Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Professor Jacek Trznadel about lies, political correctness and ‘benefits’ flowing from the plane crash at Smolensk.
Wieslawa Lewandowska: – Professor Trznadel, your ‘Open letter to Prime Minister Donald Tusk’ has caused a commotion and many discussions about the causes of the crash at Smolensk. You wrote, ‘I appeal to You, Mr Prime Minister, to appoint an independent International Technical Commission to investigate the causes of the plane crash. The conclusions of such a commission, including the best international experts, would be of primary significance for public opinion and history.’ Would you not believe in the effects of the work of the Polish and Russian prosecutors?
Prof. Jacek Trznadel: – No, I don’t believe them. It was enough to observe carefully what happened just after the crash. Day by day there were more questions without answers. I made the decision to write this letter myself, in spite of some suggestions, and so far I have been alone in this decision. I was accused of being supported by some party, some right-wing party… By no means! To emphasise my long-term interests in the Katyn affairs I signed the letter as the Chairman of the Polish Council of the Katyn Foundation, to which I am fully entitled. Many people who founded this Foundation with me in 1990 are dead and now Bozena Lojek lost her life at Smolensk… So I could not remain silent. I had to react to this, in my opinion, scandalous passiveness of the Polish authorities in reaching the truth. I am glad that within the first several days ca. 20,000 people signed this letter and a group of the American Polish community made a similar petition to the President of the United States.
– However, there has been a wave of indignation that you undermined our confidence in the Russians and the Polish government.
– I expected that. I have even received a few abusive letters stating that my professorship was unreliable, that I was just about to have paranoid schizophrenia and that I should undergo medical treatment. But these did not especially bother me but reminded me of the recent practices of the Soviet Union where under the pretext of asymptomatic schizophrenia the people who the authority regarded as uncomfortable were imprisoned and got rid of.
– Fortunately, in Poland too persistent demands to reveal the truth are only called fanatism and at the most ridiculed…!
– And it can be painful! Those that try to destroy their opponents in this way have, unfortunately, the support of the power of free media. No wonder, they achieve proper effects so easily since society appears to be rather miserable as far as their citizens’ awareness is concerned… That’s why, the word ‘fanatic’ has made a big career in Poland and it is actually not among those of poorer education. One can see especially the so-called political correctness that suits very much this opinion-making group that acting in their own interests imposes it on wider circles of society.
– And those ‘fanatic’, i.e. thinking differently and independently, are often accused of conspirational theories?
– Moreover, those thinking indocilely are regarded as dangerous, harmful to Poland. I myself was put on such a list made by… Mr Adam Michnik. And actually in every critical situation, for example the one we are dealing with, it is natural to consider all possible scenarios and even suppositions. Historians consider it natural. Negating and excluding a priori any version of unexplainable events close the way to reach the truth. It would be like, e.g. the Germans would have denied that Colonel Stauffenberg had not made any assassination attempt on Hitler in the Wolf’s Lair..
– The demand to appoint an international commission to investigate the causes of the crash at Smolensk has been interpreted as a lack of confidence in the Russian and Polish governments and also as looking for sensational news, which was full of bad will and unnecessary.
