Fact – Poles don’t want people to understand their culture/history

I’m driven to this rant by the film “Katyń”. Borrowed this from the DVD shop yesterday and was encouraged to see on the back that it included English subtitles. Of course, when you play it you realise that the English subtitles are actually a second set of Polish subtitles and so, yet again, you are hindered from understanding a little piece of Polish culture as well as you might. No wonder it didn’t win the Oscar, they probably had the same copy I did.

This may just be a technical problem but I find it to be entirely consistent with Poland’s general attitude towards playing a role as a part of a wider global community and helping outsiders to understand the country, its culture and history. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Polish films or TV programmes that have English available even as subtitles and yet there are at least 50 I would very much like to watch. With book translations I suppose it is slightly better but not many people have the time to read through all those books in the hope of getting something from it.

I went to Dubai. They had a “global village” where many countries had an exhibition and bazaar showing off their countries. It’s laughable to even think that Poland would bother, and they didn’t, but the Czech Republic did. Why should I be surprised? I travel a fair bit and I have never, not once, seen any exhibition, travelling show even an advert in an airport promoting Poland. Poland’s efforts in terms of promoting the country abroad would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. Still, Poland has a big population and doesn’t need to bother about marketing. Czech has a small population and so is ‘forced’ into all these marketing tricks to survive. IS THE WRONG ANSWER. You want to be another USA? All tied up in your own little petty issues with most of your population not being aware of anything outside Poland?

If I raise this issue I am generally told to “learn the language”. Pathetic excuse. Polish is not a language anyone globally would bother learning as it is only of any use in Poland or with other Poles around the world. It does not even come close to the usefulness of English, Spanish, French, German and others so expecting people to “learn the language” is the same as saying “Piss off, I don’t care if you understand this film or not”. For me, learning the language does apply, and I am learning it, but wouldn’t it help me to learn faster if I could watch some Polish films with English subtitles? I mean how hard can it be? There are zillions of English language films given Polish subtitles, so the art itself is not unknown. It’s just a one way street though. You want to suck up everyone else’s creative output whilst keeping all your own for yourselves, or for people who have learned the language.

No. The problem is simple to understand. Poland has a massive chip on its shoulder, perhaps a whole bag full of chips. If the world were one big classroom, Poland would be the child standing in the corner counting his new sweets and plotting revenge for all those times he was bullied in the playground. Poland wouldn’t be joining in the games with the other kids because “nobody understands him”. He’d be suspicious of strangers and forever picking fights with other kids over stupid, short sighted, issues. He’d be made fun of because his mum always dresses him up warm, makes sure he has plenty to eat and tells him to go to church. The report card for Poland would say “Anti-social, must try harder”.

My suggestion is that Poland knocks those chips off its shoulder, puts the past behind it (what else is there to do with it for God’s sake?) , and starts embracing its neighbours, the EU, the world in a grown up, adult, expansive, open, professional, collaborative kind of way. That it realises that the whole world is NOT going to learn Polish just so it can understand you better and that it is POLAND”S job to help people to understand it. Either that or accept the fact that you’re going to be forever an odd little island of paranoia, suspicion, self flagellation and stupidity in a sea of EU/Global harmony.

This has not been a big issue, yet, because the cooperation in terms of joining NATO, the EU, investment in infrastructure, awarding 2012 football championships and so on are in everyone’s interests, not just Poland. But when all that is done and Poland is still showing everyone the finger?

Tagged , , ,

47 thoughts on “Fact – Poles don’t want people to understand their culture/history

  1. The number of Polish films that ever even leave the country have got to be exceedingly small …and since everyone in Poland speaks Polish… it’s all in Polish.

    It’s the mindset of “everyone in Poland speaks Polish” that needs to change. I don’t have any stats to back it up, but surely English is the second language here. When more foreigners move here, when English is more common and there are decent “Polish for foreigners” classes/books/CD’s and when it isn’t so strange or funny (to Poles) to hear Polish spoken with an accent …then you’ll see more Polish films subtitled with English.

    In the meantime, you might want to check out opensubtitles.org and/or your local torrent site.

    Oh and good luck on your Polish – it’s probably the fastest way to resolve this problem.

  2. michael farris says:

    Rough guess, I would assume there are more native speakers of Vietnamese and Russian in Poland than English but both groups tend to assimilate more than English speakers.

    And yeah, a movie like Katyn should have subtitles in a dozen or more languages (not just English) but that’s expensive and too often a ‘think small and then scale back from that’ mentality takes over what should be ambitious projects.

    A fair amount of TV Polonia has subtitles, that are generally accurate enough (if not very expressive and occasionally tin-eared).

    Another problem is that (especially) English speaking residents in Poland often get too much positive feedback for not learning Polish (I’ve seen the process). In the beginning get lots of help from people at work. But this gets old quickly and before they quite know it, their Polish colleagues start resenting them for not learning the language and not being able to do anything for themselves and start to make excuses instead of getting dragged to some bureaucratic office yet again.
    This dysfunctional dynamic is partly a leftover from communist times where the government absolutely did not want most foreigners learning Polish.

