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Polish cross memorial divides country along religious lines
Four months ago a cross was erected in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw to honor the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and other government officials who died in a plane crash in Russia.
Today, crowds continue to gather in front of the cross, not to mourn for the lost government officials, but to protest the existence of the cross. Secularist protestors say the cross should be removed from public space until a permanent monument is built.
At the same time Catholics who say they are “defenders of the cross” are fighting to keep the memorial from being removed.
This clash between secularists and Christians is a first in historically Catholic Poland.
Those who protest the cross responded to a rally call from the Facebook page “Akcja Krzyz” (Cross Action) which drew some 43,000 Facebook members, the AFP said.
Polish sociologist Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski called it a phenomenon but added, “These young people are protesting against the church as an institution, not against religion per se, the AFP said.
One thousand people came the day after the secular march and demanded that the cross remain where it is. Some said they were willing to be martyred for the cross and believe the religious values of the country must always prevail over society’s “godless” laws, The Wall Street Journal said.
A survey released by the SMG/KRC said that 71 percent of Poles would like the cross to be moved to a church nearby, an agreement that was made two weeks before between the president and the archbishop of Warsaw, the AFP said.
Poland’s Catholic Church also urged that the cross be moved to a nearby church. Bishop Stanislaw Budzik, secretary of the Polish Episcopate said, “To all those who pray at the cross, we must say that despite their good intentions they are being exploited for political purposes,” the AFP said.
Budzik added, “We call on politicians not to use the cross as a tool to achieve their goals. We urge the government to open dialogue that would defuse social tensions,” the AFP said.
The conflict over the cross seems to be symbolic of the struggle between the conservative right-wing law and Justice (PiS) party headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is the late president’s twin brother, and those who are more liberal. Meanwhile, the SLD former communist social democrats stand to benefit most from the conflict, the AFP said.
Amid Kaczynski’s failure to win the presidency, newly elected liberal President Bronislaw Komorowski along with church leaders and scout organizations said the cross would be moved, the AFP said.
Liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk has downplayed the issue saying, “No doubt, some more time is needed for emotions to settle down,” the AFP said.