The Flag and The Cross
Only in Poland have I ever seen national flags draped over churches. The use of a polished, brass tap as advertising imagery for a bank seems obscure until seen in the perspective of other advertising such as the television ad in which a man comes to “know what he must do” regarding some commercial decision during an after-the-mass heart-to-heart with his priest sitting side-by-side in the church pew.
The gleaming purity of polished brass and the raised, shining cross viewed from a low angle delivers to the bank’s advertising an imagery suggestive of all the associations of solidity, uprightness, virtue, integrity and so on that Christians generally associate with their church (notwithstanding the occasional barbaric crusade or child abuse scandal). In Poland, where Catholic churches still attract capacity crowds on Sundays and religious occasions and the Pope (or at least the previous Pope) is more popular than the Beatles, this sort of imagery is icing on the bank’s cake.
Universal reverence among Poles for the late Pope John Paul II, whom they hope soon to see made a saint, represents the essence of a blend of Catholicism and Nationalism that is quickly evident to a visiting foreigner. But it’s a morbid, pious nationalism that indulges tragedy and self-pity.
The Ukraine town of Katyn has significance for Poles as the burial place of the officers of the Polish army after their mass execution during WW2. For a long time it had been disputed if it was the invading Germans or the “liberating” Russians who were responsible for this war crime until a recent, official, Russian admission.
A memorial ceremony at Katyn was to be a “healing of wounds” and a significant stage in re-building amicable relations between Russians and Poles. On 10 April 2010 the Presidential plane crashed in fog at Smolensk, near Katyn where the ceremony was to be held. The Polish President, Lech Kaczyński and his wife and some 93 other eminent Polish citizens including MPs, heads of the military, church and financial institutions, government officials and relatives of the officers who were murdered at Katyn, all died in the crash.
Ardent cynics such as myself were instantly suspicious of foul play but as details of events emerged it became clear that full responsibility for the plane’s demise lay with individuals aboard the plane itself. Having ignored warnings of worsening fog and recommendations from air traffic control to use alternative airports at Minsk or Moscow and without permission to land the pilots were making their fourth attempt to land when the plane struck an 11 metre tall beech tree; they had failed to respond to vocal warnings “Pull Up – Terrain ahead” from the plane’s Terrain Awareness Warning System, which had been repeated several times for around 18 seconds. All could be heard in the black-box recordings of the final moments and transcripts were published. At least two non-crew passengers could be heard in the recordings, one of them the Polish Air Force Commander, Lieutenant General Andrzej Błasik and another Mariusz Kazana, the Director of Diplomatic Protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to whom the pilot said "Sir, the fog is increasing. At the moment, under these conditions that we have now, we will not manage to land" and to which he responded, "Well, then we have a problem.".
It would be hard to disagree with Edmund Klich, the head of the Polish investigative commission who concluded, “The pilots ignored the plane's automatic warnings and attempted an incredibly risky landing”. He evaded questions about pressure on the pilots with the comment that "Psychologists will have to assess the stress levels the pilots were subjected to.” but it seems clear enough that the only solution to Mariusz Kazana’s “problem” was to attempt “an incredibly risky landing”.
Nevertheless, a media circus had been spawned under the title of “Katastrofa Smoleńska” that has lived now through five months of nauseating, nightly repetition on the television news.
Politics and Religion
A first product of this circus was a ceremonial dance entwining politics and religion – specifically, the Catholic Church. A train of televised funerals began and continued until it seemed it would go on until all 93 unfortunate souls were laid to rest. In all these solemn occasions there was an abundance of photo opportunities for politicians in the context of churches, crosses, altars and high-ranking clergy draped in all their ceremonial regalia who in turn spoke the last rites for the dead to the rapt attention of government ministers and hopeful candidates for the coming election to succeed Kaczyński, all reverently arrayed in solemn pose in the church pews.
It also provided opportunity to put the military on display as the bodies of military victims of the crash were returned to Poland with high ceremony; indeed a much more upright and dignified perspective was presented than that of “Top Model”, the current favourite “soft porn” entertainment of Polish television in which aspiring models do “boot camp”, making the most of military muscle and the phallic imagery of guns and cannons. Of course, this all comes together in the understanding that the military fight for God and country, and the Polish public is carefully prevented from dwelling on the reality that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians, men women and children alike, have been murdered in the first decade of this century – fundamentally because they live in strategically important Islamic countries.
The funerals had no sooner subsided than the cross appeared. The forecourt of the presidential palace in Warsaw with its horse-mounted warrior is shown nightly on almost every episode of Polish television “news”. When media services show these icon pieces they usually re-run the same footage. However, when someone erected a wooden cross as a memorial to President Kaczyński and the other victims of the crash the cross immediately featured prominently in the nightly news, raised in front of the monument in the square. Astute viewers soon recognised the subtle significance of this development and protested – which made the news (if only anti-war protests of a dozen people could attract such media attention!). The demands to remove the memorial to another location inflamed the passions of religious Poles far and near who flocked to Warsaw to express their passionate and devout reverence for the memory of the dead by holding a permanent, candle-lit vigil and to demand that the cross remain. The conflict attracted the attention of irreverent fun-seekers who saw the gathering as an opportunity to drink, be merry and make mockery. The Polish media soon had all the ingredients of an operatic fiasco to make Mozart proud.
Priests were interviewed throughout the crisis, always managed to keep polite “distance”, yet never dispersing their flock. Politicians appeared with nightly regularity explaining their reluctance to act. The crowds grew and the passions grew more intense. It dragged on for months. Jaroclaw Kaczyński, twin brother of the late president and aspirant to the throne, could instantly have ended the matter by expressing the view that the memorial would be more appropriate elsewhere – but conspicuously did not.
