11 April 2010

Death over Smolensk

After the crash that killed the President of Poland, most of the top officials in government, and several Solidarity-era heroes, I am reminded of a few lines by Jan Kochanowski (1530-84),  "the Polish Shakespeare":
Jedenże tylko sposób człowiekowi
Jest urodzić się, a zginąć tak wiele
Dróg jest, że tego niepodobno zgadnąć.
There is only one way for a person
to be born, but so many roads lead
to death, that you can never even guess.

Helen of Troy makes this observation in Odprawa Posłów Greckich [The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys], a play that imagines the negotiations whose failure led to the disastrous Trojan War.

We don't yet know what caused the crash (it's looking like a poorly lit runway combined with pilot error), but one cannot help but feel that this is the kind of irony that fate reserves specially for Poland. For the third Polish Republic's* brain trust to have died where the Soviet security forces murdered 20,000 of the second Republic's officers and soldiers is simply unbearable. It is not, as Marx wrote, that history repeats itself "first as tragedy, then as farce" but rather tragedy on tragedy.

* The first Polish Republic was the constitutional monarchy that lasted until the Partition of 1795. The second Republic was the short-lived post-partition state of 1918-1939. The war and Communist rule after 1945 don't count. The third Republic began in 1989 when the Communist system was dismantled and free elections were declared.

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