The Polish media circus is almost as interesting and fascinating as Italian politics. It has a lot of drama, people accusing each other of this and that, papers being influenced by either political parties and/or the Church. Today`s edition of Dziennik, one of the biggest newspapers, spent one page writing about the Us Europeans project: a good reason to see what they think about the project and to investigate what other subjects are in the Polish news these days.
For the last couple of weeks, two cases have dominated Polish headlines. The first one concerns Lech Walesa, the first democratically elected president of Poland. The second one deals with a 14-year-old pregnant girl who was or was not going to undergo an abortion. Other main subjects include the presidential elections in the United States, three pages, and the release of a film about three friends of whom one was killed by the communist secret service.
`It might be better if Poland left some of its troubled past behind`
Lech & Bolek
Natalia (24, photo) explains that the case involving Lech Walesa is a disgrace for the country. `He is being accused of having worked as a secret agent `Bolek` before becoming leader of the biggest anti-communist organisation of the 1980s: the famous Solidarnosc movement. He even received the Nobel Price for this work. He was not the best president we ever had, but his contribution to the overthrow of communism has made him a national hero who gains international respect. The current allegations are first of all very difficult to verify, as all information collected about the communist times only just might be true. It could also have been forged or adjusted and the `Bolek` file may well concern somebody else than Lech Walesa.`
`In any case, the question remains how relevant the information is, even if it were true. During three generations of communism, almost everybody at some point collaborated with the system. My grandfather was a firefighter, but he could only become one if he was a member of the party. Everything that we now see as `right` and `honest` was back then considered a `crime` or `sabotage`, and the same is true in the opposite direction. How is it possible to judge the past on today`s standards? It`s strange how people who have never lived under the threat of communism are now judging on what happened back then. I understand that people who lost family members want clarity about what happened, but I think that the current case only more confusion rather than less. Another question: most of the people under investigation are now over 80. We all know that president Jaruzelski did a lot of bad things but he is now old and sick. Trialing him will not change anything about our country`s past.`
Agnieszka (24) tells me about the unfortunate situation of the 14-year-old pregnant girl who found herself at the centre of controversy for the last two weeks. Beside the decision of whether or not to give birth to her child, she was influenced by all Polish institutions that could possibly have anything to say about the subject: her mother, the Church, the media, politicians, religious pro-life organisations and whoever else could get involved. Members of the church even physically attacked the girl when she first went to hospital, claiming that her behaviour was immoral.
Agnieszka explains: `The girl got pregnant with her under-age boyfriend, which legally turns the conception into rape. It`s quite unclear whether the girl herself wanted to have the baby. I think she changed her mind a few times. Her mum definitely did not want her to have the baby and she demanded that the pregnancy got aborted. Given the fact that the girl was under 18, her own opinion in the matter was subordinate to her mum`s. The Church obviously got very angry about the whole affair and the final part of the story as per today is that the girl had the abortion in Lublin because the hospital in her home-town Gdansk was not willing to execute the abortion, the church is threatening the Minister of Health to ray her Church membership and the Minister of Health says: `We acted according to the law, which allows for abortion in four cases, one of which is if the pregnancy was caused by a rape. If we don`t want this to happen, we should change the law, but I cannot be held personally responsible for this case.``
Twenty years after the fall of communism, the topic of who did what is still relevant today. Such is already being proved by the charges against Lech Walesa but also by the release of a movie about Pyjas, a guy who rebelled against communism and allegedly got killed by his friend who happened to be an informant of the communist party. The film is partly based on facts, partly on a script that adds some logics to the story as well as an ending. Pyjas takes up half of the front page of today`s edition of Dziennik. Although Poland is no longer participating in Euro 2008, the other half of the front page is dedicated to who expects who to claim the final victory in the European football tournament. The Polish bookmakers say Germany. The Polish audience is expecting a final match opposing their historical enemies Germany and Russia, which would make it very difficult for any Pole to decide who they want to win.
More TV news comes from a continuation of the popular animation series Mis Uszatek, which in the new series will be replaced by a rabbit. Gosia (23) explains that this program will allow Polish children to see something different from all the violence on Cartoon Network. The rabbit will live some adventures in the forest, all of which are expected to have a good ending and a quite obvious moralistic undertone. `The program will be broadcast at 7 in the evening`, says Gosia. `That`s the traditional time for children`s bedtime programs, known in Polish as Dobranocka. And it`s definitely best if they really do fall asleep by the end of the program. If not, they will see the main 19h30 News, which will be a lot less idealistic and idyllic.`
Konrad (31) tells me that most of the news published on the economy pages is rather negative. `Oil prices keep going up, trucks are blocking the very few motorways that exist in Poland, the economy is only slowly moving forward and a big international crisis is expected to break loose between now and soon. Some commission is investigating whether the Mazurian lake district hosted CIA prisons. The national railway company is making profit for the first time ever, but they still consider sacking the director. Polish railways is an interesting company. It seems like don`t clean train because they want fewer to travel by train, so they will get fewer complaints and less trouble and less work keeping the trains clean. This time, it`s the labour unions who are not happy, but they are never happy, so it`s not really even news.`
International news in today`s newspaper describes how French president Sarkozy is trying to tie relations with Isreal while his predecessor Chirac was favouring the Palestine cause. Russian president Medvedev is said to fight corruption in his country. According to the article, the main motive for his steps is to eat away some power from former president Putin, who still influences just about anything that happens in Russia these days. As I learn today, Poland is no longer afraid of Russia`s military power, but it is frequently left at Russia`s mercy when the deliveries of gas and energy are supplied. Germany is a more reliable partner, but history has not always been favourable for Germany`s image in Poland.
The main reason for choosing exactly today to write about the content of the newspapers is the fact that Dziennik dedicated one entire page (#5) to the Us Europeans project. They even copied the travel plan and a photo that one of their photographers took of me a week ago in Cracow. The article describes what I think about Poland and the Poles and how they are seen in other countries ? basically a summary of what I wrote in the past 10 articles on this website. Another bit of information was taken from my personal travel account Daily Photo and describes one positive learning experience I lived in each of the countries I visited before Poland.
Needless to say, I am happy that a major European newspaper is paying attention to this project. Especially in the days following the apparently unexplainable Irish `NO`, I would once again like to suggest that this trip actually serves a purpose: shared understanding through shared kwowledge. If everybody agrees that there is the gap between Brussels and citizens of the member states, or a culture clash between the different countries, then may I please suggest that `Us Europeans` could actually bridge at least a minor part of that?
So far, I have been unable to motivate news agencies and newspapers to write about my project by just approaching them and sending them info. I only get attention from people who find out about the project without my intervention. Any newspaper editor whom I personally inform about my project seems to think that I am having a giant narcistic ego-trip and instantly refuses to write about the project.
So: what would like to ask the readers of Us Europeans, you!, representing 800 Europeans every day: Coule you please hint `Us Europeans` to one or two news editors or journalists you know. Country, nationality, political preference of the media - alles egal. Basically, all they need to know is that one Dutch guy is traveling around Europe for one year, the link to the website, and they will find out the rest for themselves ? as long as it`s not me who tells them to go have a look.
Any lead is welcome, don`t hesitate to send my contact details along: website www.useuropeans.com, e-mail info(a)photologix.nl, phone: +31 6 146 330 72.
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