Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Apologising for being Critical



An interview with Roman Kurkiewicz, journalist and participant on the current voyage to Gaza, has caused a minor political storm in Poland. Missions from over 20 countries are on their way to Gaza, carrying medical supplies, in order to break the blockade of Gaza. The boats departed on the first anniversary of the attack by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara that left 9 people dead and over 50 injured. The fleet this time round has met numerous obstacles organised by Israel and other states, not least the boats being impeded by Greece.


In an interview for the influential left-wing website Krytyka Polityczna Kurkiewicz described his reasons for taking part in the action and the obstacles that the voyage has met. In the interview Kurkiewicz criticised the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and the critical stance it takes towards the issue of Palestine. In particular he pointed to an article written by Paweł Smoleński about the book written by the British Palestinian solidarity activist (who has Polish roots): Ewa Jasiewicz.


This article repeated the oft-repeated opinion that anti-Israeli attitudes are a 'fashion' which have been imported from the West (sic). Kurkiewicz said in his interview that he was horrified with the form of the text and that it was not comprehensible how Gazeta Wyborcza - a place where he had previously worked - could publish an article that was similar in tone to those published in March 1968.


It is this last opinion that has particularly caused outrage amongst some. March 1968 refers in Poland to the time when the authorities - under the leadership of Władysław Gomułka - launched a campaign against the opposition through expelling a number of intellectuals - the majority of whom were Jews. This campaign drew upon existent anti-Semitism in Poland and is a shameful episode in the history of the Polish People's Republic.


It is true that Kurkiewicz's words could have been chosen more wisely. However, his metaphor referred to the form of censorship and one-sidedness that exists in public debate over Palestine and the demonising of those who express alternative opinions.


Shortly after the appearance of Kurkiewicz's interview, Krytyka Polityczna published a reply by the press-officer from the Israeli embassy in Poland. The article includes a criticism of Krukiewicz's opinions, questioning the humanitarian nature of the Flotilla and the opinion that Gaza exists in a prison like state. The article also launches a new attack upon Jasiewicz - whom is described as being naive, ignorant and hating everything that is connected to Israel. In many ways the article confirms the pretensions expressed by Kurkiewicz in the original interview.


Rather than leaving the matter there, Krytyka Polityczna then published on its website an apology to Paweł Smolenski for the reference to March 1968. Quite why Krytyka felt the need to do this is anyone's guess and this is to my knowledge (and I may stand corrected) the first time that they have published such an apology. It seems that this has caused some divisions within the organisation as they shortly afterwards published an explanation as to why they could not apologise to Jasiewicz for the opinions expressed by the Israeli embassy - because, they explain, the interview had been commissioned by Krytyka Polityczna. Then, coming under criticism from some who identify with Krytyka Polityczna, it bizarrely produced an ironic poem about 'apologies'. Unfortunately such flippant humour has no place when discussing an issue of such seriousness. After all 1,434 Palestinians were killed during the war in Gaza in 2008 - of which 960 were civilians, including 288 children.

Krytyka Polityczna has made a great deal of headway in recent years by bringing together a number of individuals and intellectuals who are seeking to build an alternative left. Their greatest breakthroughs have been in the arena of culture and they have also managed to introduce some degree of pluralism into a public debate dominated by the right. One of its declared achievements has been that it has partially managed to break the dominant right-wing discourse in Poland. Previously it had not shirked controversy and it came to prominence a few years ago when it published a collection of Lenin's writings included in a book by Slavoj Zizek (something that was almost considered a crime by some in Poland.)


While a debate about the use of Kurkiewicz's language is a legitimate one, it seems that on this issue Krytyka Politcyzna have bent to pressure and avoided challenging the dominant discource that is preventing a real debate on the issue of Palestine in Poland.

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