Sunday, 27 January 2013

Humility is a virtue

Mayday’s episode on Smolensk Air Crash is due to have its world premiere today at 9 p.m. in National Geographic Channel’s Polish channel. Poles will be the first audience to see the purportedly unbiased coverage of the tragic flight and reasons behind the disaster.

The film has been hailed as prejudiced many months ago by PiS-backing Polish media, as its script is based solely on findings of two official reports on the crash, one drawn up by Russian MAK, the other prepared by the Polish parliamentary commission, run by Jerzy Miller (the series’ makers as a matter of principle rely on official reports rather than on conspiracy theories). Producers of the ‘one-sided’ film, who refused to incorporate possible causes such as blast, terrorist attack, were accused of being paid by the Russians to distort the real course of events to the audience in the world. The broader discussion on the controversial documentary is going to spark off after the broadcast (although many journalists have already seen the document during a dedicated show) and I will post my review of it next weekend (today I will not make it, over the busy week it will be impossible as well).

In the meantime I am taking the opportunity to invoke another report, authored by Japanese parliamentary panel investigating causes and aftermaths of Fukushima power plant disaster. If you recall the tragic events from March 2011, you bring to your mind pictures of cruel powers of nature which destroyed the plant. You blame the earthquake and the tsunami, while authors of the report claim this was a “man-made disaster”. If the read the BBC’s summary of the report’s findings, the picture which emerges is a sharp condemnation of Japanese culture, the nation’s shortcomings and stance of people responsible of overseeing maintenance of the plant and handling mitigating effect of the disaster. Actually the nation is pulled into pieces for its “culture of deference and reluctance to question authority”. Once negligence was covered up at the top, nobody at the bottom felt entitled to bring it to the light. The report was a bitter pill to swallow for the Japanese. They had the courage to eat the humble pie…

Same could be said about the Smolensk crash, this also was a typical man-made disaster. Responsibility for it is collective and many Polish national shortcomings, brought together, contributed to the fatal accident. The list can be long: overwhelming disorganisation in prime minister’s and late president’s offices, commonly tolerated laxity in following procedures, acting on reprehensible faith that “we’ll somehow make it” (jakoś to będzie, uda się), determination to carry on, despite dangerous conditions, cutting corners (bylejakość), bravura, focus on end heedless of safety procedures. Several irregularities were found in the disbanded 36th regiment of Polish military aviation (inadequate training resulting e.g. in reading the wrong altitude meter), in prime minister’s office (responsibility for organising such visits rests with them). Media, for sake of customary refraining from speaking badly about the departed, seldom mention total chaos in the president Kaczyński’s office, but this was also the case. Same can be said about Russian airport in Smolensk, run-down, lacking fixed equipment necessary to service takeoffs and touchdowns (such was moved there for prime minister’s Tusk visit 3 days earlier and taken away immediately), but I ultimately would blame the Polish organisers who did not bother to choose a safer, properly equipped airport.

I am looking forward to seeing the film. Little in its content is likely to surprise me – newspapers in Poland have written long reviews and summaries of it. I am more curious of social potential outcry regarding the account of events depicted in the film. The documentary is not going to change anything. Those who believe this was an assassination contrived by enemies of the most outstanding statesman in the history of Poland will not be convinced this was a tragic aftermath of multitude of human errors, those who put credence into official parliamentary report, will find in it nothing new; nevertheless it is worth spending two hours in front of the TV screen.

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