Monday, April 12, 2010

How it is to be Polish Today

The dramatic and spectacular story of the plane crash that has killed much of the Polish government and many of the countries military leaders has many elements to attract the attention of the press and the reading or watching public: an aircraft crashing to earth, destroyed in a massive fireball; a three-figure death total; a large number of prominent people killed, even though they were little known outside their own country; the possibility of suggesting that the Russians were behind it; the poignancy of the motive for making the journey. All this things make terrific theatre for journalists pandering to the people of countries far removed from the daily lives of the Poles. That's what the press is for, especially the television.

But how has the average Pole reacted? Actually, I don't know, since the only Polish newspaper I found in a language I can understand is not at all informative, and I haven't rooted around enough to find Poles blogging in English. The upshot of this is that this post is an exercise in imagination, a series of speculative contrasts between what the press would have us believe is happening in Poland and the likely truth.

Bear in mind that if Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson were to be killed in the company of the chiefs of the general staff and the head of the human rights commission we would be unlikely to go into mourning. A brief sense of the suddenness and drama of it, but, these are people we don't know personally, who mean nothing to us, and there are dozens waiting to take their place. The same thing could be said of the hypothetical extinction of Zapatero and company; it's not the end of the world.

But Poland is a young democracy, apparently fairly stable, and the current government seems to have been doing a good job of entrenching the stability and prosperity that is needed in Eastern Europe. The speaker of the lower house becomes acting President, according to the constitution, and must call elections with a short period. In theory continuity of government is guaranteed and there is no power vaccuum, but the President, at the very least, was a figurehead, providing leadership and and symbolic unity, which is of enormous importance in the circumstances Poland is in. There will be a period of fear, concern that the whole thing might fall apart, which we in the west would not feel.. The politicians and the press, all those who think of themselves as the leaders of the country, will be doing what they always do, acting as though they were the centre of the universe and everything they feel is echoed by the people, but the real people will see it differently. What matters most to them is not the death of a man, but what it might mean to the economy and the society they depend on for their livelihood and their happiness.

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