Poland and Russia- Victory Parade a Symbol of Warming Realtions?

Yet another sign of the thawing of relations between Poland and Russia?  This one coming from Moscow.  In May, Russia will hold a multi-national military parade to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of Victory over Nazi Germany.  Polish soldiers will march behind those of Russia and the soldiers of former Soviet Republics.  What is significant is that they will march in front of American, British and French forces.  Just a few years ago Poles were not even mentioned in the pantheon of fighters against Nazism in Russia.  Vladimir Putin even mentioned anti-fascist movements from Italy and Germany, but failed to mention Polish sacrifices during WWII.  Now though Poles will be properly honoured and remembered in Russia.

Poland and Russia had testy relations in the past 20 years since Poland finally gained full independence.  Problems arose very quickly.  Poland’s attempts to integrate with the West were seen as anti-Russian policies in Moscow.  At the same time Poles saw Russian opposition as meddling by a former master.  Distrust was followed by accusations.  Several times both sides openly traded words that painted the other side as villains.  This state of affairs has not improved much over the last years.  Though Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has made efforts to heal the rifts somewhat.  As has Polish prime-minister Donald Tusk.  But Russian premier Vladimir Putin and the recently dead Polish president Lech Kaczynski were seen as antagonists to their opposing capitals.  Both highly patriotic men were seen by the other side as nationalists who turn their patriotism against their neighbours.

However, since the tragic death of the Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 other prominent Poles, the former antagonisms were put aside.  Lech Kaczynski’s efforts to remember the Katyn massacres are finally seen in a new light in Moscow.  Instead of anti Russian baiting, the efforts are seen as a search for truth to honour the victims of a heinous crime committed by Stalin and Soviet NKVD.  The efforts of the Russian government in the wake of the tragic air crash are seen in Poland as very positive.  Poles also appreciate the words and actions of ordinary Russians in the wake of the tragedy.

This latest move, may be only a part of that effort, after all, the Polish plane crashed only 11 days ago.  And things may go back to usual bickering and war of words.  But for now the move to place the Polish soldiers in front of the Western Allies should be seen as a positive.  It may seem insignificant to some.  But just a few months ago the participation of Poles was in question.

Historically Poles deserve a high place in the parade, so its not an unwarranted gesture of pity.  Poland fought Nazi Germany from the beginning to the end, on all fronts.  The Poles fought alongside the Western Allies as well as alongside the Red Army.  On the Eastern Front, by the end of the war, the Poles had two Armies and fought in the Battle of Berlin.  Numbers wise, Poland had the fourth largest force opposing the Nazis, bigger than France.  Yet after the war, the efforts of the Poles to defeat Hitler and his henchmen were marginalized for political expediency.  The Western Allies did not want to antagonize the Soviets over the touchy Polish subject, the Soviets in turn, marginalized the Polish Armia Krajowa (AK-Home Army) and those forces that fought alongside the American and British forces.  When communism fell it did not get much better.  Its hard to change almost 50 years of perceptions in just a few.

And as I mentioned above, 5 years ago, during the 60th Anniversary of the victory, Poles were not even invited, nor mentioned by the Russians.  So those 70 Polish representatives marching behind their former Soviet Allies are not insignificant.  It may be a step to something bigger and better.  The very complicated history of Polish-Russian relations wont be resolved by one parade, or a showing of a film.  But this may be a vital step to improve those relations.  Poland and Russia may never become friends and allies again, but they can be peaceful neighbours who have correct relations.

The Russians have behaved impeccably over the last 11 days.  Both Medvedev, who attended Lech Kaczynski’s funeral, and Putin, did and said the right things.  And Poles for their part, showed appreciation and spoke of reconciliation between the two nations.  Even the often quoted speech by the late president of Poland, which he never got to give himself, had words of reconciliation.  So this step, may be one of many.  Let us hope that both Russia and Poland will take further steps to reconcile their relations.

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Katyn Remembered- Then and Now, a Debate

Memory Remains

Now I was going to write about the Katyn Massacre sooner or later.  But events of the last 9 days have forced me to do this now.  Those who read anything I have written before know that I remember.  I remember the Holocaust, Marek Edelman, Witold Pilecki, Communism.  I remember many more and plan to write about some of those things, the tragic story of the 17 year old Inka is in the works.  Today I perhaps should be writing about Marek Edelman’s friends who in an act of desperation and pride took up arm against the German murderers 67 years ago.  But that will come too.  The other Warsaw Uprising will also get its tribute.  Those boys and girls so deserve to be remembered by all.  Hopefully I will find time and inspiration to write more about Polish history, to present to you some of the tragic, heroic, and not so tragic, nor heroic chapters of my native land’s history.  But why do I bother someone might ask.

Well the question was presented to me personally and in general over the past days.  Ever since the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Polish president Lech Kaczynski, the first lady, Maria, and the last Polish president in exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski and 93 other Poles, parliamentarians, Polish Armed Forces commanders, religious figures, prominent Polish officials, other famous Poles, bodyguards, the plane crew.  And last, but most certainly not least, the Katyn victims family members.  A tragic loss to Poland, Europe, and dare I say, the world.  Nowhere in modern times has a nation lost so many citizens of such importance at once.  This past week was one of mourning and remembrance.  Yes remembrance.  Poles from all walks of life and religious and political persuasions, by the millions, took time to remember those who were lost.

Yes, we all remembered.  Even those like me, who live far away from Poland, all over the world, Poles remembered.  Yet as the candles were still lit, and the flowers did not yet begin to wilt, and the tears did not yet begin to dry, some questioned our mourning.  Yes.  Whether because of politics, or a world view, some even mocked the tears that were shed.  Not only the tears shed for the recently lost, but the tears shed for those who were murdered in 1940.  Yes, apparently its not hip nor sexy to remember one’s past.  Screw those who died, let them rot, who cares why or how they died, we have more important things to worry about, like the new show on TV, or a new film that we want to see, our jobs, our lives.  After all, rehashing events from the past does no good to anyone.  It causes problems with others, in Katyn’s case Russia, and it makes us uncomfortable.  Hell being patriotic is not cool any more.  Poland has its democracy and freedom now, who cares how it got it, and what had to happen in order for Poland to gain that freedom.  We have it, and now we want to go out into the world and live our lives, so piss off and stop boring us.

One of the biggest bores who made people remember and uncomfortable was the late president of Poland.  Lech Kaczynski was a patriot.  He forced people to remember.  When he and the other 95 people died, they were going on a state mission, to commemorate the Katyn murders.  Yes, the silly little man wanted to remember and honour almost 22,000 Poles who were murdered in 1940.  How dare he!!!  What was he hoping to achieve?  What is all this history going to get us?  Poles are constant martyrs, or at least they present themselves that way.  They have a victim complex, they want the world to constantly apologize and to feel sorry for them.  Silly Poles, can’t they just eat their hamburgers, listen to their iPods and enjoy life like the rest?

Problem is that it was not just foreigners saying such things (I paraphrased for dramatic effect).  The loudest voices of criticism came from Poles themselves.  Yes those cosmopolitan Poles, the European Poles, who want to take advantage of the new wave of integration with Europe and the world.  The globalization Poles.  They want to have nice things, good jobs and worry about today not about some dead soldiers.  When I say cosmopolitan I do not mean cosmopolitan in the proper sense.  The new age cosmopolitans are not really worldly.  Watching American TV shows, eating fast food, and enjoying the fruits of integration and globalization does not make one a cosmopolitan.  Many have no clue about the world around them.  Many have the knowledge but just don’t care.  To them eating sushi or Vietnamese food makes them cosmopolitan.  Wearing the latest styles and scents is what matters, not how those things got here, were created, or why they were created.  They pick modern beach resorts for their holidays all over the world while never really stepping out of those resorts to see where they actually are.  Now I may be a bit harsh, but hell, they are telling me that I should not care about my past.  They are telling me that it does not matter how I got to where I am.  Basically they are telling me that it does not matter who I am.

