Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poland and the Longing for Normalcy

Few places have been as abused by modern history as Poland -- ruled by communists and fascists, carved up by Hitler and Stalin, its Jews murdered by the Nazis and its Christian leaders slaughtered by the Soviets. The sadness of seeing the Polish leadership once again disappearing into the eastern forests, this time in a plane crash, is soothed by the glorious sight of constitutional democracy working the way it is supposed to work. The head of Parliament has become the interim President, and new elections are being scheduled. Seen against the past century of Polish history, this is something of a miracle. Equally miraculous is the peace Poland has with all its neighbors, against whom it warred for a thousand years. Richard Cohen:

Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead. . . .

So do not tell me that cruel history cannot be overcome. Do not tell me that Israelis and Palestinians can never make peace. Do not tell me that the people in the streets of Bangkok and Bishkek and Tehran dream in vain of freedom and democracy. Do not tell me that lies can stand forever.

Ask the Poles. They know.

I have been in Poland and met Poles, and I believe that the recent success of Poland is born from a strong longing to live a normal life. The Poles got tired of conflict, tired of war, tired of using politics as an instrument of revenge or ethnic glorification. They decided that what they really wanted was to get on with their lives.

This simple longing for normalcy is one of the most powerful forces in human history. Against the desire for glory and domination that makes men into soldiers, against the desire for revenge that makes men into terrorists, there is always the simple pursuit of ordinary life: love, family, work, pleasure. It does not sound with the ring of trumpets, but its call is strong nonetheless. In Europe it has for now won out over all the ancient hatreds, and if ours is one of the most boring eras of human history, it is certainly the most pleasant to live in.

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