- (Photo: AP Images / Czarek Sokolowski)
Thousands of protesters gathered outside Poland's Presidential Palace in Warsaw Monday night to rally against the memorial cross that stands there in honor of the country’s late president, Lech Kaczynski, who died in an airplane crash four months ago.
Around 100 supporters of the memorial cross, meanwhile, prayed and sang religious songs across the street, insisting that the cross remain as a memorial to Kaczynski and the other 95 victims of the April 10 crash in Russia.
“We will defend the cross passively with silent prayer,” said Mariusz Bulski of the Defenders of the Cross movement to Warsaw-based Polskie Radio.
Dominik Taras from the opposing Action Cross, meanwhile, said protesters want the cross moved from the Presidential Palace to the nearby St. Anne’s church, which he said “is a more proper place for it.”
Though the cross has been a point of contention for quite some time now, the “cross wars” flared up after recently-elected President Bronislaw Komorowski ordered the cross be removed from the square of the Presidential Palace.
Last week, Polish authorities went to the square to remove the wooden cross but decided to leave it in place after hundreds of demonstrators came out to protest its removal.
Despite the change of plans, President Komorowski, who beat Kaczynski’s twin brother in last month’s presidential race, still favors moving the cross to St. Anne’s church, maintaining that the Presidential Palace is a symbol of secular power.
The rest of staunchly Catholic Poland, meanwhile, is very much divided with surveys revealing conflicting pictures.
According to Reuters, one survey showed 71 percent of Poles wanting the memorial moved, but another found 57 percent wanting it to stay on the site until a permanent monument is erected.
Notably, Roman Catholics reportedly make up 89.9 of Poland’s population – 75 percent practicing, according to the CIA World Factbook. Eastern Orthodox and Protestants, meanwhile, make up 1.3 percent and 0.3 percent of the population, respectively. Around 0.3 percent has been categorized as “other” and the remaining 8.3 percent “unspecified.”
While Monday night’s protest was heated, it concluded peacefully, with protesters drifting away around 30 minutes after midnight. A police spokesman told Polskie Radio that six people were “sent to the sobering up tank” – one of them arrested after threatening a journalist and two after insulting police officers.