The Catholic church in Poland, as in other post-Soviet, eastern European states, is keen to re-establish itself as the allay of capitalism; the “opium of the masses” exhorting them to submit to the injustices of exploitation in this world on the promise of a better life in the next. Hungarians rose in anger in the early 1990s at moves by the Catholic church to assume responsibility for the education system, but in Poland the Catholic flock is much more trusting of their shepherds. The corporate media and a few politicians are clearly eager to assist. Jaroclaw Kaczyński is nowadays seen nestled amongst the mourners at the head of the candle-lit parades, the wreath-draped cross behind him and his solemn expression cast for the occasion; like McDonalds, he’s lovin’ it.
Throughout the course of this long-drawn media circus a few real issues came and went as weak blips on the monitor of a dying man’s heartbeat. The VAT rate was increased and politicians of all colours anguished, wrangled and argued over details. The government said they had protected the poor by keeping the increase small on bread while the opposition contended that the VAT on flour and petrol affects the price of bread. A dozen obscure details were mulled over.
Yet nowhere did the politics of either colour mention the elephant in the room: the inherent, outrageous injustice of this regressive, consumer tax. Nowhere did anyone state the obvious fact that a man on low income with a family, must spend almost all of his income on goods and services as a matter of necessity and so is bound to pay VAT on almost all of his income, while those on the highest incomes, at least ten times those of the people who do the work for them, have abundant surplus income, after a surfeit of consumer expenditure, available to invest and on which they pay no VAT. Many use company-paid international travel as a means to avoid VAT altogether on many substantial consumer items. All this, while we are still discussing employees, not the significant shareholders whose offshore tax havens and tax avoidance loopholes ensure they pay little tax of any kind.
The discussion of the need to upgrade the Polish road system concluded in much less than a heartbeat, as if the necessity to proceed immediately at whatever cost was such a statement of the obvious that no further discussion was necessary.
In Poland, as in many democracies of the “free world”, the ongoing media circus ensures that the disadvantaged majority is perpetually open to exploitation, kept permanently out of the real debate and utterly ignorant of the issues that affect their interests or how. While the nation’s poor depend entirely on family and charity and live two or three generations to a small flat the money that could be spent on public housing is flushed down the national obsession with football stadiums. The Sky cable network apparently needs some local content.
With the nightly reference to “Katastrofa Smoleńska” (currently heard more often in Poland than “The Tragic Events of 9-11”) there usually comes some new, oblique criticism or insinuation against the Russians. The Russian investigation of a plane crash on Russian territory (which, incidentally involved a criminal violation of Russian Air Traffic Regulations) was implied to have sinister intent, despite the invitation to Polish investigators to participate in all aspects. The use of crash victims’ credit cards after the event brought instant shame to the Russians until it was discovered that the culprits were Polish soldiers sent to secure the crash site. But the Russians were nevertheless criticised for poor security and clean up of the site. Then came calls to de-commission the Russian-made TU-154 aircraft of the Polish air force despite all indications that the plane involved in the crash was in an excellent state of maintenance, that no failures of the aircraft were involved and that all of the aircraft’s systems had functioned correctly, including the Terrain Awareness Warning System which had been ignored by the pilots. Airtime was given, even to the nutters who wanted all the bodies exhumed “to determine the real cause of death”.
The ongoing game of “rubbish the Russians” is played in the circus like a counterpoint to the melody of the cross and adds to the disingenuousness of participating in ceremonies to “improve relations with Russia” while simultaneously arraying American Patriot missiles along the eastern border. One wonders if Hitler didn’t have the same problem in negotiating swaps of territory with the Polish aristocracy while they were continually emboldened as difficult negotiators by promises from the British and the French of military support in the event of a confrontation – support that in fact, failed to materialise. The question of re-scheduling the intended ceremony at Katyn, which in Britain for example, would have been a matter of national pride and character, has never emerged.
The only diversion from these “entertainments” is the occasional reminiscence on some event of the recent past serving as a reminder of the bad old days of the communists. Yet as the Poles in the cities scramble over each other, jostling for position in the newfound capitalist hierarchy of status and materialism with all its wonders, Poles in the villages look back and consistently assert they were better off under communism. As I watch the forty-year-old trees being felled between the blocks of flats in the old communist era estates, to make way for new blocks of flats, I wonder that Poles in the cities don’t say the same.
Class War – Forgotten, But Not Gone
While the Mainstream Media manages Polish perceptions the practical matters of government, development and social infrastructure roll on with token involvement of the Polish people; a mix of Russian natural gas, European Union charity, American military “cooperation” and the stealthy invasion of private ownership of everything that affects their lives of Poles today and future generations to come. So the Polish government will spend the nation into generations of debt upgrading roads and freeways and providing other sweeteners to attract capital investment, while neglecting the public transport system that could facilitate development of a locally owned and largely self-sufficient economy and free Poland from the addiction of cars and petrol and the opportunity is lost to modernise the communist era approach to building estates that provide for peoples’ lives and the efficient use of resources.
While Poles chafe their knees humming the hymns of resurrected superstitions, scoff at Russian WW2 claims to have “liberated” Poland and accept encouragements to scorn them for the sin of murdering the officers of the Polish army, they neglect to consider that the Russian act of liberation took place, in part, at Katyn where the Polish aristocracy’s nerve-centre of control of the chief instrument of oppression of the Polish masses was severed. Even the sharp irony in the “Katastrofa Smoleńska” having “decapitated” the key institutions of the established order seems to have escaped all notice. In their rush to embrace the charms of materialism, frivolous entertainments and the lazy comfort of a social order that does their thinking for them, they lay waste to the foundations of their freedom and sell themselves and their descendents back into slavery.
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|Allen L. Jasson|