilisi newspaper The Messenger received similar responses: “I’m almost sure that this accident was arranged by the Russians,” said a 29-year-old economist. “I think it was a planned and well-organised assault on the president and his party,” a young teacher insisted.

Georgians, of course, are sometimes quick to blame their old enemy for anything that goes wrong. But there’s certainly a sense that, with the electoral defeat of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine earlier this year, and now the death of Lech Kaczynski, this country has lost two of its closest international allies, and is feeling a little more alone than it has done for a while.