The Blind Spots in History # 1

2 April 2005. My family and I are returning from a holiday we spent skiing in France. We’re at nightfall, and we’ve just crossed the Belgian border. Though we still have to ride for a few hours, it feels like coming home. We can switch to a Belgian radio station again, right when the news reader starts talking.
“Today, pope John Paul II has died.”

The pope had died. That was everything the eleven year old me thought at that moment. Little did I know he was Polish, that I’d be studying Polish 7 years later on, that I’d be discovering things I never knew anything about. There are blind spots in history that should not be there. We should know the stories behind people and actions without ignoring some parts of it. We should uncover what’s been covered up somehow and spread the word.

Many people knew John Paul || as an old man who had trouble speaking. He was a pope, yes, but there’d been many more popes – what made him special? He was against abortion and gay marriage and all that – pretty predictable as he represents the catholic faith. But he was the first non-Italian pope in many, many years. Why was this ‘tradition’ broken after so many decades?

To answer that question, let’s go back in time. All of which I’ll be talking here, happened before I was born, or before I could somehow understand what was going on in the world and why. As a great deal of you are older than me, you probably already know a lot about this. But still.
Communism is our starting point. Everyone knows communism – due to this ideology (and stubbornness and stuff) the world has been divided for many years. It was the ruling ideology in Russia, but not only there. Russia was enormously powerful (though poor and hungry as well – weapons cannot be eaten…) and forced other countries as well to have a communist government. This is somewhat easily said, but it would take too long to explain that part of history. You get my point, though. Hopefully at least…

From 1944, Poland was a client state of the Soviet Union. This meant Poland got a communist government. This wasn’t considered fun. The main idea of communism is to live side by side, everyone being equal, everyone getting treated the same way. This all sounds very good. The point is, human beings are simply not able to live this way. There’ll always be leaders and followers. In reality communism was less about equality than about the government controlling the people. They used secret services of security. Communism became paranoia. There were still leaders and followers. There wasn’t really freedom after all.

People protested against that, somehow. It must have been a tricky thing to do, but still, some people didn’t shut their mouth to comply. (These people always get my respect… Can’t help it.) And with the pope supporting them (by being a pope and saying things you could interpret in two ways), in the end the people won. In March 1989, months before the Wall fell, communists and Solidarność, the famous Polish syndicate sat around the table together, and elections were organised. they weren’t entirely free, but still it gave Solidarność the opportunity to win. So Poland sort of defeated communism before any other country could in fact free itself.

‘John Paul II has been credited with being instrumental in bringing down communism in Central and Eastern Europe, by being the spiritual inspiration behind its downfall and catalyst for “a peaceful revolution” in Poland’, says Wikipedia. He gave speeches that encouraged people, he went back to Poland to show them he supported them. Or how to bring communism down without using violence. In the end, the people won. And that’s a great thing.

There are more blind spots I will tell you about. Perhaps you already know them, perhaps not – either way, there are many things people should be aware off. I’ll do my best to tell untold stories here.

Leave a comment


  1. History is great.

    Stalinist Russia was an abomination.

    The Catholic Church isn’t much better.

    • That is true, but the way John Paul II was able to support the Polish people is great anyway. Though I would have disagreed with him over many things, I still respect this.

  2. A problem with history is that there’s too much of it.
    Every year in the US, there is a competition for the best nonfiction book about Abraham Lincoln.
    The judges just read the books all year.
    Multiple books. One subject. All hopefully presenting something new.
    Multiply that out for all the other subjects and it gets kind of daunting.

    Kudos to Joh Paul for nonviolent resistance, but mostly, I have to go with Michaels comment.

    • Wow, that must be incredible boring! After one book I’d be like ‘yeah, I know it now’. Some people live too much in the past. (I can’t quite say I’m not one of them, but at least I’m a light version.)

      I still agree as well, but it’s always good to show both the abd and the good sides I believe!

  3. To be fair to the Communists, the before they came to Poland, the Nazis were in charge. Looking at it from that perspective, the Communists looked quite attractive,

    • Yes, everything had its context. There’s also a village in poland where the Polish people killed the Jews living there. But it had a lot to do with the fact that the Nazis seemed more attractive to them because they’d save them from the SU (quite the opposite of what you state though).
      It’s all a matter of situation and stuff.

  4. It was the shipworkers in Gdansk who went on strike that led to this – they are not feted anywhere these days – withoiut that bravery JP2 would not have had a role. As Guap says too much history.

    The Catholic Church is an abomination!

    • I don’t think it was only the shipworkers – the entire country had its revolts. The one in Gdansk was one of the bigger ones, but would it have taken place if there hadn’t been the others as well?
      The Catholic Church, I do not support it, but the behaviour of JP II in this specific situation, yes.

  5. I was glued to my television that day, following every Vatican news bulletin. I was in tears when it was announced, I don’t know why. Probably because to me it signaled an end of an era and that it was time to grow up. My great grandmother was a religious woman. When John Paul II came to Vilnius on a visit, he was blessing items that people were bringing with them – my great grams brought her Mary & Jesus gold necklace, and he blessed it too. That necklace is now mine and I bet you’ve seen it millions of times on the blog 🙂
    I told you I went to Catholic school? It’s called by his name.

    • Wow, it’s nice that you’ve still got that necklace, even when you’re not nearly as catholic as your grandmother – but to know it meant so much to her makes it worth more than you could ever pay.
      Have you still really known the Russian occupation? (I’ve got no good idea of your age…)

      • It’s interesting really. I was born in the Soviet Union. Of course as an infant, I remember almost nothing of it as it collapsed shortly after I was born 🙂 I am 24 btw 🙂

      • Perhaps it’s quite good you don’t remember that anymore… 🙂
        24 seems a nice age to me. But you’re already very succesful at that age 🙂

  1. Turning Back to History | tracksinthedust

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