Friday, April 23, 2010


I had a recent series of events that strangely interwove with one another.  While I was in the Republic of Georgia, my Polish friend Ala made a list of films and books that I should know.  One of those films was Katyn, which is a 2007 Polish production directed by Andrzej Wajda.  The film focuses on a Soviet and Stalin atrocity: the massacre of over 20,000 Polish military officers and members of the Polish intelligentsia in the Katyn Forest in 1940.  Immediately after the massacre, the Soviets blamed the Nazis for the deaths.  It was only recently that Russia recognized their complicity, first in 1990 when Mikhail Gorbachev admitted to the Soviet Union's role and then more recently when Vladimir Putin spoke about the Soviet Union's role. (I am embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about Katyn.)   I took the film from my local library on 3 April, just a day after I arrived in the US.

On 10 April, President Lech Kacyniski, the Polish First Lady, and 94 others, among them Poland's political elite, died when their plane crashed outside of Smolensk near the Katyn memorial.  Kacyniski and his party were flying to Smolensk to observe the anniversary of the Katyn massacre along with Russia's political elite.

I read everything I could about Kacyniski and the memorial service, about Poland in the days after the crash, and then yesterday, I finally watched the film.  It is not an easy film to watch.  It is very beautiful, but it is also gruesome.  The film focuses on the lives of the women whose men died in the massacre, as well as a few of the men who met their end at Katyn.  I watched an interview, too, with Wajda, whose father was killed at Katyn.  I watched a documentary about the making of the film, including interviews with one of the primary female actors Maja Ostaszewska, whose great-grandfather was executed at Katyn.  It felt a bit like viewing someone else's tragic family photograph album.

Poland will survive the loss of Kaxyniski and the others.  Already, there are plans for Poland to have an election yet this year, and there will be a peaceful transfer of power.  However, the irony of the plane's destination coupled with the 96 deaths seems an awfully cruel blow to the Polish people.  

One thing that I did learn on my trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan is how well-respected and -loved the Polish people are in that part of the world.  Poland has been quick to assist these new democracies with financial, humanitarian, and cultural resources.  That experience, along with my more recent readings and viewings, have given me a newfound respect for Poland and its people.  Poland's democracy and its destiny are inexorably linked to its history.  May their future be bright.


  1. Let good people have the power and not kill anybody in any place...


  2. Vali, so in democracies we must vote for those "good people" and then hold them accountable (to their goodness, to their promises, to us). While voting is a wonderful tool for a citizen, it also means that whoever is in power after the vote, while he or she has a majority of the voters' support, also has a minority who did not vote for that person, and sometimes (even frequently) that minority can be incredibly vocal. We have seen this division in the US for many years, probably going all the way back to the middle of President Clinton's first term (1994 or so). For 16+ years, the political discourse has been so divisive, even hateful, that it can be hard deciding who the good and the bad people are:( Just some thoughts . . . . Thank you for responding. I really appreciate it. I much prefer a dialogue to a monologue:)