Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Polish 68-ers

The Shalom Foundation in Warsaw wants tens of thousands of Jews who were expelled from Poland in 1968 after the communist inspired anti-Semitic campaign of that year to regain Polish citizenship.

Commemorations of what happened that year will take place on March 5.

The Communists took away Polish passports and gave Jews a one-way ticket, usually to Austria, where most went on to reside in Israel.

In 2006, when President Lech Kaczynski was in Israel trying to mend difficult relations between the two countries over the decades, promised that any Jewish Pole who wanted their citizenship back could have it, ‘as if they had never been away’.

Problem is – it isn’t in the president’s power to give back their passports. The local authorities, as I understand it, have that privilage, and many are not too keen. Giving back their citizenship would also give them back property rights. Israelis are also none too pleased about having to go through a rigorous procedure that many see as demeaning.

1968 – the year that rocked

Mark Kurlansky’s 1968: the year that rocked the world – available in Polish and English language bookshops - unravels the connections between the revolutionary events of that year in Paris, Prague, America and Poland.

Like 1945 or 1989, 1968 is one of those years that are seen as pivotal to the history of the 20th century.

We were only one year away from the first human being walking on the moon. It was a time of civil rights and anti-war protests, of new and inventive music and sub-cultures, of scientific and social experiment. A very different time, then, from the one we live in today, characterized as it is by aversion to risk and a fear of the new.

The motor of this movement for social change were young, mostly middle class sons and daughters of the old ruling elites. It was a time when students were concentrating more of sit-ins and love-ins than they were on their study-ins. It was a time of hallucinogenic drugs, which my granny used to tell me made one want to jump from the top of multi-story car parks in the mistaken impression that one was an albatross.

Most people, except perhaps the most historically challenged, will have heard of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Abie Hoffman in the US; or in France, Henri Comte and Jean Paul Satire; or in the Czechoslovak capital, the students and Alexander Dubcek. All over the world, ruling elites had lost their legitimacy and were under pressure.

But few in the West have heard of the names associated with events in Poland of that year: Jacek Kuron, Adam Michnik…
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