KRAKOW, Poland - Tens of thousands bade farewell to President Lech Kaczynski yesterday at a state funeral filled with pomp, pride and an outpouring of patriotism that his divisive and unpopular leadership had never generated.
Mourners applauded and chanted "We thank you!" as the coffins bearing Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, were carried slowly past pale-toned Renaissance buildings for burial among kings and poets in the ancient Wawel Cathedral.
"Poles finally appreciate him," said Ryszard Stolarski, 56, one of many weeping mourners. "I never imagined that Poland would honor Kaczynski in this way."
Many world leaders, including President Barack Obama, could not be there because their travel plans were wrecked by the enormous plume of volcanic ash from Iceland that blanketed Europe. Some European leaders arrived by train.
The funeral came eight days after the Polish air force Tupolev 154 crashed on approach to Smolensk, Russia. The worst tragedy to hit Poland since World War II killed the first couple and 94 other people, including top civilian and military leaders.
Kaczynski, a lifelong skeptic of Russia, had focused on building closer ties to the United States, advocating for a U.S. missile defense base in his country. But even as president he sometimes pushed diplomacy aside to sharply criticize Russia.
Yet, since the plane crash Kaczynski has become an unwitting catalyst for new words and gestures of trust between the long-divided Slavic nations.
Kaczynski's fatal flight, which investigators have said was probably caused by pilot error, was meant to take him to a memorial for 22,000 Polish officers murdered by Stalin's secret police in 1940, in the Katyn massacres.
The patriotic Kaczynski wanted to honor them and push Moscow to do more to acknowledge the Soviet crimes, which Moscow had blamed on Nazi Germany during the communist era.
Kaczynski's body was recovered by Russians. The normally stoic Prime Minister Vladimir Putin set the tone with an outpouring of emotion. And during yesterday's funeral Mass, a Russian Orthodox priest also prayed over the coffins.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived on a jet to pay his respects. It was his first visit to Poland. "Tragedies can bring out difficult emotions, but very often they bring people closer and I believe that that is what the residents of my country and Poles need," he said.