Letter to the Editor of the New York Times

Dear Editor of the New York Times,

I am very pleased that the New York Times decided to focus on the Polish feature film Smolensk, directed by Antoni Krauze, which is based on the plane crash  in Smolensk, Russia in 2010 in which Lech Kaczynski, the President of Poland, was killed along with 95 people who were  accompanying him. Unfortunately, however, the way  in which your influential newspaper describes the process of the making of this film and its political context is a subject of great concern and is objectionable to many. It seems that this is the latest  in a series of events that are designed to discredit this film a year prior to its release.

I am honored to be a producer of this film for the “Smolensk 2010” Foundation as well as its script co- writer, and as I have spoken with the author of this article, I feel obligated to clarify the inaccurate information that was included in it, as well as to complete that which was omitted or overlooked. I believe that you will agree with me that the readers of the New York Times  deserve a factual and reliable account of the situation.

I’m not questioning the author’s and editor’s right to choose their sources of information and quotes. I previously studied journalism in the USA, including  in your newspaper’s own newsroom . But  with all due respect to the New York Times and its legacy, what Dan Bilefsky has written about the Smolensk film is one-sided, and is leading the reader to pre-judge the film before it has been released; indeed, while it is still in the process of being made.

The communist totalitarian practices of discrediting  artistic works before they could see daylight and be freely estimated by the public is still fresh in the memory of many in Poland. Communist censorship involved the prohibition of the printing of books, articles and the production of films, the changing of film scenarios, and the deletion of scenes. Certain names, historic and contemporary facts, and even certain words were not allowed to be mentioned in the media and artistic works. It actively struggled with writers, journalists, film makers, even poets. Actually, the censors  seemed to be afraid of poets more than anyone else. Poland, thankfully, has now put this period of its history behind it.

However,  we still have to be alert to any attempts at limiting the freedom of creativity. Unfortunately, we are encountering an increasing number of incidents of this practice, and I believe that the article in your newspaper is an example of this tendency. I truly believe, however, that this is unintentional on your part.

Already, at the headline of the article, it is mentioned that “Rift Over Air Crash Roils Poland’s Artists” Yes, a few actors and film directors expressed negative opinions about the making of this movie. But what the author unfortunately didn’t mention, even though I had informed him about this, was that many artists were fully in favor of it being made. I, as one of its producers, received a large number of requests from actors asking if they could take part in the Smolensk film, even if it would mean appearing just in one episode or not receiving any payment for their work, deeming it an honour to be able to participate in its production. I continually receive requests from film makers, musicians, set designers and graphic designers. The suggestion that Polish artists en masse are criticizing the  making of the movie is false, as a large number of Polish artists are annoyed by the attempts to stifle the freedom of artistic expression and the discrediting of the film by those who hardly know anything about it.

Dan Bilefsky writes that The Polish Minister of Culture, Bogdan Zdrojewski,

has warned that it is still too early to portray the events surrounding the plane crash.

It’s simply not true. Mr. Zdrojewski said:

I personally can’t imagine that it’s possible to make an outstanding film about these events so soon.

Well, it happens that ministers often lack imagination, but artists tend to have bigger imaginations than those of ministers.  And that’s why great artists, not  government officials, are able to create outstanding works.  The great Polish film director Antoni Krauze  is  working on his newest project – as he has done throughout his life – without paying attention to the opinions of officials and politicians.

The author of the article writes extensively about the opponents of the making of this film, quoting Borys Lankosz, who without even reading the script, claimed with absolute certainty that this film is

dangerous, because it will be based on a lie.

This young director, whose first film was subsidized by  Polish taxpayers, today is part  of a witch-hunt which is directed at one of the best Polish film-makers and his film about the unexplained death of the Polish president,  acting as if he were a Volunteer Reserve Militia (ORMO) officer involved in the 1968 beating of students who were protesting against the communist government.

Borys Lankosz is responsible for his own life’s choices, but the goal of an American journal should be the presentation of a variety of opinions. The author of the article is not quoting artists who are supporting the making of this film, and does not mention that its production has been already supported by the financial donations of many thousands of people, which is exceptional in the history of world cinematography.

