communism

A strike on the London Underground marks a rude reminder that the holidays are over, and grim reality returns. But the transport chaos in London failed to disrupt a special occasion at the headquarters of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development this week. 

A Polish priest who was murdered in 1984 by secret policemen working for the then ruling communist authorities was beatified last weekend by the Vatican, a step that puts him on course for eventual sainthood.  The news meant a lot to me because, although I’m not Catholic, I came to know the priest well when I lived and worked in Warsaw as a young reporter in the 1980s.

His name was Jerzy Popieluszko, and he was famous throughout Poland for the anti-communist ”masses for the homeland” that he used to hold at his church, St Stanislaw Kostka, in the Warsaw suburb of Zoliborz.  No Sunday evening was complete without a visit to the church to hear the singing of patriotic hymns and the voice of Popieluszko denouncing the latest injustices of the communist regime.  Thousands upon thousands of Poles used to attend these masses, filling the streets all around the church.  I and other Western reporters used to slip into the vestry to make sure we could hear every word of his sermons.

When I wrote stories about Popieluszko for my employers, the Reuters news agency, the editors would sometimes ask me to file a note for English-speaking readers giving guidance on how to pronounce his name.  I came up with something like ” YEAH-zhy Pop-yeah-WHOOSH-koh”. 

October 30 saw one of the most important moments so far of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency in Russia.  On a video blog posted on the presidential website, he squarely addressed the issue of the mass repressions carried out under Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator from the mid-1920s to 1953.  I agree with Tomas Hirst, who wrote on the Prospect magazine blog that this was a brave step on Medvedev’s part.

Medvedev didn’t simply condemn Stalin’s crimes.  He criticised Russians – and, sad to say, there are an awful lot of them – who make excuses for Stalin by saying some supposed “supreme goals of the state” justified the arrest, deportation, imprisonment, execution and death by starvation of millions of people.  It is still quite common to hear Russians defend Stalin by saying that he led the Soviet Union to victory over Nazi Germany.  Significantly, however, Medvedev entitles his video blog “Memory of National Tragedies is as Sacred as the Memory of Victories”.