    And English subtitles won’t help you learn Polih unless they’re extremely literal (and therefore awful). Polish subtitles (if they’re reasonably close to the dialogue) would be better bet (but a movie about Katyn is not the place to start). IIRC Dzien Swira (Day of the madman one of the better recent comedies) had Polish subtitles that were pretty close to the original.

  3. darthsida says:

    Scatts, oh my, where to begin? You’re totally wrong, both in theory and practice.


    1. To complain the country has no promotion you have to show first the country needs promotion. You may take things for granted but your reader does not have to.

    2. Re “learn the language”. There are 2 approaches in seeing English (or any other global language):
    A): English-speakers are privileged and non-English speakers are standard.
    B) English is standard and non-English is substandard.
    Your demand (‘make English subtitles’) is sound within thinking B) but not necessarily so within thinking A).

    3. Chip on Polish shoulder: is it about seeming angry all the time because you think you have been treated unfairly? if so, then before going on if it’s one chip or one bag of chips, say: has Poland been treated unfairly? (And I love the Present Perfect here, since it applies to yes, Yalta of yore, and yes, EU of now.)


    4. Poland / Czech Republic. It’s easier to do lots of things there, in Hungary etc. ect. just because they are smaller countries than Poland. A difference of scale matters: It is not the same to come from 10 cents to 100 USD and to come from 10.000 USD to 10 million USD (though the multiplier is [x1000] in both cases).

    5. Poland/ Dubai: Dubai as the let’s-have-artificial-archipelago-creators and Poland as the let’s-have-2012 highways-designs-makers? You’re joking.

    Points 4 and 5 are vital, it’s money that matters. Money that matters. Money that matters. Always. Always. — If you should think it’s not money but some strange chipful daindruff on Polish shoulders, the burden to prove is on you. (But read Island’s ‘reasons’ here or some figures I gave there.) You can preach shedding chips after you practise being geohistorically generationally poor. Hint: the poor don’t travel, as you put it, ‘a fair bit’. Hey, the poor may not have funds (time as a subtype of funds) to rent movies. The way I see it, you’re angry with the poor that they don’t behave the way you expect them. Well, sir, hire a personal movie translator. Don’t mind the rabble.

    In case you just raised an issue, here be the answer:
    1) There are (or used to be last time I saw it) English subtitles to most Polish movies, TV Polonia being the channel to watch. Wait till the movie’s out of theaters and into TV?
    2) There are English subtitles to ‘Katyn’, check your local torrrent.
    3) ‘Katyn’ is pathetic. [Edit: As everything that concentrates on history for the past’s sake, instead of on history for today’s [well-being’s] sake.)]

  4. scatts says:

    Darth, oh Darth, where on earth do I start?

    TV Polonia. All I’ve ever heard about TVP or any of its derivatives, from people who’s opinion I would trust, is that it is all government spun bullcrap. News in particular. So, whilst I know I could watch TV Polonia and get the only subtitled Polish media on the planet, I’d rather not. Thanks.

    As for your points.


    1. I write what I think and I don’t feel the need to explain in any more detail why I say what I do. If that means some readers don’t get the point then so be it. Everyone is welcome to hold a different opinion.

    2. I know English speakers are privileged (and lazy) but you have to face facts when they stare you in the face – Polish is spoken by 43 million people and is the official language of 1 country. English is spoken by 1.8 billion people (400 million as a first language) and is the official language of 53 countries. That might piss all Poles off (and French and a few others besides), but it’s a fact, so get used to it because the numbers are going up every day.

    3. The point is not whether Poland has been treated unfairly or not, lets assume it has, and lets assume it has been badly treated since Adam was a boy. So bloody what? What I’m wondering is when is Poland going to GET OVER ITSELF? Stop feeling like it has been hard done by, stop looking for someone to blame, stop sulking in the corner with a bag full of chips and come out into the sunshine?


    4. So you’re saying that because Poland is bigger, has more money, more resources, more investment, more everything – it is therefore normal that it would be unable to organize itself as well as the Czech Republic in terms of improving or promoting the nation? Nothing to do with Polish ministers not being able to agree on anything because they are too busy arguing with each other and being suspicious of each other’s motives? Or about not giving a flying toss what the rest of the world thinks?

    5. Poland/ Dubai – it was an example.

    Points 4 and 5 are vital, it’s money that matters. Not entirely sure I know where you’re coming from here, Darth. Money is a factor in just about everything. So? What’s all the stuff about the poor not travelling and me needing to be poor to understand and me being angry the poor don’t behave and me needing a translator and stuff??? I think you’ve shot off down a side chute on your white charger there!

    In case you just raised an issue, here be the answer:
    1) There are (or used to be last time I saw it) English subtitles to most Polish movies
    – Bullshit. There are not, try looking before you state so called facts. Perhaps a few soppy romantic comedies, yes, but anything remotely interesting, historical, documentaries, etc etc – nothing.

    TV Polonia being the channel to watch. Wait till the movie’s out of theaters and into TV? – thanks for the great tip (see above about TVPolonia) I’d rather be given a choice of what I would like to watch than have to rely on government fed drivel. Yes, I’m really looking forward to the next episode of M jak Miłosć.

    2) There are English subtitles to ‘Katyn’, check your local torrrent – I shouldn’t have to check any torrent or Subtitles R Us dot com. They should be on the bloody disc!

    3) ‘Katyn’ is pathetic. [Edit: As everything that concentrates on history for the past’s sake, instead of on history for today’s [well-being’s] sake.)] – I agree, I wasn’t terribly impressed.

  5. darthsida says:

    Fair enough. Points. I like points.

    1. TV Polonia and TVP are not one (despite the same initials).

    2. If your argument is “learn English, lots of people speak it”, we should catch up with some languages of China or India first.

    3. The unfair fate of Poland. A parallel, somewhat shaky, but you’ll get my pioint: Why do we punish thieves, murderers, rapists? Why don’t we put their past behind and let them go unpunished? Why should the victims’ families claim damages?

    Generally, to say “put your past behind you, get a grip and enter a new world bravely” is easy, I assume, for any national of any country that was partly or wholly one organised kill-and-steal machine – otherwise known as colonial empire. Let Poland be paid damages and then let a new beginning be launched. I really do believe money (or lack of it, rather) is the root of all that’s grim and sulky, Poland or not. If one does not want to take it in terms of good ol’ Marxism or of historical justice, there’s always the language of the market: Polish smiling, kindness, helpfulness can be products, meaning they have their prices, only not paid directly. (In the directly material world, however, your demand for English subtitles did not meet its supply.)

    4. Who told you “Poles have more money”?! More than Czechs? Pshaw!

    Plus, clearly obssessed with numbers (as the numbers of English speakers above), are you trying to say: the more Poles [than Czechs] the better [for Poles]? This is not any pre-industrial revolution age when numbers would matter. Think Switzerland. Or Iceland. And, for some dark-side examples, where there are more people, there are more chances to start arguments, more chances to set up strikes, more reaons to compare if the neighbour’s grass is greener, more voting pool for more political parties etc. etc.

    5. Polish ministers argue because there is less money to share among ’em than money they expect. They establish their zones of influence (and then of affluence). But you can give your own explanation why Polish ministers can agree on anything. (Would that be a racist explanation?)

    Dubai seemingly has enough money — writing off slush funds, bribes, costs of failed projects, costs of design mistakes, laziness, stupidity and all — they still have a surplus to build something. Poland does not have enough.

    5. I wrote (re TV Polonia) “There are (or used to be last time I saw it) English subtitles to most Polish movies” and you wrote it’s, quote, Bullshit. Did you notice “last time I saw it”?

    Why is it so hard to accept the market seemingly cares little enough about what you personally find interesting, non-governmentally-propagandist or deserving subtitles? Pay and you’ll be served. If you won’t pay enough, you won’t be served. You want another channle of distribution (no torrent but dvd) — pay and enjoy. You want another television network, pay and rejoice. Heck, if you pay enough, you can have not merely a personal translator but a personal tv! That’s by no means meant to insult you. That’s simply what capitalism teaches us (so you should know better).

  6. scatts says:

    Darth, where does this end?

    1. This is a problem for any broadcaster ESPECIALLY a public one – “There is freedom and diversity of information, although laws against deriding the nation and its political system are still in force.”, and this means you’re talking nonsense – “The public broadcaster TVP has the largest share of the audience for its two national channels. It also operates regional programmes and the international satellite channel TV Polonia.”.

    2. We all know which languages have a lot of speakers, we also all know which languages are more internationally used, and Polish isn’t either of them. I think it would be a good idea to have Mandarin and Hindi subtitles as well as English and perhaps Spanish and Arabic too.

    3. Britain has, I believe, embraced its history – good and bad – and is now operating as a forward looking nation and as a member of various global communities. It is busy making new history rather than worrying over past misfortunes, mistakes or glory.

    Your comments simply prove my point that Poland has a chip on its shoulder and needs to get over it. Either that or put your cards on the table so people can see what your problems really are. What do you want exactly? A few apologies, loads of money, to turn the clock back….?? Nobody is suggesting that life wasn’t exactly fair on Poland, or kind, or whatever, but there comes a time (and think that time is upon us) where you have to drop all that baggage.

    4. Of course Poland has more money than Czech. It might spend it incredibly badly for all I know but a country that’s 4 times the size of Czech is bound to have advantages. One of those advantages is a much bigger home market for all those films, TV, music, etc. Hence the attitude of “Screw you, we’ve got enough sales from Polish speakers! Who needs subtitles!”.

    5. Polish ministers can’t agree on anything because they are Polish and because they are politicians. No, that’s not racist, unless you wish to accuse me of that?

    Drop the Dubai thing, I really couldn’t give two hoots for the Arabs. It was an example of a moment in time where Poland could have been represented on an international stage alongside Czech but they failed to do so. Again.

    Well, to be accurate, you wrote about the subtitles in the sentence BEFORE you mentioned Polonia, but in any event, I’ve already covered Polonia, it does have subtitles, sometimes, but so what? It is one channel, a bad channel, a government controlled channel and it has some subtitles. Am I supposed to be impressed by that? Are all foreigners only allowed to watch what TV Polonia decides to broadcast? The only reason Polonia exists at all, by the way, is for all the Polish diaspora. Not in any way intended to be a way of promoting the nation to the world. Where is the channel popular anyway – Chicago?