The description of the film and its political context also needs to be corrected. Dan Bilefsky talks about actions by the Polish pilots, including their decision to attempt a perilous landing in dense fog. The truth is, however, that the Polish pilots did not make this decision. They simply decided to descend to the level of 100 meters to check the possibility of landing and if this wasn’t possible, to remain airborne. And this was the decision which was made by the pilot of the plane, Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk. He gave the specific order to “fly away”, repeated by the second pilot. Unfortunately, somehow the plane didn’t comply with  their orders. These are facts that should be known to the readers of the New York Times. The description of this  incident by Dan Bilefsky must therefore be considered inaccurate.

The author of the article wrote dramatically that the prosecutor, Mr. Przybyl, who was leading the investigation, “shot himself in the head” because of the criticism he encountered. But he in fact “survived”. What the author didn’t mention was that the bullet only grazed his cheek. He was so weak that he was lying down for a long time while the tv cameras were filming him, but a half an hour later he was already giving interviews. It also wasn’t mentioned that this unfortunate event was so grotesque and badly staged that everyone quickly forgot about it.

Among the 95 families of the victims of the Smolensk tragedy, the author of the article only interviewed one person – Paweł Deresz. I mentioned to the author about our conversations with many members of the victims families and the idea of making  their interviews a part of our film. But Dan Bilefsky didn’t find anyone among the families of the victims who would support the  making of this film. He also didn’t inform NYT readers that – according to polls – a majority of Poles (52 %) don’t believe in the explanation of the cause of the catastrophe prepared by the Russian and Polish government commissions. Only 34 % of Poles believe the official reports.

Can you imagine, dear Editor, a situation where concrete is poured on the World Trade Center after the 11th of September before the investigation is even conducted, the coffins with the victims inside are  cemented without the possibility of being opened and the bodies examined, the planes’ debris cannot be examined and the traces of explosives are confused with shoe polish. Imagine, at the same time, that those who try to understand all the circumstances of the tragedy are considered lunatics who want to inflame the conflict with the Arab world?  This is exactly what we are experiencing now in Poland. The planes on 9/11 cut through two towers like butter, easily destroying these majestic buildings. And at the same time we are being told that a similar plane fell into pieces as a result of a collision of one wing with a birch tree, and that 5 meters above the ground it turned upside down, even though it had a wingspan of 40 meters. Wouldn’t these facts cause one to re-think the official version of the events?

Dan Bilefsky wrote instead that

the range of conspiracy theories is dizzying.

He didn’t add that behind the arduous work of trying to bring us closer to the truth stand also the professors of American universities. He didn’t write that Polish government refuses to confront  the results of their research, as if it was afraid of purely scientific results.

The author also writes that sceptics of the results of the official investigation see Smolensk as a

declaration of war against Poland by Russia.

I have never encountered this kind of an opinion. I understand that the information in the NYT that

Poles are saying that Russia declared war on Poland

sounds interesting but it would be better to stick to the facts.

The investigation is still ongoing and is a long way from being concluded, even though the politicians that rule Poland are calling the debris of the plane “only a memento” and are trying to leave us in the situation where the Smolensk catastrophe will be first crash in the history of aviation in which there won’t be any examination of the most important evidence – the debris.  Can you not see the absurdity of this humiliating situation? We here in Poland are able to see it – although not everyone.

Tomasz Łysiak, the scriptwriter of our film, reminds us that the French writer Jules Verne originally made Captain Nemo, the main character of his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a Pole who chased Russian ships in order to take revenge for the Russian occupation of Poland.  But the publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, ordered Verne to change the nationality of the main character because it turned out that he was conducting business with Russians.  Captain Nemo consequently became an Indian.

I believe that the New York Times will get to the bottom of the Smolensk disaster, and that it will not surrender to the “soft power” of skilled lobbies like the ones that managed to prevent the world from discovering the truth about the Katyń massacre of  Polish officers in 1940. Seventy years ago a Russian commission “investigated” and subsequently concluded that the 20 thousand Polish officers in Katyń were murdered by the Germans. Our allies –the Americans – accepted the findings of the commission. The truth, however, later proved  to be quite different.  So I believe it’s justified to be sceptical about the findings of the Russian commission, that even today operates with standards that are in  radical opposition to those that are followed by the free world.

After the attack on the World TradeCenter, American artists made more than 10  feature films about these events. Are Poles not permitted to do the same thing? The Russian lobbyists  that worked for the same institution that made sure that the world got the “right” kind of message about Katyń are still working hard today. Nevertheless, we are still obligated to follow proper journalistic standards, aren’t we?

Maciej Pawlicki

New York Times article:



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  1. Opatrzność czuwa nad produkcją filmu “Smoleńsk” | Marsz Polonia


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