Social Networks by wildrose99
People like to trace their family’s heritage back and see what clan they are related to. This is something I have found to be more common in the diaspora than in Scotland itself, but here they target it and market to tourists. My family is not Scottish and therefore does not have a clan, but being Polish we do have something similar. For simplicity’s sake I will refer to it as a clan, but please do not take that to mean we originated in the Scottish Highlands. The most I know of my family’s origins are this – in the Middle Ages, we were living in the countryside in Belorussia; farmers, but with status. It was required that the family always have a horse for war and the like. For those who have not studied medieval history, that is an indication of higher status. My family were quiet farmers and the like until the last century or so, when they shifted towards academia.
The clan my family traces back to is the Habdanks, which is quite clearly Germanic in origin. When I was little, my father used to tell me the story of how they got their name, Habdank. As the story goes, the leader of the family was a very important man, and once when he met a rival king and shown all his gold and jewels, the man took off his gold ring and tossed it onto the pile. “Gold to gold,” he said, “we Poles prefer iron.” The king laughed at this and said to have thanks, which is how the name Habdank came about. As for the crest (commonly called a coat of arms, though my father objects to that term and says it was a call to war), it is two silver chevrons on a red shield. Keeping the heraldry short, it essentially means honour and soldiering.
In the modern world, family ancestry and clans are simply romantic notions and carry no real value anymore – formal Scottish attire and a few other exceptions recognised. But for me, the story of the Habdank name always stuck with me. Gold is fancy and nice, but it is not practical. Have thanks for what really matters, and do not forget it. And then there is the crest, which reminds me that I come from a long line of people who were willing to fight. An old joke about Polish history involves writing “Poland” on the board, erasing it, writing it again, erasing it again, etc. While this is true – Polish history is full of fighting for their kingdom – it also touches on a key point that I have known my entire life – there is a very strong sense of independence that runs through the Polish. It is centuries old, and in the today’s world manifests itself differently than in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, it is there. You fight for what you need; pretty is nice but practical is what matters. Go ahead and take me down, but I will not go down without a fight and I will not just lay down and die. And always have thanks for what you have.
And that is what my family’s “clan” means to me.
My grandfather is one of my heroes. I have mentioned this before in a past blog post, and I am sure it will come up again at some point because it is rather important to me and to who I am. Like I said in my last update, I am incredibly busy right now with non-blog related issues (I would insert a clever simile or metaphor to illustrate how busy I am, but truth be told I cannot think of an appropriate one that makes sense), so please excuse the lack of global depth in this post.
Stanisław Dobosiewicz was my grandfather. During WWII, he was sent to the camps. He survived, and continued to be a great man until he passed away in 2007. Amnesty International posted a contest on twitter to win a pair of tickets to their upcoming Fringe comedy show, Stand Up for Freedom. The contest – post an “if you could tell someone anything” tweet. My entry? “I’d tell my grandpa ‘Thank you for being strong, surviving the Nazi camps, and being my hero.’” I already have a ticket to the show, but I tweeted because it really means a lot to me to say that.
With all the rioting that has been going on in England and the police reactions – which I have had a hard time not blogging about, but dissertation matters – it constantly has me thinking about my grandfather. We live in a free society with laws that are (usually) justly enforced. Police are necessary, and I think they generally do a good job. Some people disagree with me, and while I respect their opinions, I cannot help but think back to my grandmother showing me the picture she has of my grandfather the day he left for the camps. For me, extreme policing is not a far-away issue that only impacts oppressed nations I have no connection to. I have seen it, I have seen what it can do. I knew my grandfather. I saw the lasting effects of the camps. The Nazis may have been long gone from Poland, but they were always haunting him. And that, my dear readers, is extreme policing.
For those of you who follow this blog of mine, you may have noticed it has been a bit quieter than expected lately. Rest assured, this is not because I have run out of things to say or – even worse – have no opinions on current events. No, things have been quiet because I am, well, bloody busy as can be right now.
My dissertation is due at the end of August and is not at the point where it should be. If I do not have it done on time, I automatically fail. Therefore, my life is mostly focused on that right now. There are many other stressors demanding my time – job hunting, travel arrangements, Edinburgh Fringe, life – but primarily it is my dissertation. When it is over, I need a vacation. Actually, I could do with a vacation now, but like I said, no time.
