Tag Archives: PRL

Ostalgie

No, the title is not missing the letter ‘N’ – instead the term Ostalgie (along with the phrase Soviet chic) is used to refer to nostalgia regarding life under the socialist systems in former communist countries of Eastern Europe, most notably East Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. I find it a particularly interesting topic, as it combines a retrospective look at history (albeit sometimes through a rose-tinted view), with a look a sociological and psychological impacts of major change. The German response of Ostalgie has been made clear by films such as Sonnenallee and Goodbye,  Lenin! And with clothing saying DDR and CCCP being fashionable, it seems Ostalgie will be here for some time to come.

“Only in the PRL”…?

However, in my time in Poland so far, the touches of Ostalgia have been much more muted, if even visible at all. It took me a while to understand what the PRL was, after I noticed it mentioned a few times in newspapers or on television. However a few days ago while stopped at a traffic light, I received a flyer advertising a PRL tavern. This got me thinking to other ways in which the feel of the PRL is there, but just not in an ‘in your face’ way. While Trabants seem to fit more to East German history, it’s not uncommon to see Maluchs in Poland, still phutt-phutting around. On the culinary front (as well as the above offering), there are plenty of Bar Mleczny to be found in most Polish cities and towns.

Mmmm, I think I’ll have the 1kg meat mix!

The open longing for the past is less evident in Poland than some other countries where Ostalgie is in effect. The major upheavals which took place in East Germany and Russia following the fall of Communism are still evident today, with numbers of the older generations in particular pining for the days of full employment and more relaxed lifestyles, while conveniently overlooking queueing for basic consumer goods, censorship and police states. Poland seems to have strided confidently forward without looking back.

At some point though, history pulls you back. The character Lileth Sternin, known as the ex-wife on the Frasier series, had a great line which resonates well: “With one hand the past moves us forward, with the other it holds us back”.  While Poland is fine with dragging up history from time to time, it seems the nostalgia for the PRL period has not fully kicked in yet. Maybe in a few years, when all the kids will be wearing t-shirts saying PRL instead of CCCP. In fact, there’s a business idea worth jumping on before it takes off.

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Lech Wałęsa: a hero / a lesser hero / a traitor. Choose your title.

[edited June 20th, 3pm]

This is a follow up from Ian’s post just below. Read his post first, and then come back to mine.

Done? Ok. The book in qustion was not published yet. However it has already become the subject of a heated debate. Fragments were published in one of the dailies. Television presenters parade around their studios carrying massive files containing this book photocopied before publication. News channels and front pages are not talking about anything else for at least three days.

The book came as a special gift for the 25th anniversary of Wałęsa’s Nobel Peace Prize and Wałęsa’s nameday – which he is celebrating this Saturday.

Those, who criticise he book, say it is based only on Secret Service paperwork, and not cross-examined with other possible sources (like party files, interviews with communist figures, former oppositionists, diaries, etc…. and impossible sources like the vast archives in Moscow, to which there is no access). They also say that where proves cannot be found, authors make guesses and assumptions that prove their theory.

The book authors are educated historians, however some people claim their clear political agenda allows to call them politicians. They are employees of the IPN, the Institute of National Remembrance. It is an institution that was created to educate about the history of Poland, investigate unknown facts, and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against the Polish nation. Many of its employees have a clear opinion about the recent Polish history, that is corresponding with the ideas of the Kaczynski brothers (see below).

Notice that when talking about Secret Service inkjob, I am deliberately  not using the word “documents”, as in my vocabulary this word only applies to paperwork produced legitimately.

How did the Secret Service work?

Lets try to have a look at how were they getting their their paperwork. They had their own people lets call them secret servicemen. The secret servicemen were trying, among other things, to infiltrate the opposition and do all sorts of things to disturb them. And give information about what is going on to those who were holding political power. What were the ways of disturbing? First that come your mind are probably arrests, beating, threatening, detention – yes that of course was there. But also trying to make some oppositions distrust others (giving for instance false evidence of some of them conspiring with secret services), to make them quarrel, to strengthen personal dislikes among them, to make the opposition look bad in the eyes of the general public (once for instance fake recordings of Lech Wałęsa discussing how to fraud Solidarity money was broadcast in tv). Using various methods they tried to gain their agents (“tajny współpracownik”) among the oppositionists. Agents were (mostly, but not always) those who were aware that they were talking to the Secret Services. Sometimes they were worked on, someties they wanted to co-operate, sometimes they were forced to. They could be threatened, given money in exchange for information or “favour”. Agents had code names, and could also be given tasks – in order for instance to orchestrate some situation, or gain information from someone else. Apart from agents, there were also “sources of information” (who were also given codenames). People labeled in  such way in the papers may or may not have known that they have supplied Secret Services with information. They could be thinking they were talking to a friend or a co-worker. Or someone might have installed a bug in their flat. Etc.
Apart from that Secret Services are known for creating fake “agents” and “sources of information” in their paperwork, to use these papers later somehow. Information for such fake papers could come from person A, while attributed to person B. It could come from recorded telephone calls, from anecdotal knowledge, from serviceman’s imagination etc. etc. Why? For producing good and interesting results, Secret Servicemen were, for instance given more money, or promoted. Alternatively such papers could be shown to one oppositionist to make them think someone else was a traitor. Et caetera.. Secret Services were very creative. For instance special actions could be organized, like kidnapping of agents-oppositionists, just to make them more credible in the eyes of their opposition colleagues.

Apart from that some people could have been registered as candidates for agent (“tajny współpracownik”), there could be their signed pledge for cooperation in files, while they did not take any action whatsoever.

People’s attitudes towards Secret Services were different. Some were afraid and talked “with caution” trying not to spill the beans, some wanted to play their game with them and trick them… Only when in late 1970s an instruction was issued by Komitet Obrony Robotników (Workers’ Defence Commitee – an intelligentsia opposition organization) people became aware they shouldn’t talk with Secret Services at all, and shouldn’t sign anything.

Credibility of Secret Service files is questionable, and it is difficult to say what is fake and what is based on facts. Many files were destroyed or hidden in various moments in time: some most likely during the times of transition in 1989-1990.

Basic claims in the book

The book reportedly claims that Lech Wałęsa was giving information to the Secret Services in the early 1970s, as “tajny współpracownik” – agent. He was not a known figure back then, he was an ordinary person, taking part in opposition demonstration in Gdańsk and engaging in the movement. The Secret serviceman whose report is in the file, writes that he has paid “Bolek” 13000 złotys. However there are no receipts. Nothing signed by Wałęsa, nothing hand-written at all.

And then, when Wałęsa became president he requested to view his file. When the files were reopened during the presidency of Aleksander Kwaśniewski, it turned out several hundred pages were missing.

However the index is still there, it is therefore known what is missing. And these are typed reports of this agent “Bolek” – of being whom Wałęsa is being accused. Among the missing papers there are no signed or handwritten papers or receipts. Therefore the material missing would only be handy for cross-examination with other sources.
It is not certain when the pages were taken away and who did it. Pages were not checked when the file was being delivered to Wałęsa, and Wałęsa reportedly did not check them either.

What does Wałęsa say?

Wałęsa says that if had done what thay say he did, he would have said long time ago. He denies any involvement with Secret Services. He claims he never gave them any information, never gave in his colleagues. He claims he was not important enough then for the Secret Services wanting him for an agent. He is very angry, and thretens to sue the authors of the book. He says he did view his file during his presidency, however he did no remove anything from there. He wanted to check whether the files contain any materials from his and his wives sexual lives.

What do others say?

Other oppositionsts are divided. Some of them, who believe in the vision 2, believe these accusatins are true. Other’s don’t, and are talking about how the reality of the time is difficult to explain.

What is the political context?

What the book does is to try and put Wałęsa in a certain context, of an alternative interpretation of Polish history and current Polish affairs.

The history most people know looks like this: Solidarność fought our freedom. And thanks to the Round Table Compromise between Solidarność and communist government Poland was able to enter the path to independence and democracy. It also opened the possibility for democratic change in other countries from the Eastern Bloc. And this was one of the greatest moments in Polish history.

