AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

10/18/07

Strike: A Touching Female Potrait Bereft Of Historical Truth

A number of reviews have criticized Volker Schlondorff's Strike for distorting facts when it comes to his real life protagonist, Polish labor activist, Anna Agnieszka. But far more critical and called into question, is Schlondorff's manipulation of the historical record, for whatever agenda. Polish modern history, according to Schlondorff, ends with triumphant worker protests, the end of communism, and presumably the subsequent infiltration of the Western market economy. Though much collective misery has followed in the wake of the introduction of capitalism, the filmmaker would have us believe that this historical moment absurdly constitutes a collective happy ending for that nation.

The diminuitive, wide-eyed stocky and comedic Katharina Thalbach stars as Agnieszka, barely known in the West, whose 1980 firing for insubordination at the Gdansk shipyard led to unrest and the eventual creation of the oppositional Polish trade union federation, Solidarity. Oddly, the more prominent labor leader Lech Walesa, who eventually rose to Poland's presidency and later fell into corruption and disgrace, is treated in the film as a secondary figure who gained popularity seemingly on the coattails of Agnieszka, who herself is seen deferring to him and shunning a public role.

While there was indeed corruption within the state union and the social order, the dismantling of that social welfare structure, proven by history, was hardly the way to go. So then why make a film that applauds the destruction of an entire social system and the ensuing mass misery of a people deprived since then of economic, housing, health and other basic security (none of which, surprise, is depicted in Strike, following its 'happy ending'). If Schlondorff has learned nothing from history, at least logic should impress him that progress dictates not destroying union protection whole and opening the door to the vultures in waiting of the multinationals and the Church, but reforming and strengthening the unions, the only real protection for workers.

And what of that vast epilogue to Schlondorff's fantasy biopic, namely history? Well, here is some of what the filmmaker has conveniently rendered invisible on screen. Following the end of communism in Poland, there was a dramatic assault on the living conditions and wellbeing of the workingclass there. The widescale destitution has led to mass homelessness, and hundreds of homeless freezing to death every winter. Most are between the ages of 35 and 50, many of them long-term unemployed and the elderly, who are abandoned by their families who cannot afford the expensive health care. Many in desperation seek shelter in caves, forests and abandoned coal mines. Others freeze to death falling in the snow, or asleep at bus stops.

In addition, 3 million or 30 percent of Polish children are now malnourished and living in poverty, and nearly 13 percent of them live on the streets. Such is the result of the masses discarded to their fate as Poland destroyed social protections in place, and embraced the free market. The vast nationally funded social welfare system, with free health care and social security, ended with the introduction of capitalism. And so the only genuine moment in Strike, is when a skeptical worker asks the protesters, is your solution to let the West march in? Schlondorff, regrettably, never has the courage to respond.

Prairie Miller

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