So! My most sincere apologies for the silence, but this blog will likely be very quiet until September. It is a shame, I know, there is so much I want to comment on. I will leave you now to enjoy the rest of your August … with a picture of a penguin and a teacup that I put together for my mate in response to the riots!
As you had better be aware, there is a severe famine in the Horn of Africa right now. Somalia is not the only country suffering, but it is the worst. International response and relief efforts have been tremendous – thank you all – but not enough. Millions are still dying. Most of them are children.
Last night ONE hosted a conference call discussing the current situation regarding the famine and particularly Somalia. It was brilliant and absolutely wonderful. If you missed it, check out their blog (http://www.one.org/). It was very informative and insightful – I am not just saying that so I sound like less of a dork for taking notes throughout the entire bit. There were many key issues addressed during the conference call, but I only want to focus on a couple here, particularly those relating to the title of the post.
The famine has hit both Somalia and Kenya, but in Somalia it is far more devastating. Why is this? The same natural problems hit both – droughts do not believe in political boundaries – and yet famine is far worse on one side of the border. The answer lies in manmade problems and solutions. There are early warning systems and safety nets put in place, which have greatly lowered the amount of suffering, but also show that such extreme famine is not necessary. Drought may be unavoidable, but famine itself is. Somalia’s infrastructure, from government to roads, was dismal before the drought hit. Now, with aid workers blocked off, tragedy only compounds. This is not a domino effect – each additional problem was, and is, preventable.
This is what I mean by “suffering is optional.” As I have explained in previous posts, this quote means bad things happen but you do not have to let them get worse. So here, the drought was inevitable, and yes, human suffering too. But the famine we see now, with mothers having to abandon children at the side of the road so that just maybe another child will make it, no that is not inevitable. This extreme suffering is avoidable because it was caused by people. To quote a speaker from last night, “We know how to address this issue,” Kenya is proof. So those who think the famine in Somalia was unavoidable and is hopeless, think again.
I would like to leave you now with my favourite quote from last night, and hopefully some more fuel for thought. Merci beaucoup for your time and consideration, and a great many thanks to ONE for their efforts.
It cannot be about politics of any kind; it is a life or death situation.
I am not an activist. I am just someone with a loud mouth and opinions about important topics. I refuse to accept a “sad reality” as the norm and I will not sit back complaining about how humanity has doomed itself. But an activist? No, I am just a person who will not accept what I believe is wrong.
My father was a political activist, like his father before him. They did not set the bar for me; thy showed me what it truly means and set examples for me. As is common historical knowledge, Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and sent millions of people to the concentration camps. In 1940, during the AB Action, my grandfather became one of them. First he was sent to Dachau, then to Mauthausen-Gusen. He survived, and went on to write about his experiences. Stanisław Dobosiewicz, my grandfather, was an outspoken teacher and writer until the very end. The memories of the horrors he witnessed during his life haunted him forever; his final years were spent trapped in the hellish nightmares of his mind. But even as a frail old man on the brink of death, there was no doubt in my mind he would have made a dangerous political enemy. For all the torment and suffering, his strength was still visible. Not just his strength, I should say, but also my grandmother and uncle, who was born before the war.
After World War II ended in 1945, the Soviet Union controlled Poland as a Communist state. To put it mildly, life was not good. When my father was a young man in university, he was a part of a massive riot in Warsaw. He managed to avoid the police and, with help from my grandfather, escaped to the mountains so he would not be forced into the army. There he met some of his friends and he has many stories about his time there. The point is, though, he opposed the government and would have lost everything had my grandfather not helped. My father always told me “you drink before you speak of the government so you have some deniability, and always do so in public.” My favourite of his sayings to me is, “A rebellion is just a failed revolution.” Growing up in a land of free speech and human rights, I have never had to experience either. We are free to speak out without the same fear of punishment. And so we do, often, and for whatever suits our fancy.
But this is not political activism. My life is not on the line every time I write a blog post or tweet. The worst I have to deal with as a result of expressing my views is my mother, and I know she will not kill me.
There has always been an inherent sense of independence and freedom amongst the Polish, which to me has always been shown in my family. So for me, political activism is modern freedom fighting and until I can truthfully say I would lay down my life for the cause, sacrifice everything including everyone I know, I cannot call myself a political activist. But there is no way I will be silent.