    As for the whole “rich” issue. I’d be very happy to pay for my Polish films with subtitles. I paid for Katyń with subtitles but didn’t get them. I pay for all DVDs I buy (unlike many people around here). But you tell me, for example, where I can pay any amount of money and get “Alternatywy 4” with English subtitles? Or any of the hundreds of other things I want to watch? Like I said, I’m not into “M jak Miłosć” or anything similar that might be shown by TVPolonia.

    I don’t find it “hard to accept” that the market cares not about my personal interests. This isn’t about me as such. I’m more interested in why Poland does not care about helping people, the rest of the world, to understand its history & culture. After all, if you’ve got so many chips about the past wouldn’t it help your cause if you made it easier for them to understand what you’re talking about?

  7. darthsida says:

    Scatts, the title of your post is not “Poles don’t want English-speakers to understand Katyn the Movie” — it’s “Poles don’t want people to understand their culture/history”. In life you got yourself looking for a movie that tells you about an inconclusive point of strangers’ history. Instead, you found me who could tell you (and not in subtitled Polish) about the unfairness and the poverty and their impact on the now-and-here of the inhabitants of Poland. I offer you a better product but you refuse to take it.

    I’m not on any mission. And the fact I may have been mistaken about TV Polonia is due to that I haven’t watched Polish tv for years. You can’t make me angry too easily – above, I’m giving you my impressions about Poles, not about myself. (I’ll grant you, I don’t like lies and you seem to lie about Poland being richer than the Czech Republic, but I’ll survive :) )

    You want simple words, cards on the table? Poland is poor. Either bodies outside Poland donate megasums (*) to make Poland more like the West — or the West waits until Poland levels up with the West on its own, which may take a decade, two, three, and provided there’s no another war while you wait. In the meantime — out of economic disbalance there will come jealousy, grim looks, anger, envy, Polish politics, stuff.

    (*) But for now, they take more than they give.

  8. Michael Farris says:

    You do realize no one’s stopping you from learning Polish well enough to do a lot of this translation yourself?

    Actually come to think of it, the problem here isn’t not that there aren’t enough Poles fluent in English to cater to your preferences, but rather there are not enough English speakers who are fluent enough in Polish to do the translations right (and those of us who are fluent enough can’t make a living at it in an age of plummeting translation costs).

    Expecting Polish speakers to be able to come up with translations into English that native speakers would find compelling is … odd. That’s not the way it’s worked anywhere else. Quality written translations (including subtitles) should be into the native language.

  9. scatts says:

    Michael, assuming that’s aimed at me. Yes, I do realize that my particular situation will be solved soon. I actually did pretty well with Katyń po polsku aside from being stupid enough to not know that the date, 1940, was the problem with the gravestone. I didn’t understand why this gravestone was such an issue when it didn’t say “killed by the Soviets in Katyń”. Still that’s no doubt my fault for not reading up carefully beforehand. Or is it the director assuming everyone who is likely to watch the movie will already be a Katyń expert – i.e. Polish/Russian/German?

    But, as I have already said, this is not about me and telling the rest of the world to “learn Polish!” is an idiotic concept. As is the idea of waiting until Poland feels it has been “treated properly” (which seems to mean giving it a lot of money as far as I can tell) before opening up a little. I’m afraid I find it hard, make that impossible, to believe that a country such as Poland is so poor as to make it impossible for it to market itself in any way. Also, that a country so justifiably proud of its arts is so determined to keep it all big secret. Just because it is poor.

    This is exactly my point, this spiteful childish attitude, the whole “We’re poor, we’ve had a hard time so to hell with you foreigners. If you’re interested, learn Polish!”.

    According to my calculations and research, it would cost around 5,000 PLN to subtitle a film as long as Katyń. How does that cost compare to the overall cost to make the movie? I am obviously asking too much from such poor people! Pah!

  10. guest says:


    This is exactly my point, this spiteful childish attitude, the whole “We’re poor, we’ve had a hard time so to hell with you foreigners. If you’re interested, learn Polish!”.

    This is better :)

    “We’re poor, we’ve had a hard time, so dear foreigners, please give us a little bit more time to reach the western standarts. Western europe had 60 years after WWII. We are now in our 18th year and we try our best to catch up with you. And we WORK REALLY HARD to do so. All we want is a little bit of patience and understanding. NO MONEY ,NO APOLOGIES ,just patience and understanding.”

    The katyn movie was really expensive and the 81yo Wajda was happy that they could make it at least in Polish.

    AND NOW ! :D

  11. michael farris says:

    Random questions/observations/theorizing:

    1. What non-English speaking country normally subtitles its programs in English? And why?

    2. As compelling drama, soap operas are not so great, but as sources of cultural information they’re pretty good. I haven’t watched much M jak m in the last few years but when I did watch it I was surprised at how often behavior that seemed completely irrational to me made perfect sense to Polish people I knew.

    2. The only people I’ve been aware of who’ve been told to learn Polish are those who live in Poland and haven’t. And they should. No excuses.

    3. Creating interest / awareness of a country is a long process that has to be two-way. Polish people can’t be responsible for the whole load. There also need to be enough non-Poles with enough knowledge of language/culture/history and at present there aren’t (for a bunch of different reasons some of which are the fault of Polish institutions and some of which aren’t).

