On Tuesday, September 9, in collaboration with the Polish Cultural Foundation, we hosted a screening of Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s Jack Strong, a dramatization of the life of Col. Ryszard Kuklinski, a liaison officer between the Polish military command and the Soviet army, famous for passing secrets to the Americans during the Cold War. The film recast the controversial spy—regarded by many of his fellow citizens as a traitor—as a hero who acted on conscience following the Polish army’s suppression of a worker protest in 1970 and who refused any money in exchange for the Warsaw Pact secrets he shared with the CIA over nearly a decade.
The screening was introduced by Igor Lukes, Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University and Honorary Consul General of the Czech Republic in New England, and followed by a conversation with Joseph Wippl, Professor of the Practice of International Relations and former CIA officer. Prof. Wippl, after sharing his own thoughts on the film, and pointing out the obviously dramatized elements, stated that from the American perspective, Kuklinski was undoubtedly a hero. The discussion with the largely Polish audience touched on the difficulties of exfiltration, the wisdom of Kuklinski’s choices given the difficulties of his life in exile and the tragic deaths of his two sons, and the shift of emphasis within the CIA from intelligence to covert actions.
On Tuesday, September 16, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, we showed Andrzej Wajda’s 1957 film Kanal. Dark, depressing, and difficult to watch, the film is nevertheless a brilliant, and “true,” depiction of the bitter fate endured by the soldiers and citizens of Warsaw in 1944. Wajda’s symbolic story of exhausted and frightened soldiers seeking an escape route through the underground sewers during the last days of the uprising was understandably criticized by Polish audiences who wanted the deaths of their loved ones in the uprising to mean something. But, as Wajda himself says in his reflections on the film on his website, the film’s meaning is hidden deeply beneath the drama of the uprising. The truth, he intimates, lies in a poem, a fragment of which he quotes, written by a soldier named Jozef Szczepanski during the uprising:
We are waiting…
We are waiting for you, red plague,
To deliver us from black death,
To be our land once torn and quartered
Salvation met with horror …
You cannot harm us! The choice is yours,
You can help us, you can deliver us
Or still delay and leave us to die…
Death is not terrible; we know how to die.
But know this: from our tombstones
A victorious new Poland will be born
And you will not walk this land
You red ruler of bestial forces!
An animated discussion led by Poland’s Honorary Consul General Marek Lesniewski-Laas, both of whose parents participated in the uprising, followed the screening. Laas discussed the difficulty Wajda faced in making a film about the uprising during the communist period, and the need he felt to hide the film’s true meaning beneath a story that appears to dispel hope.
Our commemoration of the Warsaw Uprising continued on Tuesday, September 23, with a screening of Eugene Starky’s new documentary, Honor of the City. While the audience at our event consisted mostly of Polish expatriates, the film, which intersperses archival material with interviews of survivors and commentaries by historians and politicians, including Zbigniew Brzezinski and Normal Davies, was written with a western audience in mind. Its aim is explain the uprising, an armed revolt of Polish youth against Nazi occupiers in August of 1944 while the Red Army waited on the banks of Vistula River, which some speculate marked the beginning of the Cold War, and its enduring legacy in the Polish imagination. Once again, a lively discussion with Poland’s Honorary Consul General followed, with most of the Poles in the room agreeing that the battle, which killed a fifth of Warsaw’s citizens, had been worth it.
Event Highlights: The EU Inside Out – A Panel Discussion with Ramón Gil-Casares, Ambassador of Spain to the United States, and Ryszard Schnepf, Ambassador of Poland to the United States
On March 19, 2014, the Center for the Study of Europe, in collaboration with the Center for Finance, Law & Policy, hosted a panel discussion with Ramón Gil-Casares Satrústegui, Ambassador of Spain to the United States, and Ryszard Schnepf, Ambassador of Poland to the United States. The Ambassadors discussed political developments in their countries since joining the EU and in particular, in light of the economic crisis. The conversation was moderated by Alan Berger, retired editorial writer for international affairs at the Boston Globe.
Watch the video on BUniverse:
On Wednesday, November 6, we hosted Grażyna Plebanek, author of the highly acclaimed and best-selling novels Pudełko ze szpilkami (Box of Stilettos, 2002), Dziewczyny z Portofino (Girls from Portofino, 2005), and Przystupa (A Girl Called Przystupa, 2007). Her visit to Boston coincided with the American publication of her latest novel, Illegal Liaisons (Nielegalne związki, 2010), by New Europe Books.
A native of Poland, Grażyna Plebanek lives in Brussels, Belgium, which provides the setting for Illegal Liaisons, the story of an aspiring writer, Jonathan, who puts his career on hold to follow his wife, Megi, to Brussels. In Brussels, Jonathan spends his days caring for his children and teaching writing to his adult students—roles he does not choose but at which he curiously excels—while Megi tends to seemingly more important EU Commission matters. Torn between domestic responsibilities and professional ambitions, Jonathan is drawn into an illicit affair, which provides the book’s subject matter. Yet the affair, for all its titillating nature, is not as interesting as the questions it provokes around conflicting loyalties, to oneself and one’s heritage, shifting gender roles (and shifting identities) in contemporary Europe, etc.
The conversation, which ultimately touched all of the questions above, Plebanek’s own experiences as a Polish citizen living and working in Brussels in addition to Jonathan’s, as well as on more technical matters of translation, was moderated by Anna Zielinska-Elliott, senior lecturer in Japanese and head of the Japanese Language Program in BU’s Department of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, also a native of Poland. Anna Zielinska-Elliott is a translator of modern Japanese literature into Polish and has published over 10 translations of novels, stories, and plays by Murakami Haruki, Mishima Yukio, Yoshimoto Banana, and others. Her research interests include modern Japanese fiction and translation theory. In addition to a new translation of Murakami’s short stories, she is currently working on two projects, one on gender in Murakami’s novels and the other, a literary guide to Murakami’s Tokyo.
This discussion with Janusz Reiter, Ambassador of Poland to the United States, and Lawrence Weschler, Writer and Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities and New York University, took place on September 12, 2007. It is the first in a series of six debates with European Ambassadors organized by the Institute for Human Sciences at Boston University during the fall of 2007. It was organized as part of ia larger project entitled “Getting to Know the European Union: Member States in Focus.” The debates focus on the question, “What does it mean, in practice, to be a member of the European Union.” While many of the Institute’s previous activities have addressed this question from the vantage point of Brussels, these debates bring the perspectives of the individual member states into focus.
Janusz Reiter was sworn in as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland to the United States of America on October 3, 2005. From 1977 he worked for the daily Życie Warszawy but was dismissed during martial law. He was among the founders and editors of a number of opposition magazines. In the years 1984-1989 he was a commentator of the independent weekly Przegląd Katolicki. From 1990 to 1995 Janusz Reiter served as Polish Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1996 he founded the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations and was its President until October 2005. He was a founding member of the Foreign Policy Council, member of the National European Integration Council, and other Polish and international institutions.
Lawrence Weschler was for over 20 years (1981-2002) a staff writer at The New Yorker. He is a two-time winner of the George Polk Award and was also a recipient of the Lannan Literary Award. His dozen books include The Passion of Poland (1984), A Miracle, a Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers (1990), Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas (1998), and, recently, Vermeer in Bosnia: A Reader (2004). Since 2001, Weschler has been director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU. He has taught at Princeton, Columbia, USCS, Bard, Vassar, NYU, and Sarah Lawrence.