I hope that the face of this boy being arrested in Moscow for demonstrating against the regime is the symbol of the future Russia.
|Getting detained at the ripe age of 10 or 11 must have been a defining moment in the life of this young man. To me, it does not look like he was soaking in the constant barrage of propaganda that became much worse by January 2022. Most internet links between Russia and the world are now severed, and over 80% of all Russians get their daily propaganda poison pills from state TV. No independent media outlets are left in this Soviet Union 2.0 Putin is erecting. Narodonst' (the little people or "Prols" in the "1984" nomenclature.) must now march in lockstep, as they have had to for the last eight centuries, starting from the Mongols, and with a short, unhappy pause in the 1990s.|
Let me then take you back to the old Soviet Union 1.0 and its vassal state, the communist Poland that controlled most of my life prior to 1981. Here are the five defining moments for me as a child and young man.
The first moment came on a sunny day in July 1961, when I was a nine-years old boy, and three months after Gagarin's maiden orbiting flight. That day I changed from a pupa to an adult butterfly.
We were in the Beskidy mountains on a family vacation. I went with my father on a long walk and started yacking about superiority of the Soviet communism that launched Gagarin. I was parroting what they taught us at school. My father looked at me strangely, and started explaining the Bolshevik revolution and the Polish-Soviet war of 1919/20, in which my grandfather was a volunteer under an assumed name. (With his degrees in physics and chemistry, the young Poland would not let grandpa fight and be killed.) My father then continued with Stalin's rule and the two hunger waves in Ukraine, where my grandfather's brother, my grand uncle Alexander, spent 21 years hiding from Czeka (Всеросси́йская чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия, the predecessor of GRU, NKVD and KGB, Putin's "firm"). My grand uncle was an ethnic German (there was no Polish state yet; all Polish territory was partitioned among Russia, Prussia and Austria) and director of the Polish theater in Vilnius. The Bolsheviks trapped him on is estate in eastern Ukraine. He pretended to be a field hand on his own land, and the Ukrainians never betrayed him to their new Soviet masters; for twenty one years and with millions of Ukrainians starved to death. Some of their grand grandchildren invited Russians few years ago to separate Eastern Ukraine from the west. Over that lazy afternoon, my whole world view was demolished and I loved my Grandfather even more. I still remember the lush green spruce and fir needles, and tree branches nodding quietly in the wind and watching my metamorphosis that much later would guide me to another world in America. We also picked up a load of chanterelle mushrooms that we then stewed in butter and with onions.
Second, in May 1962, I received a telegram notifying us about the sudden death of my beloved Grandfather, a scientist and hero of three wars. I totally worshipped that strong, caring man. I was alone, and had no idea how to process this tragedy. I went to the fields and to my shaded swamp refuge to cry hidden there, while the local frogs and birds stood guard over me. When I came back home, my parents were already there, my father read the telegram, and angrily accused me of having no heart and playing outside, when I should have been mourning inside. Sixty year later, I still remember vividly the moment of opening that telegram, the capital block letters on a paper tape cut and glued in three pieces to half a sheet of paper made translucent by the sun, and the sense of surreal injustice of my father's words.
The third moment came in March 1968, when the university students in Gliwice started protesting against the lies in the press and were brutally beaten and arrested by milicja thugs. I was in 10th grade, but we too joined the students, were chased by the thugs into churches and also beaten. Those thugs in hot pursuit of us invaded "my" church of Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints). A friend of mine was beaten so severely that next day she was all blue in school. We all had to show up at school, because the secret police agents were looking for the missing pupils, and our great teachers could no longer cover for us. I still recall the brutality and contorted faces of the thugs beating children in front of the holy paintings and beneath the statues of saints. Then the Gomulka regime expelled most Jewish families in Poland, including several of my friends. That year, I won a national competition for the Kościuszko Foundation summer fellowship in the US, but could not go, because my father was not popular with the authorities. Instead, I went to my beloved Tatra mountains and met Joanna, whom I married 12 years later. I always joke that in a weird way I owe my wife and children to the brick-headed communists, and I still ended up in the US.
