Life in Poland

Back to Reality

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to meet and talk to a lot of different people, from different backgrounds, with different opinions, leading different lives. Sometimes for my own selfish purposes their English language betterment, I ask different groups of students about the same hot topic or current events. Today was one of those days.

As you know, the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, and 95 others perished in a plane crash on their way to a memorial ceremony in Katyn. It is a great personal tragedy for all those involved and also a political tragedy for Poland. (The memorial ceremony was to take place in the forest close to Katyn, the site of a massacre of Polish officers by the Soviet secret police 70 years ago.)

I started my morning with a group of well-read and opinionated gentlemen. We had a great discussion about the political ramifications of the accident and the “what’s next?” in the political arena. They also told me the theory that perhaps the pilot did not want to land but was ordered to do so by higher-ups. Maybe they didn’t want to be late. Maybe they thought the landing was do-able. I guess it will all come out in the black box.

Another lesson today was with a lady who was a definite Kaczynski supporter. I was not a supporter because for me his views were too far on the right. Anyhow, it was interesting to hear her perspective and to listen to her describe the many charitable acts of the late First Lady. She also described how her father taught her about Katyn and other historical events which were not in the history books during communist times.

One student today explained that in fact it is the Russian’s fault because if they had not massacred Polish soldiers (and not only Polish soldiers) in Katyn, then there would have been no need to travel there in the first place. Another student made a joke, in bad taste, that it is good for “us”, meaning the opposition party to the late President. One person faulted the late President and his cabinet stating that they were not even invited there anyhow which is kind of true, but is neither here nor there.

As I drove on from one company to the next, I noticed that the City and private citizens had hung Polish flags with a black ribbon. The radio station played subdued music with special reports about some of the local people who died in the crash. Many people are also flocking to church and to other meeting places to show their respect. I also saw a lot of red eyes today.

No matter how I felt about the President, I still view this event as a tragedy. It is hard to say that anything good has come of it. Perhaps it has allowed Poland and Polish people to show their patriotism without being ashamed and without fear of being accused of nationalism. A good thing to come out of this tragedy is that more and more people have become aware of Katyn. That is one of the reasons Kaczynski wanted to go there in the first place, to put an international spotlight on what happened there 70 years ago. Russian’s main TV channel even showed Wajda’s Oscar-nominated film “Katyn” on TV last night.

In light of the support given by Putin to Poland in resolving all issues connected to the crash (and for his promise to release for the first time top secret documents connected to the Katyn massacre), it has been proposed in the media that a new era of brotherhood between Poland and Russia may arise out of this tragedy. I think they went too far with that prediction. I also think that the late President Kaczynski would be opposed to closer relations between Poland and Russia and especially displeased with his death being the impetus for such strengthening in relations.

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