WARSAW, Poland (AP) — President Andrzej Duda of Poland on Friday awarded the country's top civilian honor to a communist-era pro-democracy fighter who recently was accused in the media of manipulating evidence while investigating a presidential plane crash in Russia that killed 96 prominent Poles.
Duda said he awarded The Order of the White Eagle to Antoni Macierewicz, 74, for his contribution to Poland's sovereignty and democratic changes, and for his service to the country.
In the 1970s Macierewicz co-founded a dissident organization, the Workers' Defense Committee, or KOR, that laid foundations for the nationwide Solidarity movement that in 1989 toppled communist rule in Poland. Macierewicz was repeatedly incarcerated for his activities.
The small ceremony where Duda awarded him the distinction took place 46 years since KOR's founding. Two other co-founders, Miroslaw Chojecki and Piotr Naimski, also received the honor.
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Macierewicz went on to serve as defense minister during 2015-2018 and is a close associate of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland's governing Law and Justice party.
He was appointed head of a special government commission investigating the 2010 crash that killed Kaczynski's twin, then-President Lech Kaczynski, and 95 other Poles.
Macierewicz has insisted the presidential plane crash was an assassination planned in Moscow. A recent report by Polish news channel TVN24 alleged that Macierewicz and his commission manipulated and hid evidence that did not support the assassination theory.
Earlier, a professional commission for aviation incidents said the crash in adverse conditions resulted from errors by the crew and the control tower at Russia's Smolensk airport.
Many government critics said Friday that the “young” Macierewicz merited the award for his courage in opposing the communist regime but that his later activity made him an inappropriate recipient now.
The leader of the opposition Polish People's Party, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said it was an “incredible scandal” that the The Order of the White Eagle went to a man “whose main achievement is sowing hatred and lies.”