9 July 2009


In the Ukrainian language, holod=hunger, mor=plague

Holdomor refers to another Stalinist crime: the famine of 1932–1933 in the Ukraine during which millions of people were starved to death. I knew little about it, until the "a Nadder!'' blogger informed me that, like Katyn, Holodomor is yet another Soviet massacre.

What is more surpsising is that, unlike Katyn which is now almost universally acknowledged as a Soviet mass murder (excepting the deniers who live in their own world), Holodomor is, still, thought to be just another Stalinist operation, not a particular crime per se. One of the problem seems to be that, during the 30's, Walter Duranty, a pro-Stalin journalist living in the USSR, published in the New York Times denying the famine, contradicting other voices, like that of Gareth Jones, and thus establishing a lie, even in the west. I also read that western intellectuals, sympathetic to the Leninist/Stalinist "progressive'' regime, talked down the famine.

What is interesting to consider is this: How can it be that such huge crimes, murders of incredible magnitude, can be trivialized or denied? The blame is not (only) with the regime that caused the murders: they do their job. It is the others, the good boys, the deniers, who propagate the lies.

I will give a parallel in my domain: I constantly see the decline of the education system, the way that, nowadays, the university spoon-feeds students, collects their tuition and grants them a piece of paper. I wonder how it is possible to have system in which, say, maths/science students cannot do elementary high-school algebra; and I shout about it. Well, the politicians (who cause the situation) will definitely not speak about it. But what about academics? Among them, there are several deniers who will contradict me and it is they who are the most dangerous ones. The politicians are doing their job: they ensure that more students will go through the university pipeline, they will establish a good name for themselves and they will be re-elected; this is their goal. However, this goal would not have been possible had the deniers been absent.

Certainly, I do not claim that deniers of the university ridicule are at the same level as deniers of mass massacres, but, logically (and I'd dare say psychologically), there are parallels. So it seems to me.

7 July 2009


I saw, yesterday, the film Katyń by the famous Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Probably one of the most important films of the early 21st century, it tries to restore the historical truth about the mass murder of 22 thousand Polish people (military officers, engineers, intellectuals, merchants) in the Russian Katyn (Катынь) forest near the Polish border. Ordered by Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the secret Soviet Police NKVD, these people were captured, shortly after USSR invaded Poland, kept as prisoners for several months, and finally executed and buried in mass graves. The Nazis, who invaded Poland almost simultaneously as the Soviets, took advantage of the massacre for their own propaganda. At the end of the war, the Soviet-occupied Poland started an organized propaganda to convince everyone that it was the Nazis who had committed the massacre; anyone who dared deny this was imprisoned, marginalized or killed. The situation lasted until 1990 when Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility; and Boris Yeltsin made public the documents authorizing the massacre.

An excellent review of the film is written by Anne Applebaum who tells us that the film is in the classic Wajda style:
For half a century, beginning in the darkest era of communism and continuing through the years of Solidarity, martial law, and the post-Communist present, Wajda has been conducting precisely this kind of cinematic dialogue with Polish audiences. Although they have sometimes been celebrated abroad, his movies have always been made with his countrymen in mind, which gives them a special flavor.
We don't need too much of Polish history to watch the film, although some certainly helps. From Applebaum's review I also learned that Wajda's father was among the Katyn massacre victims and that there are several references in the film about Wajda's own life; for example, that he wanted to be an art student, and that his mother had, for years, no idea what had happened to her husband. Wajda was asked why he made the film now.
Most of those who actually remembered the events of 1939 were now dead, he explained—Wajda himself is eighty-one—so the film could no longer be made for them. Instead, he said, he wanted to tell the story again for young people—but not just any young people. Wajda said he wanted to reach "those moviegoers for whom it matters that we are a society, and not just an accidental crowd."
But both in the interviews he's given and in the film itself, Wajda seems to be saying something rather different about the need for a national cinema. By making Katyn, he wanted to create something that would get Poles to talk to one another, to reflect upon common experiences, to define common values, to admire similar virtues, to forge a civil society out of an anonymous crowd. Katyn is deliberately intended to inspire patriotism, in the most positive sense of the word. This too helps explain why Wajda made a film that asks not just "what happened?" or "what did the Soviet Union do to us?" but rather "how did we, as a society, react afterward?" as well as "and how do we remember it now?"
Wajda has achieved his goals as he has, indeed, created discussions, and
"Have you been to see Katyn yet?" was something one was asked with some frequency in Warsaw this past fall.
Most interestingly, he has managed to solicit some Russian reaction:
[O]n the day after the film's release, a government-owned Russian newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, declared that Soviet responsibility for Katyn was "not obvious." In a snide article, one of the newspaper's pundits threw doubt on a decade's worth of voluminous archival publications, and accused Wajda of "separating us further from the truth."
The film includes rare original photographs, excerpts from German newsreels presenting the Katyn massacre as a Soviet crime, and excerpts from Soviet newsreels presenting the massacre as a German crime.

Unfortunately, not everybody will be able to watch the film because it's not a main Hollywood production. I'm lucky to be in Edinburgh where the film scene is very good.

P.S. (Added 20 Feb. 2013). Here is a link on Andrzej Wajda's biography, as presented by culture.pl


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant