Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on April 13th, 2010

Today the news reported that the Vilnius municipal government, under pressure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is renaming K. Sirvydo gatvė after Lech Kaczyński, who now everyone knows perished over the weekend in a surprising plane crash outside of Smolensk on the way to a memorial service of the Polish officers who were killed in Katyn Forest in 1940.

At the same time, Kaczyński has been front-page news here in France since the accident, too, and, well, frankly, I simply don’t get it. The death of a national leader is always news, of course, but it feels like the tragic accident has been rather over-mourned. Perhaps this is in relation to the pretext of the trip, the aforementioned murder of Polish officers attributed (despite a lack of clear evidence) to NKVD officers. Tragedy on top of tragedy, like Air Force One plunging into the English Channel on the way to a V-Day commemoration.

But I wonder if part of the mourning is not attached to what Kaczyński, as a right-wing nationalist president who was both a Euroskeptic and anti-Russian, inhabited a sort of political ground that is very appealing both to Americans in general (passively anti-Russian and Euroskeptical). As a result, Kaczyński’s politics, on issues like lustration, despite the problems regarding Polish minority rights in Lithuania, resonated with the conservative Lithuanian crowd.

Furthermore, considering Katyn’s role as “proof” of the horrific equivalence of Soviet violence with Nazi violence, the mess further highlights the current tugging over official equivalence of all forms of “totalitarianism,” a move I’ve been pushing against for years now, most recently in terms of efforts to change the meaning of the word “genocide.”

But all the same, this move to change the name of K. Sirvydo gatvė feels rushed in some fundamental way. Alta reports that usually bodies have to be well cold in the ground before the names attached to them get attached to streets. Furthermore, the goodwill engendered among the Polish minority by naming the street after Kaczyński might be tempered somewhat as “Kaczyński” becomes rendered as “Kačinskis” or whatever. So the move gets seen as part of the endless game of trying to outmaneuver the Russians, holding them accountable for what happened at Katyn (in both 1940 and 2010, if only suggestively), and showing permanent support for the dead president’s efforts to destabilize the Russian sphere of influence.

So on the same day that I read about protests in France over naming a square after Joseph Ben-Gurion, a divisive nationalist himself, I read about the (personally) more troubling move over in Vilnius. Let’s slow things down a bit and get some perspective back, ok?

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