Saturday, April 17, 2010

In re: Poland:

A friend in the US recently asked me what my reaction was to the recent plane crash in Russian which killed many members of Poland's political, military and intellectual elite. Here is my email to her which I furiously typed up on my Blackberry - I didn't have internet access when I wrote this because we had just moved into a new apartment in Munich the day of the crash (slightly edited):

Hi there - well, I cried for like four hours last night and in Poland they are in a national week of mourning.
There are a number of things that make this event so painful for the Polish people and all of it has to do with their relationship w the Russians.

As u may know Russia invaded Poland from the east right after germany did from the north in the fall of 1939. The Russians killed hundreds of thousands of Poles. Unfortunately, the Poles falsely believed they were going to have back up from powers such as England and the US and, instead of declaring some sort of truce with the Russians they did nothing and were massacred mercilessly for it. In Dec 1939 in one day Stalin got rid of the Polish currency - anyone who had wealth in the Polish currency lost it in one day. He took over the banks and people's property and the media and promoted Soviet Communist political propaganda. Read about the Katyn massacre on wikipedia - its sickening what the Soviets did.

Then, at the end of WWII when the Allies realized they had to stop Hitler and finally involved themselves, the Yalta conference happened. In the build up to this conference, Stalin had been steadily increasing the presence of Communists who would support him (inside Poland). At Yalta he promised Churchill and FDR that he would hold free elections in Poland if they split up Europe such as to give him Poland and they naively BELIEVED him. Then Poland was turned over to the Soviets - Polish men who had been fighting on the side of the Allies got royally screwed when the were sent back to Poland - many political and military men were murdered by the Russians on their return to Poland. This is in 1945. Polish concentration camp prisoners were returned to Poland from abroad - to a now Communist country. Stalin never held free elections and instead installed those loyal to the Communists, both Polish and Russians, into positions of power. He deported hundreds of thousands of Poles to Soviet concentration camps after the end of WWII. Polish people had no political freedom and now they were poor.

There began an underground resistance movement - a workers movement - and leadership in this movement included Pope John Paul II and many of those who died in the plane crash. From the 50s to the 80s this movement gre stronger and as you know Poland was instrumental in the eventual fall of Communism and the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

Poland is the darling of the European Union is considered the strongest example of what the Eastern European economies are capable.

Today there is prosperity in Poland and one Pole told me in January that it was the "new America" as many shining new shopping centers are being built - Warsaw is a very modern and shining example for business. Polish people are less likely to go abroad for work as the currency is 3:1 with the Euro (they are not in a hurry to get on the Euro b/c they don't want the prices to rise) and now in Poland you can the same cars and other consumer goods as in the West.

What I think the pain comes from for the Polish people in this crash is a loss of leaders who brought freedom to the Poles through resistence, defiance and passion against the Russians. Until Saturday they were alive to educate the younger generations, tell their stories and push for recognition of the atrocities against Poles that have been ignored and covered up. The President was a vocal critic of Putin and he wasn't even invited to the official Katyn memorial ceremony. This event was a few days after the one Putin attended. Putin was furious with him because he was getting missiles from the US that would be pointed at Russia. The EU wasn't super thrilled either.

Finally these people who died on Saturday had begun to lead Poland into a bright and prosperous future.

As far as the political situation, all things point to the strength of Poland's democracy and the peaceful transition of power/elections and continuation of business as usual. No reason to think the political situation in Hungary would be affected. Though, as my uncle says, "Hungary and Poland are like brothers."

Finally, the Polish are deeply grieving this loss but they have been through so much that this is not an insurmountable set back. The Polish will grieve but they are extremely tough. Skin like an alligators. They recognize that all is not lost, they loved these leaders and appreciate what these leaders did for Poland - but they know that Poland will be okay and even see that perhaps this an opportunity for light to be shed on the circumstances of the Katyn massacre and that, in and of itself, is a victory for them.

1 comment:

Decade Four said...

Hopefully I've got all my facts correct here. Please correct any errors or shed further context as you see fit Dear Reader!!