The announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada will observe a National Day of Mourning on Thursday is a heartfelt, and appropriate, tribute to the victims of the air disaster at Katyn.
The crash of a Polish military aircraft in Russia on Saturday served, in one terrible moment, to extinguish much of Poland's civil and military leadership. Among the dead are the country's President, Lech Kaczynski, the chief of the general staff of the Polish Armed Forces, the head of Poland's central bank, the head of the Polish Olympics Committee, and many other representatives of Poland's elite. There was an awful poignancy in the fact that the officials were travelling to Russia in order to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by the Soviet Union. This is a moment of darkness for Poland, a country that has emerged from the shambles of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe to become a shining European power. For all the mourning, however, it is important to recognize that even a blow of this magnitude will not slow the country's progress.
Political scientist George Friedman, founder of Stratfor, a U.S. strategic and tactical intelligence company, has for several years been predicting that Poland will emerge as a "great power" in the 21st century. It might seem far-fetched, except when one considers how far Poland has already come in the past two decades, building up its democratic institutions, constructing an army capable of meaningful contributions in far-off places like Afghanistan and Iraq, forging a distinctive voice in the EU, and along the way fostering a dynamic economy that is among the world's 20 largest.
Poland's performance during the global recession eclipsed its neighbours, particularly the other former Soviet satellites, growing by 5 per cent in 2008, and by another 1.7 per cent last year. In contrast, no other EU economy grew at all last year. Its banks are stable. The Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, who was not on the aircraft, is a champion of the free market, seeking to lower taxes and reduce bureaucracy. His government aims to raise about $10-billion from sales of public assets. Little wonder that growth predictions abound.
The second tragedy at Katyn will surely remain, etched as with other tragic episodes past, on the consciousness of Poles. But President Kaczynski and the other leaders who did so much to make the country what it is today can rest knowing Poland has become an unstoppable force. Canadians should pause on Thursday to remember the dead, and honour the strong connection between our two countries.