|This is where I took Joanna on our first full-day hike. I fell in love at first sight with that girl.|
The fourth defining moment happened in early 1978 in Warsaw, when I was a PhD student. I just left the US Embassy near the Łazienki park after taking a GRE exam for the Fulbright Fellowship in the US. The love of my life and later my wife, Joanna, accompanied me. While strolling in the park, we saw the plain clothes policemen brutalizing and arresting a small group of bearded intellectuals in loose sweaters. They were members of KOR (The Committee for the Defense of Workers, established after the deadly 1976 beatings, killings and firings of the protesting workers).
|A hunger strike organized in Holy Cross Church in Warsaw by Worker's Defense Committee members. October, 1979 / photo Leszek Krzyżewski, KARTA Archive. Can you believe that this tiny group of intellectuals started a chain of events that led to the demise of the Soviet Union?! Here's a hint for my many Russian friends: Please support the still unmurdered Alexei Nawalny and his compatriots. Don't believe in Putin's lies.|
I instinctively rushed to their defense, but Joanna grabbed me by the coat, and quietly told me to stop, because otherwise I'd be arrested on the spot and would kiss good bye my doctoral degree and job, and the likely Fulbright scholarship. I listened to her, but still feel deep shame that I did and the sense of hopeless helplessness. These men being arrested in front of me were the Icaruses of that time. In four short years, they laid the foundation for the Solidarity movement that swept though Poland, and - 10 years later - through eastern Europe. In 1990, the omnipotent Soviet Union was no more. A young KGB colonel, Vladimir (Voldemort?) Putin, who was in charge of destabilizing West Germany, was very pissed though.
The fifth defining moment happened in August of 1980, one year after I had come back from the US, and almost two months after marrying Joanna and defending my PhD thesis.
|Our wedding ceremony in Warsaw on July 6, 1980. That we were in love is an understatement.|
|Lech Wałęsa (front row, third from right) with dismissed crane operator, Anna Walentynowicz (left of Wałęsa), leading a crowd in prayer during the August Strike in the Gdańsk Shipyards, 1980 - Photo by Tadeusz Kłapyta.|
I had two older helpers, Dr. Jerzy Buzek (later PM of Poland in a Solidarity government and EU parliamentarian) and Dr. Krzysztof Warmuziński (later the Center director). I pasted on the walls two or three hand-written fliers with the time and place, and why I was calling this special meeting of all employees. We were sure that perhaps a handful of scared people would show up looking over their shoulders. To my utter surprise, everyone but the Center director and an officer in charge of security marched in. This moment changed my life forever. I understood immediately how fed up all people were and how much they were willing to risk. Never again I felt so much one with the fellow Poles. Everyone joined Solidarity, voting for the hope that this still ill-defined name offered in late August 1980. At the same time, another large chapter of Solidarity sprouted at the Cancer Institute and Clinic in Gliwice, followed by several other chapters in the research institutes scattered everywhere in Gliwice. Thus, the first leaders of the still illegal Solidarity in Gliwice were mostly people with graduate degrees! Take heed my educated Russian friends. My wife, an RPT and a fresh transplant from Warsaw, was elected to lead the Solidarity chapter in her Hospital of Children Diseases, 800 meters from my Center.
|December 14, 1981. The thugs on the street are the feared paramilitary police, ZOMO, often drugged to make them raving mad, and using big heavy sticks that could easily crush one's skull.|
And thus the most important chapter of our lives started and finished abruptly. In four months, Solidarity had most Poles supporting it, and the communists were regrouping to hit back hard. By December 1980, everyone knew that something terrible would be happening, like a wholesale invasion of Poland by the Red Army. We just didn't know when. I left Poland on January 11, 1981 to become a postdoc at the Chemical Engineering Department, the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. This was the same top-ranked place where I was a Fulbright student, and took all 12 required PhD classes plus two additional graduate math classes in two semesters. Because I did rather well as a student, I was immediately invited back as a postdoc to work with a famous professor there, Skip Scriven. My wife could not get her passport from the Polish government and became a de facto hostage.
