The Cruelty of Chance

MOSCOW – In Russia, somewhere behind every event lurks the question: Who is to blame? In the tragedy that claimed the lives of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other Polish leaders, we can answer that question with certainty in at least one respect: history is to blame.

The event is so hideous that it seems like a bad joke, or an evil KGB plot, a mad conspiracy out of James Bond – or some combination of all three. Yet the crash that has sent all of Poland into mourning was none of these things. A tragedy that defies any logical explanation confirms only one thing: the cruelty of chance.

What if no fog prevented the safe landing at Smolensk airport? What if the plane was not a 20-year-old, Russian-made Tupolev-154, but a newer and safer model? What if the Polish pilot had obeyed the Russian air traffic controller who tried to divert the plane to Moscow or Minsk?

Unfortunately, the cruelty of chance also lies at the heart of the centuries of mistrust between Poland and Russia. The irony (if there is an irony at all) is that this tragedy came at a time when mistrust seemed, at long last, to be giving way to better, more businesslike relations and greater understanding between the two countries.