They announced the Pulitzer Prize winners yesterday and someone who truly deserved one was not among the winners: Roger Cohen. His brave reporting in June from the streets of Teheran after the allegedly fraudulent presidential election was absolutely riveting. You felt like you were there at a crucial moment of Middle Eastern history. And Cohen’s humanity and decency shone through all the violence and lies of the Iranian authorities.
Cohen proved once again with today’s column about the Polish airliner tragedy at Katyn, why he deserved that Pulitzer. He writes movingly of the difficulty of reconciliation between Poles and Russians considering the suffering inflicted on the former by the latter in places like the Katyn Forest, where Stalin murdered 20,000 of the cream of the Polish nobility and armed forces. Out of the flames of this plane crash, comes the certainty that if two bitterly opposed peoples like Poles and Russians can find common ground, then there is no such hatred that cannot be soothed:
Watching him [Vladimir Putin] beside Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, I thought of François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl hand-in-hand at Verdun in 1984: of such solemn moments of reconciliation has the miracle of a Europe whole and free been built…
I thought even of Willy Brandt on his knees in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970, a turning point on the road to a German-Polish reconciliation more miraculous in its way even than the dawning of the post-war German-French alliance. And now perhaps comes the most wondrous rapprochement, the Polish-Russian.
…96 lost souls would be dishonored if Polish and Russian leaders do not make of this tragedy a solemn bond. As Tusk told Putin, “A word of truth can mobilize two peoples looking for the road to reconciliation. Are we capable of transforming a lie into reconciliation? We must believe we can.”
Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.
…So do not tell me that cruel history cannot be overcome. Do not tell me that Israelis and Palestinians can never make peace. Do not tell me that the people in the streets of Bangkok and Bishkek and Tehran dream in vain of freedom and democracy. Do not tell me that lies can stand forever.
Ask the Poles. They know.