Friday, August 10, 2012

V for Victory

A hand raised in a fist, the index and middle fingers extended.  The “V” sign for victory.  This remnant of silent defiance from World War II became the symbol of opposition against the communist government in Poland.  At every demonstration, protest, and mass free Poles gathered together to show their numbers to the forces that wanted to oppress them.  At every gathering the entire crowd, young children and old women, would, as one, raise this symbol in unison.  It was a message to the secret police that would record them, and to the ZOMO (a special brigade of vicious riot police) and militia invariably waiting nearby. 
The V sign was created by Victor de Laveleye, a Belgium politician who directed the French-speaking broadcasts of the BBC during World War II.  He chose V because it was the first letter for the French victoire  meaning “victory” and the Dutch vrijheid meaning “freedom”.  De Laveleye said, "the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, [would] understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly awaiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure." 
General Wojciech Jaruzelski
The symbol was widely used throughout Europe during the war, most notably by Winston Churchhill.  When it immigrated to the United States it was used by the counter-culture to symbolize “Peace” during the 1960’s.  In communist Poland, it always meant victory.  The symbol infuriated the authorities, instigating Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski to mention it on the floor of the Sejm (the Polish Parliament).  He said, “Today there are still hands with fingers that are spread in the form of a letter.  Not even one Polish word begins with that letter.  Because of (this letter) it won’t get better in Poland, it can only get worse. “
Despite Jaruzelski’s admonishments, or perhaps because of them, people came to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and held up this sign.  They held it up to show they were not afraid.  They held it up to speak in one voice.  They said, “We are against you.  We refuse to give up.  There are more of us than there are of you, and we will win in the end.”

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