Today, Poland is burying its president, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife, Maria Kaczynska. Together with 94 high-ranking state officials, they had lost their lives in a horrific plane crash in Smolensk, western Russia, on April 10. They were on their way to commemorate a WW2 massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners of war killed on Stalin’s orders by special Soviet troops.
The Polish community in Qatar met Mrs Maria Kaczynska, almost exactly two years ago. She came to Qatar on an official invitation from HH Sheikha Mozah Nasser al-Misnad for a Shafallah Centre sponsored conference on children with special needs. Mrs Kaczynska’s schedule was packed full with various events related to the conference and she rushed from one meeting to another, soaking in Qatar’s culture and history as she went along. It was close to a miracle then that Robert Rostek, Poland’s ambassador to Qatar, succeeded in enticing her to come to supper at the Polish embassy on her last day in the country.
Clearly exhausted after three intensive days of activities, Mrs Kaczynska nevertheless managed to arrive at the embassy on time, eager and happy to meet everyone who gathered there on the evening of the 20th of April, 2008. For over two hours, she patiently posed for pictures – and hundreds were taken – trying to speak to every guest, shake their hand or at least exchange a smile.
During a conversation I had with her it became evident that Mrs Kaczynska had prepared herself very well for her first visit to the region. She knew a great deal about past and present achievements taking place in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Qatar, and was keen to find out more. She was pleased about the negotiations concerning a gas deal that were taking place at the time between Poland and Qatar. She was completely bowled over by the grace and hospitality of her Qatari hosts.
She was also delighted that we finally had our own embassy in this country. Upon leaving, she promised to come back – she was particularly interested in learning more about Education City and the activities of the Qatar Foundation, and wanted to engage more with their various projects. “Education is the way to go”, she said enthusiastically. “Maybe Poland and Qatar could develop some form of cooperation in that field, too.”
After the evening ended, we were left with masses of pictures and charming memories of a very lively, intelligent, warm woman, deeply interested in the world and the people around her. Mrs Maria Kaczynska was not a politician with an agenda, but a deeply caring person, committed to her country, devoted to making life better for those whose cause needed her support, like young people with special needs.
The few hours she spent with the Qatari Poles at the embassy turned into a very special moment for all of us present. That moment was made painfully poignant several days ago when Maria Kaczynska together with the President and so many others perished in Smolensk. The news was almost impossible to take in. It seemed unbelievable that she would not be coming back here after all.
Last Friday, a special prayer was said at the Catholic Mass, in Doha’s Our Lady of the Holy Rosary church, for the souls of the Polish delegation that died so tragically. Top representatives of the embassy as well as ordinary Poles were present. Many expressed their appreciation of the wider Qatari society’s reaction to Poland’s tragedy: in this multi-ethnic society, we have been offered words of sympathy and comfort by practically every national community residing in Qatar.
Two years after her visit to Qatar, almost to the day, Maria Kaczynska is being buried at the historic Wawel Cathedral in Cracow, together with her husband, the President. The Polish community here pays a heartfelt tribute to the First Lady who warmed our hearts during the brief meeting at the Polish embassy in Doha in April 2008.
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