    4. There’s no excuse for Katyń to not have excellent subtitles in a dozen or more languages. The small samples of the english subtitles for Katyn I’ve seen aren’t as good as they should be:
    “It happens that we know about something that we musn’t know”,
    “A perfidious lie”,
    “I’ve been living hope for 5 years now”
    “Why are you speaking as if he were no more?”

    5. The whole intellectual infrastructure in Poland works against making Polish literature/art/films whatever more well known. They’re not expecting the world to learn Polish, they simply assume the world on the whole is not and will never be interested in anything Polish, so why bother. I think they’re wrong, but no one’s listening to me.

  12. guest2 says:

    I’ll be brief.

    Scatts, you’re erroneously tying the seeming lack of foreign translations and promotion abroad to your claim of Polish arrogance. I’ve attended many Polish festivals in Seattle and New York at which were presented many movies and documentaries, all of which, as I expected, had English subtitles.

    I’d like to bring to your attention that Polish culture is presented in many places abroad, Dubai being an exception. However, events are usually small in scale and don’t always get media attention. Money is in fact the primary issue and I find that promotion often takes place in the context of a larger festival or is co-funded by native sponsors. I’m quite familiar with Polish culture only because of the Polish people have been active in sharing it, more than any other country.

    I thought Michael’s response would settle this definitively but it appears Scatts has some rethinking to do. Scatts, I think you are ill-informed and your confidence as prompted you make an affair out of common problems of international promotion.

  13. guest says:

    BTW Katyn is promoted enough….

  14. darthsida says:

    => Scatts,
    you want a rant here, not Polish culture (though the two, a rant and the culture may coincide, granted). You didn’t bother to assume the Dubai absence could be an outcome of sound market targetting. (So that Czechs either had different goals in their promotion policy — or that their presence in Dubai was misbeggoten, considering cost / effectiveness ratios.)

    Accusing Poles of childish behaviour, you’re showing a childish behaviour yourself. It goes: “I don’t want to learn the language, I don’t wanna TV govt propaganda, I don’t want torrents, I don’t want M jak M — I want Katyn, with the subtitles, and I want it now.” A child in a sandbox who will accept only one toy — and it’d better be delivered quick or he’s gonna cry loud.

    Scatts, “we’re poor” does not mean “screw you”, it means “we’re poor, so we can be depressed and Katyn subtitles may be low on our lists”.
    In addition, “we’re poor” means “we’re poor as Germans, Russians et al. destroyed our immovables and dried down our intelligentsia’s IQ pools — so we want them to pay back for that”. If you think that is childish, then:
    either 1) you believe damages shouldn’t be claimed (but why? any limitation period I don’t know about)
    or 2) you have a vested interest in the status quo, so you choose sending condescending smirks and / or adages about chips and shoulders — in order not to be (legally, morally, whateverelly) forced to share money that might just be the successor of money stolen by the proud British Empire. Of course you can reply “kiss my derriere”, but don’t expect that your derriere will, actually, be kissed.

    “Learn the language” is not pathetic. It’s a working solution. English people may not want it because (1) they’re lazy (2) thinking themselves superior, (3) they’re thinking it’s cheaper to have everything translated. (Incidentally, I wonder, what all those pro-Welsh, pro-Scots, pro-Gaelic organisations in the UK I had contact with [some 12 years ago] would think about your opinion “Learn English, minorities”. Or what would EU member states say to “Learn English, skip the rest”. Well, I know what I would say to an English-speaker. — I’d say “Learn Chinese, for Englihs-speakers are a minority.” How would it feel, Scatts? Is it so that all your UK dvds have their Cantonese subtitles yet?

    => Michael
    I’m listening to you.

  15. scatts says:

    guest – interesting clip, thanks. They obviously got a DVD copy where the subtitles worked! As for “giving time to catch up”, in general I agree there are many things that do take time, and more money, to fix and so patience is required. I just don’t think that putting subtitles on a few more movies is one of those things.

    1/ Well, we know it is common practice throughout western Europe but it seems the arguments of “poor eastern country” would exclude me from using those. Countries like Holland & the Scandinavian countries regularly even broadcast in English with local subtitles, but then they encourage their people to learn English & Poland does not. I honestly don’t know the answer, but I suspect Czech & Hungary might be doing a better job than Poland. I’ll see if I can get any evidence from friends who live there.

    2/ We’ve been through that one. I agree, people living here should learn the language, as I continue to do. I’ve heard “learn Polish” used as a pretty wide ranging excuse.

    3/ Agreed. It is a two-way street and does require people with enough interest to be asking for these things. I’m asking, but I’m being told to either learn Polish or to wait another ten years or more.

    4/ Sounds like I was better off without the subtitles! :)

    5/ I’m listening – perhaps we should start a club or something!

    guest2 – I don’t think any comments should be aimed at “settling this”, if that means putting me ‘in my place’ or shutting me up? If you mean giving another point of view, that’s fine.

    The stories you tell are very encouraging and I’m pleased to take note of some activities to promote Poland. I think it might be fair to say that the US is a special case, given the number of Poles and the obsession with heritage, but nevertheless, it is nice to hear.

    guest – yes, Katyń is not really an issue here, it just happened to spark off my writing.