Yes, that’s right.  I am who I am because of mine and my ancestors’ past.  If I did not remember where I come from and how I got to where I am, I would be a different person.  Of course there is a danger of living in the past, not being able to move on and dwelling too much in it.  Yes, that is true.  And that is what the nouveau cosmopolitans say, especially when it concerned Lech Kaczynski.  To them the man only talked about the past, they took his patriotism and historical identity as backward nationalism.  But it wasn’t that.  He didn’t just constantly harp on about the past.  It only seemed that way to them because they disliked him.  Before we can move on, we must remember and come to terms with our past.

Unfortunately for Poland there was a lot to come to terms with, a lot to remember.  A lot to get right.  A hell of a lot.  Poland as a nation dramatically changed in the 20th Century.  Independence was quickly followed by a victorious war, then internal turmoil came.  Then the Second World War.  6 million Poles perished, almost 20% of the population.  Poland then changed not only geographically, but also demographically and politically.  Ancient Polish cities belonged to us no more.  Cities we should not call our own are now a part of Poland.  Poland went from a multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-religious society to monolithic nation.  Yes, one people, one culture, one religion replaced all those who participated in Polish life for centuries.  The biggest loss was Polish Jews.  90% were murdered in WWII.  For almost 8 centuries they were a big part of Polish life, and are no more.  Their numbers went from over 3 million to under 100,000 in a space of a few years.  Polish cities were destroyed.  Polish culture pillaged, best, bravest and brightest Poles perished by the millions.  Then Civil war that lasted into late 1940’s.  Totalitarian Soviet enforced Communism.  More drama during their rule, 1956, the sorry episode of 1968.  Then 1970, and then Solidarity, Martial Law, and finally freedom.  That’s a lot for a nation to take.  That’s a lot to remember.  And in those 70 years between the Second and Third Commonwealth so may smaller dramas took place.  And we are just supposed to forget that?

You expect a president who fought for that freedom, and whose father fought in the Warsaw Uprising, and whose wife’s father also fought in the AK, whose uncle fought at Monte Cassino and another uncle that was murdered at Katyn, to forget all of that?  Really?  After 45 years of lies and deceit?  You want him, all of us, to move on and just forget all that?  In the name of what?  Political expediency?  Mindless comfort?  Poland had just 20 years to right the wrongs, to untangle the lies, to remember properly.  And we should move on?  70+ years of great drama is supposed to be forgotten over 20?  When so much is yet unresolved?  Well fuck off.  No, I wont, we wont, forget.  That is why institutions such as IPN (Institute of National Memory) exist.  To untangle the web of lies that were spread for decades.

People have a right to criticize Lech Kaczynski for his conservative policies.  Hell, I have done so on numerous occasions.  His backwards politics should be criticised.  But they should not be confused and banded with his patriotism and search for truth and remembrance.  Those are two different issues.  One dealt with here and now.  The other with national memory.  Even when the need to pursue that truth sometimes made problems in the present.  Like with Katyn.

Yes, the Katyn issue was a problem.  But it was not Poland’s problem.  It was not Lech Kaczynski’s problem.  It was only a problem because of Russian, and formerly Soviet, politics and behaviour.  Now I wont bore you with the gory details of the Katyn Massacre, to get information all you have to do is read a Wiki article or any other readily available source.  What we are examining is why Katyn is still a problem between Poland and Russia.  It is not the fact that the Poles are unwilling to forgive the Russians for committing these murders.  Nor do we want to hold this over their heads for years and years.  If that were true then we have many more things to hold over the Russians from the past 200+ years.  But no one dwells on that.  What Poles want, what Lech Kaczynski wanted, was the truth and some sort of repentance fro the Russians.  Until the last few days, we got almost none.

Yes, around 20 years ago the Russians finally admitted that it was them.  Before we were told it was the Nazis, or what was actually most advisable, it was best to just not mention it.  But Russia, even after admitting to the crime, never repented for it.  No steps were taken to heal the rift between the two nations.  Instead, Vladimir Putin’s government systematically made efforts to rehabilitate the worst of the criminals, Stalin first and foremost among them.  Soviet “achievements” were glorified, their crimes omitted.  Russia made a concious effort to glorify all of its past, on many occasions, at the expense of Poland.  One, at first glance, seemingly banal example would be Russian state sponsored films, in which Poles are vilified.  Russian foreign policy, since 1989, has also not been Poland friendly.  For 20 years Russia objected to and interfered with Poland’s integration with the West.  Getting back to Katyn.  Poland needs closure, all documents have to be declassified, the Russian government needs to make a gesture of goodwill and friendship to Poland.

That goodwill and friendship seems realistic now.  The tragic death of the president and the rest of the delegation perhaps did what could not be previously done.  First, the world found out about Katyn.  What is even more important, Russia learned about Katyn.  In that sense, the latest deaths were not in vain.  Now Russians will not look at Poles who want to remember Katyn as annoying pests who only want to embarrass Mother Russia.  But they will have some understanding and empathy.  Before they just did not know.  Russians as a people are just lovely.  Kind, welcoming, giving, as they showed in the days after the plane crash.  Now armed with the new knowledge the Russians, Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn, was shown on Russian state television, will seek from their govt a gesture.  Now that govt wont have an excuse of keeping it a secret.  That govt, with president Medvedev and premier Putin has behaved impeccably since the crash.  The flowers, gestures, and words and actions have given me hope, that finally, through his death, Lech Kaczynski, will achieve what he wanted.  Katyn remembered, and afterwards, a warming of Polish-Russian relations.  Now is the time, lets all hope that the politicians wont let that chance pass them by.

It is the same within Poland.  Political debate has been degraded to insults and finger pointing.  Now is the time to come together and look at political opponents not as enemies, but honourable rivals and compatriots fighting for a better Poland.  We don’t have to agree politically, but we can behave like adults and debate like a civilized people.  Finally, Poles themselves have an opportunity to change.  Again, they can see themselves as part of a whole, not as enemy factions forced to live together.  And its patriotism and remembering our common history that should bring us together, not divide us.

The cosmopolitans should remember that among those who died with the two presidents, were an actor, the chief of the Polish Olympic committee, and a symbol of Solidarity, as well as politicians from all of the main parties.  Including the lefts presidential candidate.  People from all walks of life, socially and politically.  A microcosm of Poland.  Those who almost seemed glad that the plane crashed would do well to remember that there were several family members of those who perished at Katyn in 1940.  You want them to quietly remember their loved ones?  Well they can’t.  Because unlike my father, their death was not a family tragedy.  It was a national tragedy.  They died because they were Poles.  And they should be remembered by Poles.  All of us.

It is our duty to remember.  it is our duty to learn from they deaths.  It is our duty to learn why they died.  Remembering and being a patriot does not necessarily collide with one’s cosmopolitan lifestyle.  You can be a good Pole and be a good citizen of Europe, the world.  You can be a good Pole while being a good capitalist.  Being a Pole does not prevent you from having your own politics, religion, or non-religion.  Or anything else.  There is nothing hip about forgetting who you really are and where you come from.  There is nothing modern about being an ignorant buffoon.  Without your past, all you are left with is a shallow, almost empty human being, devoid of values and history, and real self worth.  So yes, do criticize the late president for his policies.  Do criticise the Polish Catholic Church for its sins and transgressions.  But do not forget, you come from a country with a 1000 year history.  And that history always went hand in hand with that church.  In good times and bad.  One can not run away from it.  One does not have to love it.  But one can not ignore it, nor disrespect it, without disrespecting oneself.

And that is why we must remember, and respect, the ones who perished at Katyn all those years ago.  And all those we died on their way to honour their memory.  May they all rest in peace, may we never forget them.

Just want to say a word.  I do not pray, but am thinking today about the tragic heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, who on this day, in 1943, rose up to die the way they chose, not the way their Nazi oppressors picked.  We will never forget.

(the youtube link, is the music that was played all through out last week during the memorials on Polish tv.)

Also:  Fell free to comment and express your opinion, I do not moderate discussions, unless they are really offensive.

Poland’s New Katyn – A Tribute to Poland

Polish Flag with a black ribbon

A Country in Mourning

I tried to post something yesterday, but had to end it and leave an incomprehensible mess.  Not sure today will be better but I’ve had more time to reflect.

Lets just say this from the start.  Poland will go on.  Poorer, yes, after all it lost its leadership, but it will go on possibly stronger.  A country in mourning today, but this is not the first such tragedy to strike the land and its people.  Hell, its not the first in the last 80 years.  Today Poland is united.  United in grief and reflection.  I too am grieving.  Even though I haven’t lived there for almost 26 years.  I even stopped paying much attention to Polish politics a while ago, the immediate seemed more important.  Life and politics in America took over, after all, the problems close to home are more urgent, and we have a lot of them here.

But Poland is home too.  A place where I was born, a nation and people long tormented by history.  Constantly struggling for its freedom.  The last 200+ years were marked by heroism and tragedy.  And one such tragedy was the Katyn Massacre.  In the forests near Katyn more than 20,000 of Poland’s best sons lost their lives.  Murdered by the brutal Soviet NKVD, on orders of Josef Stalin.  They died on their knees, shot through the back of the head, with hand tied behind their backs with wire.  When the world found out about Katyn it looked away.  Until 20 years ago it wasn’t even talked about in Poland.  Poland’s Soviet masters needed it kept quiet.  But we whispered.  We knew.  We remembered.  Now that Poland is a free nation Katyn is remembered by all.  Finally we can properly pay tribute to our lost brothers.

It is for such a tribute that the Polish official delegation travelled yesterday.  Lech Kaczynski did not want to forget.  He refused to ignore this dark chapter of history for political expediency.  Yesterday Poles were supposed to mark 70 years since the murders.  The world ignored it.  Russia certainly would love nothing else but to have it forgotten and be swept away.  Many Poles themselves, in the name of political progress and relations with Russia, wanted to do just that.  But no.  Katyn itself would not let the world forget.  In a tragically ironic twist of fate the world today is learning about Katyn.  By dying near those who were murdered, and on such a day, the president and the Polish delegation achieved what they always wanted.  The world finally noticed Polish blood that was shed so needlessly.

Now, unlike many, I wont pretend that Poland lost its greatest leader, a loved president, or someone who was perfect, and whose politics were not divisive.  He was none of those things.  A deeply flawed man, an uncompromising man.  A man who was as controversial as anyone in Polish politics today.  But time for remembering his failings and controversy will come.  Today, and in the next few days, is a time to remember that Poland lost its president.  A time for mourning.  And a time to unite in order to learn from this and move forward once the tears dry.

Move forward Poland will.  We all will.  We will dissect whose fault it was.  No doubt there will be those who will make up conspiracy theories.  Hell they are doing it already.  But the people of Poland and the state itself will go on.  Power is in safe hands, there is no chaos, no power vacuum.  Poland is in mourning, but it is a safe and a stable state.  Elections will come, a new president will be chosen, those who died will be replaced in their duties.  Some already have been according to the constitution and rules provided.  Politically everything it as it should be.

But today is not about politics.  Its about remembering those whom we lost.  Lech Kaczynski was Poland’s first citizen.  Poland’s first lady, Maria Kaczynska, was also lost.  The entire Polish military leadership died too.  The Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff and all the heads of the Armed Forces.  Several members of the Polish Sejm (parliament), many quite important, leaders of Polish politics.  Several religious figures were lost too, among them Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical chaplains of the military.  Tragically a great Polish actor was on the plane as well.  And a great symbol of Poland’s latest struggle for freedom, a lady who inspired Solidarity and its struggle.  Other great Poles were lost too, many quite prominent in Polish history, society, and politics..  96 in total.  Each life no less important than the next.  But most tragically, on a personal level for me, a few family members of those who were murdered in the Katyn Forests were also on that plane travelling to pay tribute to their fathers, brothers and grandfathers.  Truly heartbreaking.  Once again these families will shed tears because of Katyn.

Now this is not the first time Poland has lost is leader.  Not even the first time a president came back from Russia in a coffin.  General Wladyslaw Sikorski was Poland’s prime minister and leader during the Second World War.  He was killed in 1943 in another plane crash in Gibraltar, soon after the world found out about Katyn and a political crisis that came about because of it.  A most convenient death for Stalin and the Allies.  A tragic loss for Poland at a time of its greatest need.  The legal Polish Government in Exile soon lost its battle and political fight.  The world accepted the new Communist govt formed by the Soviets.  The new regime was full of traitors, communist agents of the USSR and sometimes the Gestapo.  Poland’s Govt in London kept electing symbolic heads of state until Poland regained its freedom.  When Lech Walesa was elected president of free Poland in 1990, Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last Polish president in Exile, handed over the presidential insignia to Walesa and stepped down, thus dissolving the GiE and uniting Poland symbolically.  President Kaczorowski was on that plane too.  Travelling with president Kaczynski to pay tribute to those murdered at Katyn.  Yet another twist in the tragic Polish history.

I mentioned two, one actually dying in Russia.  Well it was not really a sad occasion.  Boleslaw Bierut was the first post-WWII leader of Poland.  A despicable character, who died on a state visit to Moscow in 1956.  There are claims of poisoning or perhaps even a suicide (suggested perhaps?).  He is guilty of murdering many of Poland’s patriots.  He participated in and led a bloodthirsty campaign to eliminate the Polish patriotic movement.  He was an agent of the Soviets, and possibly even worked with the Gestapo to help them eliminate members of the Armia Krajowa.  No tears shed for that bastard.

But today we shed tears.  Not because we loved all those who died.  Not because we agreed with them politically.  Not because they were perfect.  We cry and mourn because Poland lost its sons and daughters.  Many contributed greatly to Poland’s freedom and history.  These sons and daughters loved Poland.  They worked tirelessly in its service.  And died while serving the country they loved.  We will remember them.  Hopefully we will be better because of this and their deaths will not be in vain.  Hopefully the relations between Poland and Russia will improve because of this.

Poland has impressed me.  Poles all over Poland have shed their political and religious divisions in order to remember those who were lost.  Touching tributes are seen all over the country.  The Presidential Palace has become a place of vigil.  People go there to lay flowers, light candles, reflect, pray.  The world too has been wonderful in this sad time.  Tributes came from all over.  Many nations have announced days of mourning in solidarity with Poland.  Almost all of Poland’s neighbours have behaved impeccably.  Even a country halfway around the globe, Brazil will hold 3 days of mourning.  There was a minute’s silence before Real Madrid and FC Barcelona clash yesterday.  Truly touching.  Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, have also donel and said the right things.  Russians themselves have paid many tributes in solidarity with Poland’s loss.  Russians tonight will watch Andrew Wajda’s “Katyn” on television.  A significant decision by Russia.  After all, while Russia admitted that the Soviets did perpetrate this crime it never apologized for it.  And there are still controversies surrounding it.  Perhaps this latest tragedy will move those involved to admission, conciliation and forgiveness.  Hopefully some good will come from this.

May they all rest in piece.

For a good article and notes on those who were killed please visit:

http://uzar.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/katyn-returns-to-haunt-poland/

Polish President Killed in Air Crash

This morning, April 10th 2010 Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed in an air crash along with the rest of the 80+ delegation of Polish dignitaries, politicians, top military officers, historians, and family members of those murdered in the Katyn Massacre.

The president travelled with his wife.  The plane crashed on approach in heavy fog, early reports claim pilot error, the plane clipped several trees.

This is a tragedy of epic proportions for Poland.  A week of mourning was called by the acting president, former head of the Polish Sejm (parliament) Komorowski.  Early elections will be called.  Katyn once again becomes a name linked with Polish tears and tragedy.  The delegation flew to commemorate those who were murdered by the NKVD (later renamed KGB).  Several thousand of Polish reservists were murdered in the forests near Smolensk.

Actually, I am too shocked to write anymore

may they rest in peace.

Published in: on April 10, 2010 at 7:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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