Dispute over cross in front of the presidential palace in Poland

Warsaw  (dpa) – “Are you for or against the cross?” Poles ask each
       other as they gather for heated debate in front of the presidential
       That question is at the heart of a dispute currently dividing
       Poles, largely along generational lines.
          The cross was placed at the palace as a tribute to Lech Kaczynski
       soon after the April 10 plane crash in Russia in which he and 95
       others were killed.
       Attempts to move the cross to a nearby church sparked fierce
       public protests earlier this month, as demonstrators clashed with
          Now the spot in front of the palace, slick with candle wax, has
       become a place where Poles meet to pray, argue and give speeches.
          The dispute over the cross reflects not only divided opinion over
       the late president’s legacy, but also a generation gap that separates
       young Poles from their more conservative elders.
          Kaczynski supporters say the late president never got the respect
       he deserved and was still being “spat on” by his political opponents
       in his death.
       Their ranks include elderly women who place candles, flowers and
       patriotic poems before the cross. They accuse Polish youth of
       disrespect and ignorance.
          Younger people argue for the separation of church and state,
       saying the cross has no place in front of a government building.
          A dedicated group of demonstrators has camped out at the site,
       pledging to defend the cross until a permanent memorial to the crash
       victims is set up in its place. They sit on lawn chairs beneath
       banners that read, “We Remember! We Protest!”
          Tuesday marks four months since the tragic crash that shocked the
       nation and united Poles across political lines. But shared grief has
       turned to rancour, with the re-emergence of old political and
       generational differences.
          As curious passersby and confused tourists look on, people in
       front of the palace pair off, debating the merits of the cross in
       loud and sometimes vulgar terms.
          “This isn’t a Russian colony!” an elderly man yells across the
       crowd, referring to Russia’s lead role in the crash investigation.
          “Every government is the boss in its territory,” yells another man
       in reply, defending Moscow’s right to conduct a probe into an
       accident that occurred on its own soil.
          “There is a lack of respect for the elderly,” retiree Ewa Zak told
       the German Press Agency dpa. “We hear everywhere that (the cross’s
       defenders) are fanatics, but nobody shows how the elderly are
       treated, and how the drunks spit on them.”
          Rafal, 14, has a different point of view.
          “I’m an atheist and I think the cross should be moved to a
       church,” he said. It’s an ideal place, and safer for many people
          On Monday some Polish Facebook users pledged to remove the cross
       and protest officials’ handling of the problem. By midnight, several
       thousand mostly young people gathered in front of the presidential
       palace chanting, “To a church!”
          There was some pushing and shoving among supporters and opponents
       of the cross, but the mood remained festive and irreverent.
          The cross remained in place Tuesday morning, while a fresh crowd
       gathered at the palace to renew the debate.
          At least one pro-cross demonstrator had a peace offering for his
          “You’ve had your fun, you danced, you called me a dirty
       (expletive), and I don’t mind. I forgive you,” the man said. “Let’s
       at last start talking.”