On Saturday, the news of a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, and over 90 key figures in the country has shaken the world. The tragedy happened as they were headed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the WWII Soviet massacre of Polish officers in Katyń. The international outpouring of grief and sympathy that followed ensures that neither the tragedy from 70 years ago nor the one from 2 days ago will be forgotten, helping Poland and Russia heal the wounds of history. But while many analyses have focused on that, there is another equally hopeful aspect of this tragedy that deserves attention.
The aftermath of the crash clearly testifies to the maturity and resilience of Poland’s still relatively young democracy. It is not hard to imagine a country where the sudden death of the president, several parliamentarians, governor of the central bank, top army chiefs, and many other key officials would cause political and economic chaos or even violent struggle for power. The fact that that’s not even remotely a consideration in Poland today is telling.
According to constitutional provisions, Speaker of the House took over the duties of presidency, designated deputies immediately stepped into the vacated key positions in the country, and the planned presidential elections will still take place in June. For sure the transition will not be easy but simply because it is happening, it is already in a large part successful. That is the essence of a strong democracy where institutions, not individuals, are at the core of the state and democratic rules are followed even in an unexpected crisis.