    Dearest Darth –

    I suppose you could make me sound childish if you want but I don’t want Katyń, I want a cross section of Polish media output such as the one I mentioned and many others. I don’t think that’s a childish request.

    I think you really should make a post on here about this obsession of yours with how much money is owed to poor Poland by the British Empire and all its descendants. Also, how it is you intend for this angst to ever be washed away?

    You can insult English all you like, but I think you realise how important a language it is. Lazy, yes, superior, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that when people from Greece and Sweden, Germany & China, India & Hungary get together THEY SPEAK ENGLISH, not Polish, not Mandarin, not Hindi. Not my fault, just worked out that way.

    Would anyone argue with this summary so far

    We all accept that Poland could be doing an awful lot more to promote itself in many ways, media subtitles being one of them. There are however assorted reason given for why it is not better than it is:

    1/ The arrogance of the British Empire ;)
    2/ Lack of money
    3/ Thinking that nobody (not enough people) would be interested. A.K.A Polish intellectual infrastructure.
    4/ It is a long process

    Nobody here agrees that Pole’s don’t want people to understand their culture/history but prefer to think that they are not yet in a position to encourage such understanding, for the reasons given above.

    Fair, or not?

    My position, disappointing as it may be for some, remains:

    Pole’s do not not see it as any kind of priority to help other people understand their culture/history. I’ll be very interested to see if they ever see it as a priority as and when they feel they are rich enough or have had enough time. Personally, I think there is an element of arrogance involved, no more than British arrogance so I’m not saying for one minute that we are any better. I therefore think it is entirely possible that when Poland is rich, powerful and has had enough time their attitude will be even more obstinate than it might be today. I think that point 3 will remain valid for a very long time and I think that’s very sad and ultimately a bad thing for Poland as compared to other countries in the region.

  16. darthsida says:

    Scatts, but:
    I can’t make you childish, your own acts must suffice, sorry :)

    Just take my point (different from yours):

    For personal uses, all languages are equal. In private conversation, when we meet, I expect you to speak Polish as good as I speak English. If I speak English and you don’t speak Polish, I’ll expect you to be aware I’m doing you a huge favour, free of charge, and you owe me.

    In commercial usage English may be and oft is superior. (I learned some English, expecting it to pay back for my efforts. It does.) When I come to you to ask to do business with me, I’ll speak your language. When you come to me, you’ll speak my language. (The lazy will pay for translators.)

    Your Katyn thing is where a personal use (Scatts wants to watch) clashed against commercial factor (no supply of subtitles).

    2. The question is not “who speaks English today”, but “who will speak What in future”. You don’t learn a foreign language in a day. You remember what the lingua franca in Blade Runner was? Or — you may be right when you predict English will rule us all. But personally, I hope you’ll be wrong.

    And while waiting for reports of the Czech / Hungarian TV fronts, say more about English-friendly German TV? We may go bickering like this forever, yes.
    You may try to explain what you mean by “understanding culture / history” in the first place, and do it Katyn-case study-wise:

    Soviets are the bad guys, Poles are the good guys. The former shoot bullets through the skulls of the latter. It’s kinda no-happy-ending war movie set down in a strange country’s landscapes.

    I understand why Soviets did what they did, and why many Poles see that as evil today, why it matters to some (A. Wajda, for example), why there are feelings of vengeance and sorrow and anger after all those years.

    I know how Katyn can influence Polish / Russian relations now, I can make my own opinion whether it is good or bad to remember Katyn, and what the options for the two countries about handling Katyn’s past are.

  17. scatts says:

    Darth, when we meet, eventually, I’ll be happy to buy you a beer. I hope you don’t think you’re doing us a huge favour posting on this blog? :)

    I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see which, if any single, language dominates in the future. I’ve already explained today’s maths – Any Polish media with English subtitles is open to an audience of 1.8 billion people across the globe. Without subtitles it has a potential audience of 43 million people, most of whom know the story anyway.

    In other words, let’s make the huge assumption that of the 43 million Polish speakers, 50% of them would be interested in (and buy rather than steal) media exhibit ‘A’. That’s a total audience/market of 21.5 million.

    If only 1.2% of the English speaking peoples were interested in the same media, the audience/market would be more than doubled.

    Alternatively, let’s assume you’d need to sell an additional 1 million copies of media ‘A’ to recoup the costs of subtitles and a little marketing (should be more than enough). That means we’re looking for an interest level of 0.056%. Is the history & culture of this beautiful country really not interesting enough to even garner the interest of 0.056% of English speaking people?

    Your last part. I think all three are valid reasons to learn more about the past but if I can’t access the data (without learning the language) then I’m going to poorer three times over. Or did I miss the point? By the way, I’m not so much interested in major events, such a Katyń, but more in everyday life in Poland. Major events, WWII itd, do tend to be well covered albeit not strictly from a Polish viewpoint, which would be nice to hear.

    By the way, I’m using the American ‘billion’ – 1,000,000,000.

  18. scatts says:

    Just as a very quick “starter for 10”


    Czech newspapers distributed Czech films, in Prague, with English subtitles.

    By way of contrast – I remember was it “Polityka” that carried a series called “cos-tam PRL” (don’t remember exact title), propaganda from Soviet times? Very interesting I think, even for non-Poles. Did that have any subtitles? Does anything distributed by Polish printed media have subtitles?

