poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

April 14, 2010

Lessons to be learned from Katyn.

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:54 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Putin, embracing Polish counterpart:

Note the resemblance between Vladimir Putin and John Locke… No, not the father of liberalism. The leader of the group in the TV drama where there is a really terrible plane crash in a deserted area where evil lurks, followed by inexplicable phenomena and events that appear to be taking place in a parallel universe. Sound familiar? Like, maybe, the news over the past several days?

I live in a very Polish part of the world, except it is not Poland. Nevertheless, we have a Polish TV station, signs on businesses which read, “mowimy po polsku,” and a gigantic memorial to Katyn in one of the cemeteries, the local creator of which perished along with nearly 100 others in the forest near Smolensk this weekend. Taken together with the fact that on a good day I have a finely tuned radar for people talking smack about Russia and VVP, I prepared to be a busy little blogger after learning of the accident. “Oh wonderful. It’s going to be like August ’08 all over again,” I thought. I braced myself for the barrage of conspiracy theories, russophobia and general scapegoating and hysteria that was about to be unleashed in the media.

And I braced myself. And waited. … And waited.

Then I realized I was living in some kind of freaking Twilight Zone episode where the horrific deaths of masses of Poles in Russia bring the two countries together.

I mean, it was sad. Mostly it was just incredibly sad. The news. Polish people crying, everyone crying, masses, obituaries, memorials, vigils. Some balanced tributes to the fallen President “whose patriotism was only matched by his controversial politics.” Some explanation that the pilot had ignored requests to land elsewhere, there was a lot of fog. Some questions about why so many VIPs were on one plane. Some interviews with Polish dignitaries praising Putin for “opening his heart, and Russia’s heart, to the world.” Some …

Wait! What?! The KGB spy who kills journalists for sport and plans to invade Eastern Europe just because he can? The man my very own Secretary of State cum theologian has assured me has no soul? Y’all have suddenly decided he has a heart? Putin? … Really?

So now I am thinking, T- that’s it, you’re watching far too much RT. You need to stop loading up on delicious propaganda carbs and consume your media more responsibly. “Healthfully” as they like to say. So I flipped off RT and the local news (which I assumed had some unwritten mourning protocol before launching into the political aspects of the tragedy, out of respect for the dead. Who were Polish. A very important ally of America. A very important demographic in our town.) Like any good blogger I, though paralyzed with the immensity of the tragedy and hating myself for what I was about to do, proceeded to google for the red meat. Which I guess makes me even more heartless than Vladimir fucking Vladimirovich.

And here’s what I found:

BBC: “Russia-Poland thaw grows from tragedy.”

WSJ: “Poles and Russians unite.”

RIAN: “Poland thanks Russia for help in presidential plane crash probe.”

NYT: “Tragedy as Harbinger of Change.”

Guardian: “Poland and Russia: reconciled in tragedy.”

The winner for the best headline?

“Is Poland Becoming Pro-Putin?”

The winner for the best observation?

From Vadim Nikitin:

“But it is not only Russia which rose to the occasion and above pettiness. Poland must be equally praised, especially when it could have easily turned the tragedy into an opportunity to whip up anti-Russian sentiment and conspiracies.

Russia’s behavior is reminiscent of its outreach to the US after the September 11th attacks, when Putin, in the words of the US government, “seized upon the tragedies of the World Trade Center and Pentagon as an opportunity to transform relations with the U.S. from distant and sometimes hostile to one of broad cooperation and new opportunities in many fields”.

Yet Poland’s magnanimous response is very different how the US responded to Russia’s unprecedented overture…”

But nothing could have prepared me for THIS:

Slate: “Another Tragedy in the Haunted Forest But this time, no one suspects a conspiracy to kill the Polish elite.”

By … Are you sitting down? … Anne Applebaum.

“On Saturday, the Polish president, the Polish national bank chairman, the chief of the Polish general staff, and a host of other military and political leaders, some of whom were my friends and my husband’s colleagues, died in a tragic plane crash in the forest near Smolensk, not far from where 20,000 Polish officers were secretly murdered by Stalin 70 years ago. But this time around, nobody suspects a conspiracy.

Of course, a few fringe Web sites might make that claim, and the odd politician might voice it. But the Russian and Polish governments, the Russian and Polish media, and the vast majority of Russians and Poles believe the culprits to be pilot error and fog. More to the point, discussion of these potential causes has been open and frank. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk immediately flew to visit the crash site, accompanied by his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Polish forensic investigators were on the ground within hours. The Russian government is offering assistance and waiving visa requirements for all families who want to travel to Russia. There are TV cameras everywhere. Russian airport officials have been speaking in public, answering questions, talking to journalists. […]

Indeed, Russian officials are showing more transparency in the wake of this tragedy than they have shown following some of their own.

