Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day Without Smolensk

Polish newspapers, newscasts and newsfeeds have been dominated by one thing in recent days: clashes over who's to blame for the April 10, 2010, plane crash near Smolensk, Russia, that killed President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of high-ranking officials. But it seems an ever-expanding group of Poles has had enough.

"Are you already tired of the words Smolensk, Katyn, catastrophe, air controllers, MAK? Do you not want to incite an uprising? Are you tired of the hunt for blame? Yes? That's great!!! . . . We announce February 3 as the Day Without Smolensk!"

Over 107,000 like-minded Poles have already signed up to the new Facebook group, the number rising exponentially from just 600 on Saturday and still growing. The group appears to be dominated by young, seemingly cosmopolitan Poles turned off not so much by the crash itself, but by the political handling of it as the main political parties bash each other over who's to blame or how they are blamed.

As elsewhere, these dissidents of sorts turned for organisation to Facebook, the social network par excellence and increasingly the subject of debate of whether it can have a real political influence. Experts cited by the conservative daily Rzeczpospolita scoffed on Tuesday at the potential for the petition to have any effect.

But Facebook has already had a big impact in the aftermath of the Smolensk crash. In the immediate wake of the crash, FB was used as an organising medium, among others, for those protesting against Lech Kaczynski being buried in Krakow's Wawel Castle, the traditional burial place of Polish kings. Public protests were lightning fast, and very surprising considering the crash was still very recent.

Moreover, the "Day Without Smolensk" group doesn't need to attract any real followers for the pseudo-boycott either. The connection of the like-minded and the expression of dissatisfaction with the course of public debate are already achievements. Whether the group will be motivated to push for actual political change is another question entirely. But being able to organise extremely quickly and gather large numbers together never hurts. Just ask the Tunisians.

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