  19. michael farris says:

    I’ve often been in Hungary for shorter periods (probably about 3 months total time) and don’t recall ever seeing English subtitles on Hungarian tv.
    Hungarian subtitles on a few movies (though not ones in English). I don’t think Hungary does any better or worse than Poland in accomodating English speaking visitors (it does best in Budapest, but outside of Budapest German gets you further IME even in Eastern Hungary). I’m going for a short trip there in a few weeks, I’ll see what I notice. On the other hand, I don’t have much occasion to speak English in Poland outside of the classroom so I don’t know how accomodating Warsaw is.

    Prague probably does better (at least in superficial tourist information) but I don’t know about anywhere else in Czech or Slovakia.

    Come to think of it I don’t ever recall seeing English subtitles on German tv and I used to get over 30 channels and I watched more German than Polish tv then because I prefer German dubbing to the dreaded Polish lektorzy (assassins of aesthetic experience).

    The only time I’ve seen English subtitles on tv from non-english speaking countries is just on things like tv polonia (arirang, an international iranian channel, that kind of thing).

    What is it you’re proposing exactly, subtitles on TVN? TVN 24? in teletext? open subtitles like tv polonia?

    Again I agree that Polish movies shouldn’t make it onto dvd without several different subtitle options (minimum polish, english, german, french, spanish and russian and a few others wouldn’t hurt).

    But all things considered, it seems you’re essentially asking for language welfare for English speakers in Poland. If there was a substantial market for Polish oriented English speaking media I think the efforts made so far would have had more success. With no market, who’s supposed to pay?

  20. guest says:

    scatts on TV POLONIA there are really many films with english subtitles. Not only m jak milosc trash but also the better ones. Maybe you should try it with the “propaganda channel” ;)

    here is for example alternatywy 4 with subtitles from TV Polonia

    ANd if you write to tv polonia i am pretty sure they will send you a copy with english subtitles or at least tell you where you can buy it.

  21. scatts says:

    I grow to love TV Polonia more and more every day. Thank you, guest.

    Now. How do I convince my (Polish) wife to let me watch TV Polonia? Hmmm. Not so easy.

  22. Anonymous says:

    There is also the problem of Anglo-American conservatism. I’ll subtitle Katyń for ya, no problem – but what distributor is going to pay me to do it when Pirates of the Caribbean is already in English!

  23. scatts says:


    I’m starting to feel very slightly more heartened by the Polish attitude towards my beautiful language :)


  24. Jolanta says:


    I have decided to come out of my hiding and add a few words to this heated discussion.
    1) A friend of mine has been working as an American university lecturer for two decades now; she has been teaching Polish history, literature and culture. She has shown the students a great number of Polish films with English subtitles; I personally saw her buy some in the EMPIK in Cracow (if I remember the place correctly) not so long ago.
    2) I cannot recall seeing any English subtitles on German TV. I am absolutely certain that there weren’t any because I watched it with an American friend of mine and we both had to resort to our extremely basic school German. It was 3 years ago, perhaps something has changed (or the TV set was an old-fashioned one).
    3) If you want to look at Polish history from the Polish point of view, you should read (surprise, surprise) the books by Norman Davies (a British historian of Welsh origin). However, I must stress the fact that there is nothing like a unified Polish attitude to the history of this country – while some people value Davies’ judgement highly, others believe him to be biased, either in favour of us or too critical of us.


    PS. If you can, please watch “Cud purymowy” (A Purim Miracle) on TVP1, tomorrow at midnight. It is a great film which, in my opinion, tells more about the inherent intricacies of Polish history / character than high-brow historical books. You will get frustrated by the lack of subtitles but you are bound to understand a lot just watching the pictures. Better, record it – learning Polish from it will be part of the fun.

  25. guest says:

    There are no english subtitles on german TV. The only channel in germany with subtitles is the french/german channel ARTE TV. And the subtitles are in french of course.


    BTW: it is a shame that germany and france have their TV channel and germany/poland does not. Especially the germans could learn a lot about poland if such a channel existed.

  26. guest says:

    ps: but at least they show some polish movies..


  27. scatts says:

    Jolanta, thank you for your comments. The Germans, well, what can I say. I’m sure you’re all right. Norman Davies. I have many of his books and have worked my way through most of them, only “Rising” remains untouched. I have two problems with them; firstly they are history books and therefore a bit dry and tedious, secondly, the comments I have been given from Poles about his version of history. As you say, there is no consensus on how accurate he is. Mind you, that might be hard to find with anything written or filmed about Polish history.

    As for Empik. I can only say your friend has been considerably luckier than I have. Perhaps there is a nack to finding the films with subtitles that I have yet to perfect.

    Thanks for the tip on “Cud purymowy”. I shall enjoy watching it po polsku if I’m around at the right time. If not, I’ll buy the DVD, if there is one.

