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Front and back cover caption, volume 27 issue 4

Front cover

R.I.P. Paul the Octopus

During the 2010 football World Cup, Paul the Octopus became a global celebrity on the back of his ability to correctly predict the outcome of upcoming matches eight times in a row. Paul's fans queued in long lines outside the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, hoping to catch a glimpse of the brainy cephalopod who knew the World Cup champions ahead of anyone else. Upon his death, they demanded that Paul be immortalized. And indeed, in January 2011, the first-ever octopus memorial, a larger-than-life-sized octopus sitting on top of a football which doubles as shrine for his ashes, was unveiled at the aquarium.

Paul's worldwide fan following transcended the borders of footballing nations. Paul made appearances on devotional altars in cricket-obsessed India, and in existentialist plays in the United States, a country where football that is actually played with the foot still cannot compete with the local ball-throwing game of the same name. An American documentary* detailing Paul's meteoric rise to psychic stardom is to be released in the autumn.

How do we explain the extraordinary enthusiasm for an octopus vulgaris named Paul? What was it about his uncanny knowledge of the outcome of upcoming matches that enthralled so many, whether they cared about football or not? And what was it that made Germans, proud inheritors of the so-called Enlightenment, build a memorial to a divining cephalopod? Clearly the answers have to go beyond the love for the game and to the heart of the human condition. In this issue, Lucia Volk asks if a cephalopod really can show us what it is that makes us truly human.

* The life and times of Paul the psychic octopus. Cinema Vertige, Merlin Entertainments Group & Smiley World Media. Director Alexandre O. Philippe, Producer/DoP Robert Muratore (https://www.facebook.com/seerofseers).

Back cover

In this issue, Michań, Murawski approaches the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw as a medium through which to track Poland's shifting attitude towards Russia, especially in the wake of the 2010 Smolensk plane crash that took the lives of the Polish president, his wife and top-ranking state and military officials. The crash took place just a few kilometres from the site of the 1940 Katyń massacre, in which Stalin's NKVD shot dead thousands of Polish army officers. Pointing the finger at Russia, many Poles refer to the crash as ‘Katyń II’.

The Palace itself has, as a symbol of Russian dominance in the region, always provoked a mixed reaction in Warsaw. Gifted to Poland by the USSR in 1955, it remains the tallest building in Poland and towers over the Warsaw skyline. Although now largely disassociated from its difficult past in the everyday, the Smolensk crash brought the building's traumatic provenance to the fore again.

Poland's tense relations with Russia will figure prominently over the next six months as Poland awaits the outcome of a Polish report into the Smolensk air disaster, takes up the leadership of the EU, and holds its own national elections. How will Warsaw's inhabitants reconcile themselves to this large building so symbolic of a foreign occupation, as long as it is tarnished by its association with Russia and that country's role in Katyń and, by extension, Smolensk?