And yet there is no law that says the past has to strangle the present: Countries can change, political cultures can grow more open, politicians can learn not to shroud difficult events in mystery and deceit. Over the last 20 years, Russian and Polish officials have begun to acquire the art of speaking with the public, even if they don’t always choose to do so. This is a real change, and we have seen what kind of impact it can have over the last few days.

Although there is not much to be grateful for this week, I am thankful, at least, that the families of the dedicated public servants who died on that plane will not have to wait 70 years to learn what really happened. This terrible disaster, in that strange and bloody forest, contains eerie echoes of the past. But it is not destined to become yet another “blank spot” in this region’s dark history.”

Alrighty, then. Still don’t believe that whatever happened in that horrible crash did something to the space-time continuum?

I realize some of you reading this will immediately find fault with the article. Well, I’m a blogger too and I know that game. I’m not about to cherry pick this looking for one good reason to rake poor Anne over the coals to preserve my bad ass reputation even though the woman undoubtedly just lost friends and acquaintances in smoldering wreck on the floor of a forest/mass grave. As I wrote in the past:

“I did not exactly need another reason to dislike the journalistic hacktastrophe that is Ms. Applebaum’s Washington Post column. Oh, no. No, what I need – and I am being serious here – is for Anne to write something really insightful, responsible, constructive, for her to put me in my place, so that I could humbly bow to her wisdom and walk away. Inspired. Filled with grace and knowledge. Because appreciating people is much more rewarding than resenting them.”

Given Anne’s past penchant for conspiracy theories and blood-curdling heartlessness, I struggle to explain her generosity of perspective. I’d like to think that it’s simply the matter of Death reminding us of our own mortality, wrenching our priorities into place. Life is short; what’s to be gained by endless grudges and mistrust? Or perhaps it took a real tragedy, and not some small-time thug pinching her pocketbook (which is so boring only blaming it on Putin could make anyone fucking care) to make Anne take the weight of her words seriously, to use her power a journalist responsibly. Or maybe it’s the shale. Who knows? All I know is that I was not the only one expecting a radically different response from her. The day of the accident, Mark Adomanis wrote:

“The only question I have is who is going to be the first person to blame the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, and a number of other high-ranking Polish military and civilian officials, on Vladimir Putin? Any takers? Speaking personally, my money is on Anne Applebaum, who is not only married to Poland’s hawkish foreign minister but has some real experience in the “blaming everything on Putin” field as she once wrote a column directly blaming him (really!) for the theft of her purse. However, as always, there are a number of other strong contestants in the field so this is far from a done deal.”

Mark’s received some heat for this. And deservingly so. It’s one of those things everyone is thinking, but you can’t actually write a post about it until the event has occurred somewhere that is not your imagination if you want to maintain any credibility. That said, I only found Mark’s article because I thought, “Damn. Applebaum blamed Putin for her fucking purse. You know she is going to go for his throat over this. Christ almighty. Here we go…” And there I was, ready to have his back. Ready to lecture her on not having any decency or dignity in this time of terrible loss. Ready to be better than her. And so I googled “poland applebaum putin plane crash.” … Nothing but Mark’s piece came up.

So, if Anne wants to lecture me – I’m pretty sure I am the one who deserves it. For falling into the very same trap of cynical, lazy and downright sick and perverse thinking that has previously defined her columns. Which I now understand. While it is still ludicrous to assume Putin stole your wallet or Roman Polanski isn’t a child rapist, it is incredibly easy to fall into a narrative, a well-established pattern of discourse, a particular set of expectations and roles. When the world around you stopped making sense a long time ago, why continue to operate within confines of reason and logic? When you’ve seen the lowness to which people are capable of stooping, why expect the world to behave with dignity and compassion? It’s so much easier to just go batshit crazy, become vicious and follow a script. This approach provides both a coping mechanism and muse.

But what about everyone else? Seriously, the goodwill fest has me a bit perplexed. Of course, logic and dignity would dictate this outcome. Every time there is a freak tragedy on a massive scale, the world comes together, tries to show compassion for the victims, their loved ones and their country and compensates for the deficit of compassion with money, aid and resources. Look, I’m not arguing that Poland and Russia are typically incapable or even unwilling to embrace reason and compassion, but let’s face it, these are not usually the first lines of defense in their relationship. If these two countries were renowned for their sobriety and responsibility, a planeload of VIPs would not have been on their way to commemorate a massacre in the first place.

Here’s my theory. Instead of reading this weird lovefest as Russia finally not being evil for once, I suggest a more practical explanation. For once, what happened was not Russia’s fault. Usually terrible tragedies, for which this country is a magnet (<– note another LOST allusion), are their fault, directly or indirectly, through injustice or, more commonly, incompetence. Not forced to busy themselves with damage control PR, the Russian administration could proceed to behave the way any normal person would logically be expected to behave: generously and compassionately. Which had the effect of prompting Poland to respond to Russia's overtures the way any normal person would logically be expected to: gratefully and graciously.