The alternative version of history (let’s call it version 2) has it that Wałęsa and Solidarność were orchestrated by the Secret Services, the Round Table Talks were the moment when Polish nation was betrayed. That the elite of Solidarność betrayed the ideals of the workers, and, conspiring with the communists, sold Poland. Sold the companies and factories, the market, the people as work-force. To the foreign capital, to foreign banks… Arranging the new reality in such a way, that post-communists (incl. Secret Servicemen), intelligentsia and elites are well-off, while workers are poor and disrespeted. Elites did not care for them.
Ian in his previous post rightly points that Kaczynski brothers and their party, who also have a deep personal dislike for Wałęsa, strongly believe in the second version (although Lech Kaczynski took part in the Round Table Talks himself).
There is also a claim, that Wałęsa’s policies, which are interpreted as againt lustration, during his presidency, were because of his problems with his own past.

The book is a supporting the version 2, reportedly being such an interpretation of certain facts from Lech Wałęsa’s past (and assumptions of Wałęsas 1970s agentship) to make the version 2 work well together.Some of those who prefer this version believe that Wałęsa is controlled by ex-Secret Servicemen until this day.

What is the general context?

What I would like people to remember from this story is not the fate of Wałęsa, who EVEN IF was broken by the Secret Services was also a victim. A victim of Police state, a victim of Secret Services who imposed themselves on people’s lives, who destroyed people, whowere paid by the state to disorganise, to plant distrust…

Wałęsa is still a great figure in Polish history, he was chosen by workers as their representative. In the 1980s had the strength and courage to stand up. He was a real leader, he had the skills, he had the talk, he had the charisma.

Epilogue

So was Wałęsa or was he not an agent? Did he or did he not remove his papers from the file? That depends on what you want to believe. It can’t be proven that he is guilty. It can’t be proven he is not guilty. Do you prefer to assume innocence or guilt?

—–
See a Polish news report with Lech Wałęsa (youtube).
Have a look at other news from Poland.

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10 Curiosities: Polish But True, or Close Enough

1.

Can life in Poland be…demanding?

If you are alive, that is.

Well, should a Polish pensioner reside abroad, some authorities may be asked to confirm the person has not died yet, away from homeland. Documents such as this Slovene-Polish pdf (see Page 2) make sense: “This is to confirm that pensioner [name, surname, particulars] remains alive” — Why pay the dead?

Powers That Insure can go further. Polish ZUS wants to cut red tape even more effectively! Maybe its own red tape in fact. Why have heftily-paid office workers confirm that some pensioners live? Pensioners know better whether they are alive or not – so can fill in documents themselves, right? Grab this pdf while it’s not removed yet. Or simply read: “Me, the undersigned […] hereby I declare that I live and reside at the above mentioned address”

2.

Life is not certain, no. But taxes are.

Some people could have the annually recurrent problem of choosing the right tax return form. If you were employed AND had some temporarily suspended business activity (a curio itself, the instrument of “suspension” can be recognised by tax authorities [US] – though won’t be accepted by social insurance authorities [ZUS]), meaning – if you had no turnover, no profits or losses, no trade as your business is dormant PIT 37 form should seem to be the right choice – comprising any and all sources of your income (employment, period).

Despite a substantial difference between the meanings of “to run a business” and “to draw income from a business”, the tax office would insist that you fill in PIT 36 for business activists. Your business is dormant, not run, you hardly even walk it, nonetheless you would be asked to write in a few zeros into PIT36. Zero income is some income too, tax office will try to reason.

And why? — The software designed for handling tax data can’t process the difference.

3.

The basic way to calculate fiscal dues is by means of some calculating machine. Surely many people have seen one HP calculator or more. But if Jan Lukasiewicz had not suggested POLISH NOTATION, later re-turned into REVERSE POLISH NOTATION – they would not be so efficient. Moreover, no model among them could be called “first desktop computer“.

4.

