Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Oh, for the love of Jonas. It has started. Already. We knew this would happen. But so soon? Poland truly is the Rodney Dangerfield of nations. It gets no respect. Let's do a quick history review. What popular movement took Poland -- and the entire Soviet bloc -- by storm, putting the fear of God (maybe even literally) in Kremlin leaders and setting the world on edge? Yes, that would be Solidarnosc. Solidarity. And it's charismatic leader's name, the one with the charming mustache, the Nobel Prize Laureate? That's right, Lech Walesa. And in what East European country were the first free elections held in June, 1989, resulting in the first non-Communist government in the Soviet-controlled bloc? Yes, again. Poland. Ah, so. Keeping all this in mind..... The European Commission has released a short, three-minute video commemorating this year's 20 year anniversary of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. And guess who is virtually shut out? One more time, yep, it's Poland. The Poles have complained (they are good at this) and a spokesperson for the EC said, "If we find something from 1989 in Poland, we'll probably put that in." FIND something? Are you kidding? I walk past the gleaming white palace on Krakowskie Przedmiescie where a sullen soldier stands watch and two alabaster lions guard this site of the Round Table Talks, official meetings between Solidarity and Communist leaders in March of '89, during which the decisive elections were agreed to and planned, during which, for all practical purposes, the Communists gave up. This is where Communism ended. And at ballot boxes all over Poland. And later in summer, at the Parliament where a non-Communist Prime Minister was elected and charged with creating a new government. How about a glimpse or two of all that? And a tart sentence of commentary. Without the spring and summer of 1989 in Poland, and the power of Solidarity in the nine years preceding it, there would not have been Trabants tootering down the German roads or the crowds in Leipzig or, finally, the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th of November. How about the Gdansk shipyards in 1980 and Lech Walesa stirring up the workers? Even I have a photo of that, not that they are difficult to find. Show the Polish demonstrations, the strikes in that fall of 1980. I remember. We got off the tram at noon. It -- and everything else in the country -- stood still. Huge crowds defied the authorities and gathered to protest. And the Poles gathered by the millions to worship with the Pope when he returned to his homeland during those years. Perhaps that could be fit in. I know, I sound bitter. And it's not even my fight. I'm not Polish. But I care about the integrity of storytelling, of history, of getting it right. And I've come to deeply respect and hold great affection for the people of Poland. This time, the Poles have a motto that does set the tone for the year of celebration, remembrance and honor, "It all began in Poland." They're right.