And now, psychologically the worst thing happened. While I was safe in the US, doing the cutting-edge research in computational fluid mechanics and using the first parallel processing super-computer, my wife was participating in and organizing the increasingly violent sit-in and occupational strikes in Gliwice and elsewhere. In the US, I had access to the by-the-hour information on how the Red Army was encircling Poland and getting ready to strike a death blow. To relate to my story, please think about the US intelligence reports showing how the Russian army was preparing to conquer Ukraine. Back in 1981, and in Poland, Joanna was traveling to the Soviet garrison cities and happily striking, telling me that nothing could possibly happen to her, because there were so many of "us" and so few of "them". I was going literally mad from fear for her life. When your most loved ones are in danger, it is far worse than when you are. When I listened to a Ukrainian deputy from Kiev telling us how he drove his entire family to Lvov over 27 hours and then came back alone, I had tears in my eyes.
Luckily, Skip was invited as a keynote speaker to Warsaw, to a conference organized by PAN. Immediately, he asked president of PAN to intercede on behalf of Joanna's passport (I was still an employee of PAN on a leave of absence). She then got her passport valid for 6 weeks, and with a date corresponding to that on Skip's letter. Joanna arrived in Minneapolis on April 17, 2001, not quite 8 months before the martial law was imposed in Poland on December 13, 1981. Next day, on Monday, they came looking for us everywhere. The hit list with thousands of names was guarded by the Soviets and so secret that the functionaries, who were given it on December 13, did not know we already were in the US. We learned about it years later from Joanna's former boss in Gliwice, who came to Houston to visit his brother. In 1980/81, he was our "enemy," a hospital director and a member of the communist party. But a little later things have changed diametrically. Anyone with any brain in their head, would conclude that the Polish communist house of lies had to go away forever. How long will it take the Russians to realize that they were lied too by Putin and his cronies, and that they too must revolt now, like we did 42 years ago. Today, our children and grandchildren in Poland can help the Ukrainians, whose turn it is now to fight Putin's Empire.
If you think that Ukraine does not stand a chance, think twice. Putin's Russia that wants to restore the old Soviet Union, has no attractive socioeconomic and cultural programs, only coercion, suppression, political killings and arrests, and hopelessness. No one ever won by making people miserable. The Russian army already lost this war, and now they must continue to bomb and kill civilians to subdue the Ukrainian people through extermination, and bombing hospitals, schools, shopping malls and residential buildings. The Russians are using cluster bombs and thermobaric bombs against civilian targets, and shooting civilians, including women and children. There is a name for the Russian actions in Ukraine: war crimes.
|Russian bombing of Mariupol, 3/9/2022. Source NYT|
P.S. (03/10/2022) Here is Andrew Nikiforuk's comparison of Ukraine with Finland attacked by the Russians in 1939 for similar reasons. He used a quotation from the famous poet, Auden, to illustrate what is at stake. Most Russians who have never been free, never, do not comprehend that given choice, people in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland voted overwhelmingly to join NATO. That NATO expansion was the will of the people like me, all other risks be damned. We voted for it too. (We have Polish passports. In the Polish parliament, there were only 7 votes against joining NATO in 1999. One of these opposing votes was cast by Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the PiS party in Poland.) Now it is the Ukrainians' turn. Very few want to remain in the happy Soviet family. And the Finns are now talking about dropping their neutrality and joining NATO as well. The Russians need to get it. NATO is the self-defense of all weaker nations who have the misfortune of being located next to the ever paranoid, xenophobic Russia ready to lash out at anyone who challenges them.