– By no means I am trying to look for sensation. It is normal that when a similar crash happens one of the first serious circumstantial evidences must be the probability of an assassination attempt. As the Polish prosecutors assure us no hypothesis have been ruled out… However, one can have many doubts because the Polish party is only a petitioner in this investigation (and Poland officially acknowledged this role). One must notice the exceptional passiveness and compliancy of the Polish government! It seems to me that Donald Tusk should have delivered a message to the Polish nation within a few hours after the crash, which he did not… The government should have appealed or even demanded from Russia that the investigation must be conducted by the Polish Commission. It should have demanded all material evidences, all which belonged to the Republic of Poland. I am also wondering why the bodies could not have been transported to Poland directly…
– The explanation was first of all the agreement signed by Poland and Russia several years ago, according to which – as it was explicated – the host of the investigation must be the country where the crash happened and recently Prime Minister Tusk has referred to the Chicago convention…
– That’s right but this is not an ordinary accident! Here several dozens of the most important people of our country lost their lives and the security of the state was in danger. Extraordinary circumstances occurred! We could have and should have demanded non-standard procedures! But we were to deal with a scandalous attitude of the Polish authorities. I think that the Polish government is showing a too submissive attitude towards Russia. It is morally disgusting, in my opinion, that for example, Parliament Speaker stresses ‘the benefits of this catastrophe’, which is to be reconciliation between Poland and Russia. Even if it were so, which I doubt, one should express such an opinion in a hundred years’ time… Although I know that I am exposing myself to mad criticism I think that Prime Minister Tusk should be put before the State Tribunal for the neglects and omissions the government committed.
– Perhaps this delicate attitude of the Polish authorities will yield the fruit of reconciliation between Poland and Russia? The Western commentators also hope that the crash at Smolensk will lead to such reconciliation.
– These kinds of calculation are firstly disgusting and secondly – naive. The picture of Donald Tusk embracing Putin made me feel repugnance and not hope… The remains of the plane were still smoking in the background; there were bodies scattered around and we could see a trashy message of reconciliation and the first, surprisingly quick, ‘results of the investigation’ that the plane was in order and it must have been the pilot’s error or President Kaczynski must have forced the crew to land… Somehow nobody was eager to criticise these hypotheses. Nobody taunted them as if they were presumed to be accepted…
– With time more and more questions were raised, more doubts and new hypotheses, which some media defined as illegible and fantastic.
– We have the right to have doubts and ask questions. We have the right to have the conviction that all things could be falsified and that we will never learn the truth. For instance, I ask the question why no ambulance came to the site of the crash as if it were known that nobody had survived. This may be a key question and perhaps is it too ‘conspirational’? Perhaps it harms the Polish-Russian relationships but I am not afraid to pose it.
– Some fate always hung over ‘the Katyn truth.’ One could not speak about it because of the threat of imprisonment and then – in independent Poland – only a group of people who were directly interested in Katyn (the families of the Katyn victims) or people like you dealt with it – they were ‘fanatically’ seeking the truth…
– In independent Poland I could conduct my research concerning Katyn although few things could be done since the fundamental Russian acts were not accessible. Even the Russian scientists who tried to describe the crimes of the Stalin regime did not have access to those acts. Why? Perhaps the government did not want to let the horrifying scale of the communist regime be revealed? To be frank, I can say that it seems to me that more people were killed in the Soviet Russia than during Hitler’s rules… In Poland we know Hitler’s crimes but our knowledge concenring the crimes of the Soviet regime is still blocked.
– Why do the Russians not want to reveal these acts?
– Hard to say. Not because very few perpetrators of these crimes are still alive… Perhaps the thing is the weight of possible reparations… In my opinion the decisive factor is the constantly imperial attitude: we will not be held responsible for anything; we are not going to pay any reparations. Hands off our archives!
– And yet we have hope for reconciliation!
– The writer Jozef Mackiewicz, a great expert in Russia, always warned us: do not reject the assumption that there are only Russians of one kind, that there is only one Russia. Our hope is that there is also the non-imperial Russia, not-Soviet Russia. Now I can recollect that until recently, two or three years ago, together with Bozena Lojek I awarded the medals of the Polish Katyn Foundation on the President of ‘Memorial’, the Russian organisation meritorious for its activities to reach the truth about Katyn.
– President Kaczynski was to say that hiding the truth about the Katyn massacre was the ‘foundational lie of the Polish People’s Republic’ and that today it is necessary – in the name of reconciliation – to show the full truth. He did not have time to do it…
– How cruel was the lie is known by the families that had to hide the fact that their relatives were the victims of the Katyn massacre because this truth made their lives difficult and sometimes made their lives impossible. In the last 20 years, although this truth was revealed, it was somehow limited.