How hard was that?

The last lesson of the day, children, is that this was actually so simple it should not have taken a plane full of people's mothers and fathers, people's children, people's leaders to go down in flames on the way to commemorate a massacre to get people to behave the way any normal person would logically be expected to behave. As I bemoaned in my Cold War diatribe, it takes an unacknowledged effort to maintain hostilities, even if they are only emotional or ideological. I'm not suggesting everyone declare bygones and join in a round of kumbaya. But to quote Anne, "there is no law that says the past has to strangle the present: Countries can change."

In the course of writing this (yeah I know it's too long – countries can chage; writers cannot), a Polish MP has blamed Russia for the crash, Latynina has blamed Russia for creating such distrust that the Poles “suspect[ed] that the fog was just a political ruse instigated by Putin,” and some nut has compared Russia to Dracula.

So perhaps this was a fluke. Plane crash improving ties? Madness! Is it time to return to reality and leave reason and compassion back on the island and wait for another plance crash before we return to them? To be continued, I suspect…



  1. Vampire Bear indeed. I couldn’t bear to read the whole piece. Countries may change, Anne Applebaum may write a good piece occasionally, but don’t expect the New York Post to rise above anything.

    Comment by Melissa — April 14, 2010 @ 9:24 PM | Reply

    • But if your are going to be wrong about something, you should at least do it in an entertaining way. So kudos for Vampire Bear!

      Comment by poemless — April 16, 2010 @ 2:19 PM | Reply

  2. Artur Gorsky (the Polish MP) apologized for his words of Russia’s responsibility for the plane crash. Everything he said was said “under influence of two emotions — deadly despair and confusion”.


    Comment by Evgeny — April 15, 2010 @ 3:58 AM | Reply

    • Thanks for the update on Gurski. Very encouraging to hear.

      Comment by poemless — April 16, 2010 @ 2:18 PM | Reply

  3. […] poemless doesn’t seem to think the interwebs has rallied around a conspiratorial narrative for the recent plane crash that killed […]

    Pingback by The Russia-Poland Shale Gas Conspiracy « A Good Treaty — April 15, 2010 @ 2:23 PM | Reply

  4. Funny that commenters focus on the tiny paragraph of crazy people’s claims…

    Comment by poemless — April 15, 2010 @ 3:35 PM | Reply

  5. Sometimes a plane crash is just a plane crash. The fact that it seemed to happen because of one stubborn man (the pilot – apparently a Pole) gives the entire thing even more of a classic tragic edge (pure hubris, not conspiracy).

    And I don’t know about you, but I can’t drive anywhere in Chicago this week without encountering Polish flags flying from cars throughout the city – little flags that are normally seen when one of the local sports teams is celebrating a championship, or on Cinco de Mayo. Those are touching bits of pride and sorrow, all those flags.

    Sadness without a tinge of anger. When was the last time that was the overwhelming emotion from every sector about such a tragedy? No wonder we don’t quite know how to deal with it …

    Comment by EdgewaterJoe — April 15, 2010 @ 5:11 PM | Reply

    • Yeah, I’ve seen numerous cars with Polish flags in my neighborhood this week.

      Comment by poemless — April 16, 2010 @ 2:16 PM | Reply

      • Even sadder, the flags have black ribbons flying from them as well …

        Comment by Melissa — April 17, 2010 @ 7:36 PM | Reply

  6. Ah well, cheer up Poemless, La Russophobe says Putindunnit.

    Comment by Patrick Armstrong — April 16, 2010 @ 1:56 PM | Reply

    • I seriously am pleasantly surprised that that conspiracy theories have remained at a minimum. And I take the same attitude toward LaR that Sean takes toward the Latynina’s of the world: why do you even pay attention to her? Don’t answer that. This site is not a discussion board for the merits of LaR.

      But thanks for stopping by! I’m a fan of the Weekly Russian SITREP.

      Comment by poemless — April 16, 2010 @ 2:16 PM | Reply

  7. People who have gone around some Polish forums are saying there is enough speculation about it being the Russians’ fault, one way or another. This does not seem to be the prevailing mood, fortunately. Many are blaming Kaczynski putting pressure on the pilots for the crash. Poles are turning up at Russian forums at regular intervals, saying how grateful they are to the Russians, which is quite heart-warming.

    P.S. I wonder if a similar crash involving a similar planeload of Russian high-ups would leave the Russians quite so heartbroken, and how many would say “good riddance”.

    Comment by olivegreen — April 17, 2010 @ 4:43 AM | Reply

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