My very first memory of world political events is from October 1956. I was not quite 5, like my grandson, Henry, is today. My father and I went to see a never-ending column of Polish tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and transport trucks moving to cut off the Russian army that was ready to advance on Poland. The Russians though did not dare to take on the mean, organized and armed Poles. Literally one month later, the Hungarians were not as lucky, and the Red Army attacked them to restore a Stalinist regime there. Thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands left Hungary forever.
In August 1968, we watched helplessly from a UNESCO English camp the never-ending columns of Polish tanks and war materiel being transported to subdue Czechoslovakia on orders from the Soviet masters. Most vassal states complied. Poland, greatly weakened by the March 1968 riots (see above), was at the forefront. Shame on those Polish communist scoundrels.
I recall seeing a single man at the railway station in Tarnowskie Góry. He dared to protest upon seeing a military train go by. He was beaten severely and taken away by the secret police thugs. In 1969 and 1970, we witnessed people going to work being mowed down with the heavy machine guns shooting straight into the crowds. In 1976, we watched workers being killed and beaten senseless with steel pipes. This is when KOR was born (see above).
On December 13, 1981, the Russians used a Polish traitor, general Jaruzelski, to do their dirty work using the Polish troops and paramilitary police, the hated ZOMO (see above). Many of my friends were thrown into concentration camps, regularly beaten, hosed with ice cold water in December, starved, and so on. What the Russians did not know then was that attacking Poland through a back door was their biggest mistake ever that put an end to the Soviet Union after 9 long years. The Solidarity came blasting back, and with it other revolutions in Eastern Europe, and the fall of the Berlin wall. When I saw the wall being dismantled, I cried like a baby, because I knew that this was the end of the evil Soviet Empire. I also cried, because my father, Henry's grand grandfather, who lived for that moment, had died of melancholy and a massive heart attack before he could rejoice. I could not go to his funeral because I had political asylum, but no American passport yet.
So please don't tell me that we need to understand the Russian point of view, simply because they have nukes and are ready to exterminate anyone who challenges them. It is high time for the Russian people to raise to the occasion and inhale that intoxicating freedom into their lungs. First time ever?
And just like the Nazi Germany had a faithful eastern ally and partner to start WWII by attacking Poland from all sides in September 1939, Russia today has a faithful ally to the east, the "1984" kingdom of lies and superpower, China.
P.S.P.S. (3/11/2022) And here is the truth about us (UK to be specific) interacting with Putin and his cronies over the last 15 years. This bitter pill was delivered by a British comic, Jonathan Pie. Here is an interview with P.M. Boris Johnson about Russian corruption in the U.K. government.
|The bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol 3/11/2022.|
P.S.6 (03/17/2022) Here is a warm, heart-felt message from Gov. Schwarzenegger to all Russians. See if you can watch it without a tear in your eyes. I say this to all of my Russian friends who are in deep distress: your opposition against the tyrant matters! And here is a painfully sad Russian cartoon about what Putin has done to the beautiful Mother Russia and her people. You don't need to read Russian to understand this horrific tragedy.
The Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus', Kirill, is speaking in this video, but the contrast between his soothing voice and the virulent, aggressive content is frightening. He obviously is a functionary of the Russian state and takes his job very seriously. (I remember his recent photo with a $35,000 watch on his hand. A little later, this watch was deleted with Photoshop, leaving however its reflection on the table.) The Russian Church has had a long troubled history of collaboration with the state and its long deadly arm, NKVD, followed by KGB. To understand this video, you must speak Russian or Polish. Among the lightest thoughts he shares in the context of making the West enter a "partnership relationship" with Russia is "diplomacy is only good when on a diplomat's table there is a revolver." Did he pick this idea from Stalin? Then it gets worse. He speaks of incorporating back to Russia "the poor Ukraine", Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Kazachstan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. He does not refer to Poland explicitly, but another Russian TV star tells the Poles ("Lachy") to wake up, or the Russian bombers and missiles will pulverize Warsaw to rubble and there will be millions more of refugees. "Have you forgotten about 1939?" He asks Poles rhetorically. "Do you think that England and U.S. will defend you?"
|A church in Mariupol.|