Something Fishy About Smolensk

Everyone I know remembers where they were when it happened.

Joanna Piotrowska, Untitled. 2016, Courtesy of the artist.

People say that winter feels bizarre this year. There is a word for this in Polish, something like prespring, but prespring usually doesn’t occur until March. It’s January 10, 2018, and I’m walking in downtown Warsaw with a wild-rose jelly doughnut in my hand. The air is warm and full of smog. I follow hundreds of people as they march from the Archcathedral of Saint John the Baptist toward the Presidential Palace in what looks like a funeral procession. They carry a framed portrait of the late president Lech Kaczyński; they carry crosses and flowers.

Miesięcznice. I’ve heard about these, but this is the first one I’ve seen with my own eyes. The processions have taken place on the tenth of every month since May 2010. That makes this miesięcznica number ninety-three.

Miesięcznice commemorate the crash of the Polish presidential plane in Smolensk, Russia, on April 10, 2010. When the plane went down, Kaczyński was on his way to the Katyn Forest, where seventy years earlier the first mass graves of the Katyn Massacre had been discovered. The Soviet NKVD had killed twenty-two thousand Poles in the massacre; more than four thousand were buried in Katyn. The 2010 plane crash killed ninety-six key figures at the top of the Polish state. Among the dead were representatives of the parliament, various ministries, and top officials of all military branches.

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