Tragedy and Loss

If anyone has read BBC News lately, then you might have heard about the bus full of Polish tourists making a pilgrimage in France that careened off the road, plunged into a ravine and burst into flames killing 26 passengers this past Sunday. My heart goes out to the families of those that lost their lives and my best wishes go to those that were injured and had to be treated in hospital. Any loss of life is tragic, but, unfortunately, that is the way of the world. I would like to comment, though, on the reaction of Poland to this event. Currently, Poland is yet again in a state of mourning. I say “yet again” because this seems to have become a trend over the last five years in this country. For over 50 years and all the plight and troubles that Poland has had to endure throughout history, there have never been as many “days of mourning” as there have been in recent years. This is not to say that one should not grieve for the death of another, but to shut down certain parts of daily life for every death is becoming a bit of overkill (pardon the wording). When Pope John Paul II passed away, I could fully understand a national period of mourning. He was one of the most important figures in Polish history and changed the lives of every Pole, either through religion or through his help in the downfall of communism in Poland. He deserved to be mourned, whether you are a religious person or not or believe in everything he worked for or not, just for everything he accomplished. He was, simply put, a well respected and good man. When a gas explosion in a mine trapped and killed over 20 people in 2006, this was significant cause for a time of mourning due to the fact that the state of Polish mines are atrocious and more than 80 miners have lost their lives since 2003. The miners were also a strong faction of the Solidarity movement. The death of a group of miners is as much symbolic as it is tragic. When the roof of a building collapsed under snow killing or injuring 140 Poles, Germans and Belgians at a pigeon convention, this was significant in that … um … well … what the hell, let’s have a time of national mourning anyway. And this is becoming the trend. People die every day. Large amounts of them at a time, even! But where is the line for it being a time to mourn or not. As a matter of fact, 11 students died in a bus accident on their way to a shrine in Poland back in 2005. Was there a day of mourning? Nope. Hmm … maybe the number of deaths has to be higher. But wait … in January 2006, 63 people in Poland froze to death in one week in sub-zero temperatures. That surely beats the 26 that died in the crash in France! Days of mourning … none.

Let us move on to what these days of national mourning entail. Usually, here in Poland, the idea is that celebrations and anything that might cause people to enjoy themselves too much and put them in a festive mood are put on hold. When John Paul II died, concerts and social events were cancelled or postponed and many pubs were closed all over the country. TV channels like MTV and other channels of a purely entertainment nature even stopped broadcasting for a few days. The major Internet portals changed their entire sites to black & white. When the miners died, many social events were put on hold out of respect for the dead. I don’t recall pubs or many channels shutting down, though. At least not nearly to the same degree as with the Pope’s death. Following the events in France this past Sunday, a state of national mourning has been issued, but it all seems a bit half-arsed. A few Internet portals have changed their headers and logo colours to black & white (just the headers and logos this time, not the entire site), and one or two channels have stopped broadcasting. Not really a massive showing of the nation’s sadness. What’s the point? If you are not even going to put real heartfelt emotions into showing your respect for the dead, then just keep moving along as 98% of the rest of the country has done. Remember all those things I mentioned that ceased after the death of the Pope and the miners? Well, as of today and due to the tragedy in France: pubs closed = none that I know of; TV stations not broadcasting = one (a satellite only educational channel); concerts cancelled = one … Rod Stewart … but, really, does that count? The Rolling Stones are still on schedule for tomorrow night, though they have been pressured into observing a minute of silence (instead of the original idea of pushing the concert start time to midnight when the time of mourning officially ends) and, get this, having to pay the families of those who died or where injured in the crash a sum of money. Did the Rolling Stones cause the accident in France? Was Keith Richards somehow mystically involved and brought this about by snorting his father’s remains? Did their “devil music” indirectly make the brakes fail on the tour bus (that rumour has may not have even been up to European standards for transporting passengers)? If the answer is “no”, then why are they being made to pay a chunk of their earnings to the families? Maybe I should go around town tonight, find any concert that is going on in Kraków and collect a percentage from any band that I find playing on behalf of the bereaved relatives. I mean, if we are going to mourn, let’s mourn across the board and not make it conditional as to the number of dead or their public profile. Light a candle, stop broadcasting, close the pubs, stop the celebrations … and stop hitting up a rich and famous foreign rock band for cash just because you can.