Sunday, April 09, 2006


George Orwell famously wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

This is especially important in Communist and in post-Communist countries. Because, controlling the flow of information was the principal means of social control of the population by the state, its dissemination is a crucial cultural battleground. As it happens, one of the important demands of the Gdansk strikers in 1980 was the right to build a memorial to their colleagues who died in a similar uprising in 1970.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? For those of us who live in the bourgeois world, memory has a different meaning. To a large extent, it is a burden to be escaped. We all have our failures, embarrassments, moments of cowardice and hatred. We earnestly desire that they don't define us. And greatly to our benefit, they don't. With the passage of time, memories are hazy, and we get the chance to define ourselves anew.

But if memories are completely lost, it is not altogether a good thing. Without it, we are at the mercy of others who may not have our best interest at heart, like those living under Communism. Instead, our memories must be purified, that is we must have them because the things they represent are true, and we must align ourselves with the truth. But, we must keep them in a way where they strengthen us or make us better people instead of demoralizing us.

When I was in the United States, I was sure the memories of the end of communism would not fade in Poland for many decades. Now that I am here, I am a little less confident.

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