The team at Vice, recently put out this great, short little documentary-style film about the origins of vodka. As the writers allude, many countries lay claim to being vodka originators the way the Russians do, but none with so much difficulty (and legitimacy) as Poland.
Despite starting off a little slowly, and not doing the Ruskies any favours, the movie really hit me in the core. There’s something really difficult about being Polish in North America. This movie picked up on that, it found hope and captured it in the last 10 minutes of the film.
The crux of the problem of being Polish: Despite being a central part of Europe for well over a thousand years, the birthplace of Chopin, Copernicus, Curie, and John Paul II doesn’t get much consideration from fellow Europeans and Americans alike. (Though I feel even worse for the Ukrainians)
It’s no secret that the last 60+ years of European history have been unkind to Poland. The glory days were around 1410 – 1790; following that, a rapid decline, centred around a failed transition to shared power amongst multicultural nobles. But a couple of things happened that really pushed Poland out of its place in modern, Western culture.
World War II did a number on the Poles. Watching American movies you’d think that World War II started in France and was won with American bravado in Holland. This is infuriating being from the place that lost so much, fought so hard, did a stand-up job in Italy, and was then abandoned by foreign leaders at Yalta. We still can’t get one good blockbuster movie out of it (The Pianist notwithstanding).
Then there’s Communism, but that ended. Who got the credit? The Berlin Wall. My lord, what an unfortunate press whore that was. The Poles had just gone through a decade of strife and struggle, Martial Law, threats of Soviet invasion, that victorious free labour movement, cultural upheaval … and then that stupid German wall came down, and stole the highlight reel.
So behind this Iron Curtain of Soviet and American invention the Poles sat overshadowed, relegated, and drinking. And it’s here that Vice picks up the story, with the one thing that is undeniably Polish (other than heliocentrism and war cavalry): wódka.
The Future Looks Blurry and Bright
A history of 80-proof booze is not a great vehicle for cultural hopes and dreams, but it’s pretty telling. It’s telling about Poland’s difficult shared history with the Russians, about the nonchalance of Poland’s return to the world market, about Poland’s need to convince its neighbours of things that it shouldn’t have to. But it’s also telling about the nations belligerence: it’s art, relative youth, un-Italian palette. Anyways, as Ivar puts it to the Poles it feels good to be back at the table, even if it just to share a shot or two. Na zdrowie!
Vice Guide to Travel: The Wodka Wars (http://www.vbs.tv/watch/the-vice-guide-to-travel/wodka-wars)