Ignorance is bliss … especially in the Smolensk case

How could any respectable and educated person lend any credence to such conspiratorial musings? After all, it is not as if Russia has a long and bloody tradition of political murder, and even mass murder. Never mind that the post-Soviet regime in Moscow had both the means and the motive to assassinate Poland’s pro-American leadership.


By Paweł Piotr Styrna | November 12, 2013


Left: A smiling President Komorowski greets Prime Minister Tusk while awaiting the coffins of Smolensk victims at Okecie Airport in Warsaw. Right: A jovial Tusk meets with Vladimir Putin in Smolensk after the crash.

Ridicule is probably one of the oldest tools in the arsenal of political warfare. Making fun of an opponent serves to both undermine his credibility, and even to provoke him into angrily over-reacting. One method to discredit one’s political enemies is to mock them as “conspiracy theorists,” thereby implying that the targeted group is paranoid and psychologically unbalanced. Such a tactic requires little to no intellectual effort and allows one to conveniently avoid addressing the other side’s arguments.

An almost ideal example of this is Hanna Kozlowska’s October 24th blog entry on ForeignPolicy.com, entitled “Hot Dogs, Red Bull, and the Latest Conspiracy Theories About Poland’s Tragic Plane Crash.” In this incredibly shallow piece, the author virtually plagiarized the “echo chamber” that is Gazeta Wyborcza – the Koran of post-communist leftists and liberals in the post-People’s-Republic of Poland.

Ms. Kozlowska, no doubt, takes great pride in her wittiness as she makes light of the greatest national tragedy to befall Poland in the past two post-communist decades. Most people would consider turning the death of almost one hundred members of a country’s patriotic and pro-American political and military elite—including the president, key government officials, and the top military brass—into the butt of satire to be quite inappropriate and tasteless. But then again, even Poland’s liberal/post-communist president, Bronislaw Komorowski, and his fellow “centrist” prime minister, Donald Tusk, found the time to have a laugh shortly after the Smolensk Plane Crash, as the bodies of the victims were arriving in Poland. As a Polish proverb states: “the fish begins to rot from the head.”

Ms. Kozlowska then proceeds to ridicule the Macierewicz Commission as a cabal of “conspiracy theorists.” Never mind that this parliamentary body collaborates with many accomplished and respected experts and scientists. She mentions the commission’s findings in a most cursory and dismissive manner—clearly implying their alleged silliness—yet fails to challenge or debunk their findings.

While we’re at it, why not also ignore the obvious fact that a parliamentary commission investigating a violent event must take into account all the possible scenarios, including the dirty word “conspiracy.” The author may not be aware that, in the United States, this is done as a matter of course, as demonstrated, for instance, by the investigation following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Why should Smolensk be an exception?

How could any respectable and educated person lend any credence to such conspiratorial musings? After all, it is not as if Russia has a long and bloody tradition of political murder, and even mass murder. Never mind that the Kremlin continues to be ruled by the successors of the Cheka or “former” KGB officers and their affiliates and agents. Never mind that the post-Soviet regime in Moscow had both the means and the motive to assassinate Poland’s pro-American leadership. Never mind that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, indulges in violent rhetoric and vulgar intimidation. Never mind that his political opponents, both domestic and foreign, sometimes end up dead. Never mind that the governments in Moscow and Warsaw have, since the day of the crash, behaved as if they had something to hide, nervously working to make the inconvenient Smolensk Tragedy “go away” – not unlike Team Obama on Benghazi. Never mind that the Russian MAK Report was written by a Soviet and post-Soviet insider (Gen. Tatyana Anodina was a close supporter of Evgenii Primakov, both as the deputy head of the KGB and as SVR boss), and that this report became the basis of the Warsaw government’s blame-the-pilots line; in spite of the serious criticism that the MAK Report was subjected to, even by the government’s aviation experts. And, of course, there is the additional fact that the fuselage of the presidential Tupolev, along with the bodies of the passengers, disintegrated and became dispersed over a wide area – something very difficult to reconcile with the official Moscow-Warsaw version of the story.

Last but not least, there was the Binienda Study, which showed that the birch tree—which, Prof. Chris Cieszewski pointed out, had been damaged a few days before the crash—could not have possibly broken the wing of the Polish aircraft. But never mind history, evidence, physics, or common sense. These cannot be allowed to undermine the politically correct mantra about Smolensk.

Finally, the author should remember that Antoni Macierewicz—regardless of her opinion of his politics—struggled against an oppressive, totalitarian regime imposed on Poland—suffering imprisonment, repression, and having his academic career destroyed as a result—so that young Poles, such as herself, could enjoy the freedom to travel and study abroad, and to express their political views.

The fact Ms. Kozlowska could ignore and dismiss all of this, at once turning it into a joke, proves that there is a grain of truth to the old cliché that ignorance is bliss. Perhaps the best commentary, however, is encapsulated in the famous line from Nikolai Gogol’s Inspector Generalˆ: “What are you laughing at? You are laughing at yourselves.”


Paweł Styrna has an MA in modern European history from the University of Illinois, and is currently working on an MA in international affairs at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, where he is a research assistant to the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies. Mr. Styrna is also a Eurasia analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.