– What way and why?
– I cannot answer the question ‘why’ not to be accused of conspirational theories. It is a waste of time… I can only say that for 20 years I have suggested activities that have never been conducted because they have not had proper support.
In 1952 the commissions of the US Congress completed their investigation of the Katyn massacre. There was a big, seven volume work of the results of those investigations. In Poland only two copies of this publication were available. One of them is in my collection. It was copied for me by Jerzy Giedroyc and brought to Poland before 1989. Unfortunately, until now I could not organise a translation of these acts into Polish. The Katyn Foundation did not have enough funds and I did not manage to receive any help. Only recently there has been a chance to do it when Janusz Kurtyka, the President of the Institute of National Remembrance, expressed interest to publish the documents. Similarly, I tried to have an official German document about the Katyn massacre, which has a list of the identified victims of the massacre. I have not managed to do that so far.
– But you have managed to publish some valuable books on Katyn.
– Apart from my own publications, in 1996 I collected all that Jozef Mackiewicz wrote about Katyn. I also acquired the book, which has not been published in Polish and has been translated into many languages, the Polish version of which was in the archives in New York. Unfortunately, the effect is that today I must justify my action in court, being accused of violating the copyright belonging to some Nina Karsov (who took it from Mackiewicz’s wife in the middle 1980s). The Polish Katyn Foundation, represented by Bozena Lojek, the Publishing House ‘Antyk’ and Halina Mackiewicz, the writer’s daughter, were brought to court, too… These are the difficult stories of the Katyn affair… In spite of the troubles I do not regret anything. I always thought that the Polish reason of state demanded to publish this book. It was Mackiewicz that was among those who were standing at the open graves in the Katyn forest in 1943…
– The fact is that only the bravest desperate, ready to do anything, struggled for the truth about Katyn. Professor Trznadel, would it be so that a new ‘Civil Shame’ could be written on the basis of this struggle?
– The idea to write ‘Civil Shame’ came to my mind in 1980. It was an evaluation of the behaviours and deeds conducted by those (in the field of literature) that contributed to spreading the ideas and structures, which I regarded as shameful. Today one can enlarge the description of certain phenomena but I would not like to continue this book myself… Although, it is worth thinking what can be our civil shame nowadays…
– And may the fact that the Polish film about Katyn was made so late?
– Late and moreover, in my opinion, it is not the best film since it was submitted to this political correctness. When Mr Wajda announced his intention to make the film I wrote him a letter offering my help because I am an eyewitness of those times and I remember the occupied city of Krakow very well. I remember the events, moods, comments and I have some documents, too. I did not get any answer…The reason could be that earlier I criticized the film ‘Popiol i diament’ [Ashes and Diamonds] very much as a case of falsification of history and desire to please the communist establishment.
– What don’t you like in the film ‘Katyn’?
– The fact that the film has – I dare to say – too many tendentious simplifications and even falsifications. The fact that he stressed the brutality of the Germans and explicitly softened the cruelty of the Soviets. For example, he showed the arrest of the workers of the Jagiellonian University in an extremely acute way. The viewer, who is not aware of the history, can conclude that all professors were murdered but actually after several months many of them returned to Krakow and thanks to that I could listen to the lectures in history in my aunt’s flat…The Katyn massacre is illustrated only by one drastic scene of shooting but the scene is made as if additionally, impersonally, as if on the margin of the film. I got such an impression. The film does not show the cruelty of the Soviets although it shows the place and time where such atrocities were conducted. The only real Russian in Wajda’s film is the ‘good Russian’… In my opinion the film is softened, unclear and will not play the role it aspires: it does not reveal the truth but it blurs it.
– Professor Trznadel, will we ever get to know the truth about the crash at Smolensk and will we believe it?
– I suspect numerous and endless difficulties and the truth will be blurred for good. It will share the fate of the truth that has been hidden for 70 years.