Another way to get away with taxes is pay whatever the leeches want from us, no calculating. If only they should let us use superbucks. So, what do you reckon this is?…

…This is not a 100 American dollar bill. This is a 100 dollar superbill. Back in the late 90s (if my memory is correct), the USA would ponder whether acts of forging their notes form enough of casus belli to go to, hmm, North Korea to spread democracy (and oil companies or whatever manifest destiny USA would hold for them) there. In the process of US Secret Service search, some of world’s best counterfeit hunners were found in Poland. They were recognized as fake only because they’d been prepared more carefully than the usual greenback would be.

Given the deep falling rates of US Dollar or British Pound against Polish Zloty, it is not improbable we’ll live to see the times the Polish currency will be chosen often by money copyists (and Andrew Eldritch will prove himself a visionary).

5.

But let’s drive on.

Brits have Robin Hood (on foot). Americans have Green Arrow (left). Poles have green arrow (right).

Green arrows in Poland have been meant to improve traffic flow. But not everywhere. In some cities they survived, in others they did not — after a minister’s call for Greenland Clearances, to remove the arrows (or, more economically, just blind with any non translucent wrapping, or drown in dark plastic bags). Today they seem to have regained favours with Polish streets. [But anyone seen them abroad? Do they blink? Are they painted? Fixed for good?]

6.

Arrows come and go. Unlike the national church of Poland. However, anyone seriously cross with the ‘men in black’ may choose to become apostate. There are a few websites in Poland yet with model documents, the first step on the way outside Roman Catholicism, domestic variety.

7.

Arrows or no arrows, the road to church or the road to perdition – when you have a vehicle, kids may happen.

Browsing the net for any statistics concerning “babies conceived in cars”, I found several American mentions – stress put on specific car brands in lieu of broader analyses. So, talk to me about the whole Model T-Ford’s backseat generation? Or was it the backseat of 1985 Camaro (at a Springsteen concert)? What about 1969 Cutlass Supreme (at an AC/DC show)? What is the meaning of 1957 black Chevrolet convertible in Paris Hilton’s life? Where are 1962 Bug babies gone? Or 1971 Plymouth babies? Hmm, that kind of stuff.

When Polish would-be parents are not against marriage – actually if they are all about marriage – it is possible to “request” or “kindly request” that 30 days of the statutory waiting at the public registrar’s be shortened to its shotgun minimum. The fiancé will have to put down some justification (“I hereby declare my fiancée is pregnant”, add “we hereby declare we would like our baby to be born within wedlock”), the couple will have to sign the application – and pay some 40 zloty to cover stamp duty. [Specimen documents in Polish here (USC/05) or there or googlewhere.] The registrar may take the applicants’ word for the fact about pregnancy.

Article 4 of “Kodeks rodzinny i opiekuńczy” (Polish Family and Guardianship Code) that covers the issue of the 30 days long waiting before the ceremony is not all clear to me. Why wait?

Why to shorten the waiting seems more obvious. The Code dates back to 1964, the time when ‘family’ stood firmly for the ‘basic social unit’, the core of the healthy tissue of the healthy society, and illegitimate babies were just three of seven bits less unwelcome than, say, the unemployed, or prostitutes or drug addicts.

8.

But there’s something worth any sacrifice to the bureaucratic.

The wedding. The drinking.

While breathalysers scale usually ends with BAC of 0.40%, lethal dose for every second human — the urban legend has it that Poles and Russians often defy the scale, the tall tale the proud sons of the two nations would be happy to oblige. Despite the accusations (?) that Poles “have been using alcohol for only fifteen hundred years“. For maybe it’s attitude that counts most? “Poles […] tend to drink for the sake of drinking“. Idealists, one might say.

So, there was that idealist from Poland, who scored BAC 0.70% – and survived out of his burnt down car:

And there was a Bulgarian who scored over 0.90. (Bulgarians are kinda Poles, huh?)

9.

Then, just when someone could start thinking scornfully than Poland can’t sober up, the proof of reason is found in the building. And the building is in Szymbark. A local saying will go: “My emoh is my eltsac”, I assume. The thing is Europeanly unique, dwellable, and Lech Walesa cut the ribbon.

To your health!

10.

Let’s call it:

Reverse Polish Narration.

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