A Polish writer realizes few things have improved for Poland after last year’s April 10 post-Smolensk tragedy.
Last year, I wrote a piece about the Smolensk tragedy, when, on April 10, a large portion of the Polish government was killed in a plane crash. Polish government officials, leaders of major Polish institutions, Polish military leaders and true Polish heroes died.
I was terribly distraught but hopeful that the future would present Poland and I with a certain renewal. Maybe after such a tragedy, relations with Russia could improve despite the Russian government’s ability to manipulate its population regarding past relations with Poland. Maybe the media would begin responsibly reporting on Poland’s history.
I say “maybe” because I thought good things would come out of the bad, but I was wrong.
The Polish airplane carrying 97 souls was bound for the anniversary of Katyń, where the Russian government buried the 22,000 Polish military officers it murdered in April 1940. The Nazis uncovered the graves in 1943 and put the blame on the Soviets. For Poles, a single image is conjured when we visualize Katyń: lies.
Ever since April 1940, Poland has been lied to about what really happened to its military elite. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Russian government took the fault for murdering the Polish military officers.
But after the plane crash – and 20 years after then-President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev admitted the Soviets committed the murders – Russia continued to hide facts and tell lies.
After the Polish airplane waved its wings to the controller and said, “Have a good day,” in Polish, many reports erupted from the chaos of the day.
Following the crash, one of the Russian controllers explained to the media that the pilot of the plane had been speaking in Polish, not the required English, which was found to be untrue. But the news never corrected anything.
Déjà vu anyone?
In fact most news sites – including the BBC – focused more on news from Russian agencies rather than Polish ones. The Russian Interstate Aviation Committee, otherwise known as MAK, was even put in charge of understanding what went wrong.
I can tell you right now, MAK is what went wrong.
MAK gave an elaborate presentation on Jan. 12, claiming that the pilots failed to heed advice from air controllers. But the deputy chairman of the Polish commission investigating the Smolensk catastrophe, Colonel Miroslaw Grochowski, uncovered key documents that were left out of the MAK report.
Grochowski found that the crew aboard the plane were “acting under great pressure,” that the “ air control staff made many mistakes,” and failed “to give sufficient support to the TU-154 upon attempting landing in extremely difficult weather conditions.”
To make matters worse, major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer, continued to report falsehoods regarding Polish history as fact.
I imagined that post-tragedy, journalists would try to actually commit themselves to doing their research prior to writing about Poland, especially when the timing was so sensitive. But they didn’t.
Dachau, a concentration camp in Germany, is often associated with Poland. After being presented with a petition by the Kosciuszko Foundation – an organization that promotes closer ties between Poland and the United States – to have news organizations change their AP Styles regarding Poland, the New York Times still erred.
In its Sunday Times magazine, the news organization printed a caption stating Dachau is located in Poland. It was only after the mishap that the paper finally decided to change its style and said it would be more sensitive to the topic at hand.
Even in Philadelphia, ignorance about Poland spread. In December 2010, Jeremy Roebuck wrote an article for the Inquirer titled, “Two men meet, share horrors of Nazi concentration camps.”
The article was OK until Roebuck stated, “Then they packed them into cattle cars bound for the Polish camp.”
I wrote to Roebuck personally explaining how I was disgusted by his unprofessionalism.
“You’re right that I could have phrased the description differently,” he wrote back, “but the point I was trying to make by describing it as a ‘Polish camp’ was merely that it was in Poland as opposed to the Germany-based Buchenwald.”
He then proceeded to explain that most readers know that these camps were operated by Germans. But if that’s the case, why have I had to explain that members of my family were killed in concentration camps, even though they were Polish Catholics? Or the fact that members of my family were killed fighting in the Warsaw Uprising that took part in 1944? (Yes, there was another one besides the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but I’m sure you knew that, right?)
It’s easy for people to stay ignorant to these facts because the media has chosen to continue to portray stereotypes and ignore facts.
I suppose I was wrong – nothing good does come out of bad things.
Anna Berezowska can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.