  28. Jolanta says:

    Scatts, I am no authority on Polish history for anyone, apart from the few foreign students who I occasionally teach but I do believe that what Davies writes about us is correct; it seems to me that the people who criticise him do not like some unpleasant truths which he reveals in his books. In fact, I have not met a single person who has been able to justify his/her critical attitude towards Davies. They repeat what they have heard from someone else but they do not know the books well (or they have never read them at all).
    The current criticism regarding “Fear” (Strach) by T.Gross appears to be of a similar nature. Most people who reject the book in its entirety have never read it either.


  29. scatts says:

    I attacked Empik with today with more time and determination than I have mustered before. I managed to find the following with multiple napisy (so it says on the box):

    1/ A series from Polska Szkoła Dokumentu (Polskie Wydawnictwo Audiowisualne). I bought two, one entitled Andrzej Munk and another titled Czarna Seria. They all seem to date from the 50s. These have ENG, RUS, FR, DE, napisy.

    2/ Anthology of Polish Animated Films with ENG and FR napisy. No dates on the box.

    3/ A box set 50 lat Polskiej Szkoły Filmowej, which includes – Kanał, Popioł i Diament, Lotna, Ostatni dzień lata, Do widzenia do jutro. All have ENG napisy and many also have FR, DE & RUS.

    My Polish friends tell me that the last one is a “lot of boring rubbish”, but we have different perspectives here so perhaps I’ll enjoy them. These are all rather conspicuously distributed by ‘institutions’ as opposed to being regular commercial ventures. So, there must have been some money made available to allow these projects to go ahead, which is encouraging.

    I did find a copy of ‘Alternatwy 4’ – no napisy. In fact, like most I picked up, there was no information at all on the box about languages or napisy so I have to conclude that means Polish język and no napisy at all.

    Still, all is not lost.

  30. darthsida says:

    Guest, are you, like, real?
    I mean, do you google things out so cleverly fast or is it you have links for any possible issue in the uniweb? Cause, you know, I’m looking for ‘Saragossa Manuscript’, a DVD, with or without subtitles, technically ready to be watched in Poland [if there should be any world different formats], to be obtained by no-credit-card holder [preferrably]. Might you make another divine gogglenvention for me? :)

  31. guest says:

    ok ,ok i will stop it now. No more annoying links ! i promise :)

  32. darthsida says:

    You misunderstood me! I really want Saragossa Manuscript! :)

  33. michael farris says:

    guest, your next assignment, should you choose to accept is find a CD “Piosenki o mojej Warszawie”

  34. scatts says:

    I think we should make “guest” an honorary “Google-Member” of Polandian!

    It would be great to know a name at least?!? So we can say thank you properly. Around here you never know, sometimes the guests are people we know well.

    My Google skills in English are sort of okay. In Polish they are at best, average, poor even. It’s something I need to work on.

  35. Jolanta says:

    Scatts, the last point on your list is not “boring rubbish” at all! But perhaps one needs to have a certain above-average ability to appreciate these films. Especially “Kanal” is worth watching.


  36. michael farris says:

    Jolanta ma rację! Kanał and Popiół i diament are masterpieces of world cinema.
    The use of light (and source of light) in the latter are amazing (pay attention and you’ll be blown away).
    Anyone who says otherwise is a big poopy head (and tell them I said that!).

    And as much as I love Atlernatywy 4 (uncritically and irrationally) I can’t imagine how it could be translated in such a way to make it funny in English. If you have a good working knowledge of Polish ways (or the communist system) then it’s hilarious (despite some rough and uneven spots) but otherwise it just won’t seem to make any sense but like Homer Simpson likes to say “It’s funny cause it’s true”.

    And again, English subtitles won’t help you learn Polish (this is a huge myth that needs to be discredited once and for all). And the better the subtitles the less help they’ll be (because there’ll be less of a literal connection between the dialogue and subtitles) Polish subtitles would be much more useful. But Polish subtitles to Polish movies are few and far between.

  37. scatts says:

    I’m pleased the films are what I thought and not what I was told!

    As for the subtitles. In my case I’ll be 85% listening to the Polish and 15% using the text to fill in any critical gaps. So, for me they are not essential but I’d hate to spend a while watching something having missed a key point because they used a word I didn’t know, or an accent I couldn’t catch.

    My original point was obviously about opening it up to those who would be using subtitles 100% of the time.

  38. I also had problems with the subtitles on my copy of KATYN. For some reason they don’t want to display on my DVD player. However, the good news is that the English subtitles do miraculously appear when played on my laptop!! Very strange!…

  39. horny says:

    QrvdaB df8v7ydfv83f61fvr58fdz

  40. island1 says:

    horny: gwr637bhag08u4bmahir62ub, but! wjhwei762387189nhkAJB :)

  41. anon says:

    this is the most idiotic site I’ve ever been to. It is so full of shit that it is not believable.

  42. island1 says:

    anon: I sense from your comment that you are a short and intensely ugly person with bad breath and deadly foot odour. Also you are “full of shit” and an idiot. And I don’t believe you.

    Hey, insulting people from behind the pathetic shield of anonymity is fun! Everybody should do this! No, wait…

  43. scatts says:

    Having fun, Island? :)

  44. island1 says:

    Very much so :)

  45. […] Fact – Poles don’t want people to understand their culture/history “Piss off, I don’t care if you understand this film or not” […]

  46. […] Fact – Poles don’t want people to understand their culture/history “Piss off, I don’t care if you understand this film or not” […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: