Recently we said farewell to the most important and best known Pole, John Paul II. We are lucky that people around the world see Poland as the country where this great and charismatic leader was born. Here we will analyze how Poles see the world, the turn of the new century and millennium was a good occasion to summarize the passing historical epochs. The ranking of the ten best and ten most evil politicians of the twentieth century was published by a renowned Polish weekly journal, Polityka.
According to Polityka, the winner, among the ten best political figures, is the Polish pope, John Paul II (1920-2005). I don't think the pope's high position needs any comment. The second place is taken by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), a charismatic Indian leader who preached nonviolence. Marshall Joseph Pilsudski (1867-1935), the main creator of Polish independence after World War I, ranks third. It is quite surprising that Gandhi surpassed Pilsudski, since his activities, although of enormous consequence, did not directly affect Poland, but Pilsudski was a polarizing figure. Pilsudski was loved by many but hated by some: he reversed some of the democratic reforms in Poland during his life, caused tension and blood to flow (e.g., the military coup in May 1926). The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is fourth. Poles admire Churchill for his decisive anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet policy during WW II. Churchill understood Poles better than any other foreign politician of his time, although he was unable to change the outcome of Jalta. Michail Gorbachev (born 1931), who introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika, which later led to the collapse of the Soviet system, is fifth on the list. He is followed by Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)-French president, leader of French resistance during war, very popular in Poland, awarded the highest Polish military award for participation in the Polish war against Soviets in 1920. Martin Luther King (1929-1968) is seventh, followed by Lech Walesa (born 1943) and F.D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). The German chancellor and witness of German unification, Helmut Kohl (born 1930), ends the list of the most popular politicians as tenth.
According to Andrzej Szczypiorski, who analyzed the results for Polityka, the high position of Michail Gorbachev as compared with Lech Walesa and Ronald Reagan is a surprise. Apparently the Poles see his role in the fall of communism as more pivotal than that of Reagan. The low position of Lech Walesa is the effect of his poor presidency (1991-1995). The high position of politicians who did not directly affect Poland, such as M.L. King or Gandhi, is a positive sign, which means that Poles are not polo-centric and they rank people high for their moral core. According to Szczypiorski, President F.D.Roosevelt does not deserve such a high position in Polish ranking. Although he was a great politician who overcame the Great Depression in America, his role toward Poland can be questioned, since he was too compliant in agreeing with Stalin to divide Europe between American and Soviet spheres of influence.
The three most evil politicians according to Poles are Hitler (1878-1945), Stalin (1878-1953) and Lenin (1870-1924). This is not a surprise at all. Almost everybody except Russia agrees that these people influenced world history and Poland very negatively. In Russia people still long for the old communist leaders who, although they killed millions, also made the Soviet Union a superpower.
The next three positions are occupied by Pol Pot (1928-1998), a leader of Red Khmers in Cambodia; Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), fascist dictator of Italy; and Mao Zedong (1893-1976), the father of communist China. Luckily these men lived far from Poland. The seventh on the list is a Pole, Feliks Dzierzynski (1877-1926). He was an influential Polish communist and the head of the first Soviet secret police organization, Cheka. Dzierzynski probably did more harm to Russians than to Poles as an influential Soviet leader. He is followed by Saddam Hussein (born 1937), Nicolae Ceausescu (1918-1989), the despotic leader of Romania, and Kim Ir Sen (1912-1994). Luckily, none of these people influenced the history of Poland directly.
Let's hope that this century will not give absolute power into the hands of evil people but that a system of check and balances will be created. One of the important factors is to learn from the history. Otherwise the old errors will be repeated again and again in the future. I believe that Poles confronted their past with criticism to a great extent during the last 15 years, but this is not the case in all countries. Russia for instance has never confronted its past critically and has not apologized to any of its neighbors and ex-republics for Stalin's invasions and purges. They are still involved in a war in Chechnya that does not seem to have any end.