Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sorry I have been away...

And thanks to readers who sent emails for me to keep going, but I have been a little distracted, recently.

I won’t bore you with the details - other than to say that money - or the lack of it - is the root of all evil: especially when your employer seems to not have very much of it. Suddenly.

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yeah...

Poland, Japan and Nazis were going to invade Soviet Union?

Seventy years ago, as the dark clouds of war gathered over Europe, Poland was in secret alliance with Nazi Germany, and Japan, preparing to invade the Soviet Union. (caption on poster, above, says: Under the great leadership of Stalin, forward to communism!)

I know that your history book in school never told you that, but that’s what Russians are being told. I know your history book told you that the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was the not so secret agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in preparation for invading Poland. But you got it all wrong.

The Soviet Union, says a documentary that was broadcast on Russian state TV this week, had to sign the non aggression pact with the Nazis, otherwise the Poles were going to march all the way to Moscow - meet up with their Japanese chums for a tray of sushi and a jolly glass of vodka - and then depose Stalin and set up a fascist regime in Uncle Joe’s place.

Preposterous? Well, maybe highly possible to a Russian audience that is seeing history being re-written by the Kremlin. We have got used to seeing reports of school text books explaining away the Great Famine and the purges of the 1930s in the Soviet Union as necessary evils. Now get used to seeing Poland as the aggressor which almost single handed started WW II.

Poland’s foreign ministry is not pleased with the documentary. At all. In fact, it’s a little bit miffed. In a statement from its embassy in Moscow today, it said:

“It is sad that such a report was broadcast at prime time. Certainly, it will not improve the relationship between our two countries and will not lead to reconciliation between our nations.”

Meanwhile, as Poland starts to think about the 70th anniversary of the invasions in September 1939 of the Soviets and Nazis, Russia is remembering the 68th anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

No, this is not some Polish-Russian dispute over mathematics. For Russians - as this news report by RT, the Russian English language TV, shows - the Great Patriotic War started, not in 1939, but 1941, when Hitler went back on his non aggression agreement with Stalin.

If two sides can’t even agree on when a war broke out, what chances of burying, once and for all, the hatchet of terrible history between them?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Make June 4 Freedom Day!

The media have gone wall-to-wall here in Poland celebrating, remembering, analysing the first round of the elections in 1989 that eventually brought about the first government led by non-communists for decades. A good chance to declare a national holiday! (phot0 - 20th Anniversary of Polish People's Republic Street crossed out)

But no. While prime ministers and presidents from ex-communist countries plus Angela Merkel were in Krakow and Gdansk trying to give profound speeches and meaningful handshakes to each other, the rest of us was stuck at work. It was a normal day for the masses, as our leaders got a chance to look good on CNN et al.

So, no Freedom Day for us. But last Sunday - I learned last Sunday - was a national holiday: meaning all the supermarkets were shut! That came as a shock. It was Zielone Swiatki - Pentecost, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus as described in the Book of Acts... apparently.

Problem with national days that fall on a Sunday, is that I wasn’t at work, anyway. So it wasn’t a holiday for most people, except people who work in big shops. Zielone Swiatki should be called Tesco is the Anti-Christ Day.

But wouldn’t June 4 make more sense as a national holiday? That was a day that symbolises something both local - to Poles - and universal, to all of us.

The media has gone nuts about it. The TVN 24 hour round the clock news channel has been going round the clock with the story. They even had one of those ‘virtual studios’ that I first saw CNN do on election day in the US. The entire studio was decked out like the Dziennik news programme on the old TVP state channel, circa 1989. Correspondents - and this was a daft trick borrowed from CNN - that were in Gdansk or Krakow would be beamed down into the studio in Warsaw. Which was meant to impressive - except for the fact that the whole point of having a correspondent in Gdansk is that you can see him or her on the spot in Gdansk.

But the media have gone for this in such a big way because it genuinely is a day that moves people. To think of how it was then and how far Poland, and themselves, have come since.

Of course, the deal that Solidarity struck with the communists back then at the Round Table talks - effectively allowing them to become part of the governing process, even though virtually all of the seats contested in that election would be won by opposition candidates - has come to plague politics in Poland even since. It was a compromise to maintain stability, while radical economic shocks were put in place. But the compromise had a cost - and the Law and Justice party under the Kaczynskis are basically a creation of it. With no communist conspiracies and cliques to rage against, Jaroslaw Kaczynski would have to invent some.

But even so...This day seems a good time for a national holiday, to me. Make June 4 Freedom Day in Poland!