Melancholy of Hunters

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The boy is eager to hunt with his father. He cannot wait. He would have smuggled himself in a car trunk to the hunting field if he could: anything to be closer to his father. Hunting gives them both, father and son, the sense of camaraderie in action. It’s a man’s sport. Silence is a prerequisite. Children are not welcome to the hunt because nothing can prepare them for watching a wild boar at full gallop suddenly collapsing to the ground. Out of shock, in protest, little boys cry.

But this boy will overcome his disgust, fear, and unease to earn his father’s approval. He loves his father in a simple way. He believes in communicating through actions, not words.

Thanks to the hunting they become providers. When they hunt for ducks, no duck is left behind. All ducks are collected from the field. It is the boy’s task to wring their necks, if necessary, to complete the process of dying. The ducks are then brought home, and mother is made happy. The family guts them at home ( he remembers the smell of intestines, when perforated by a bird shot), then cooks, and finally eats them. Conscientious and grateful eaters, they are careful of flattened bullets and broken bones. The boy leaves but a pile of chewed bones on his plate.

Father and son are no fancy hunters. In the 1960s people still hunt to eat. The boy is also a skillful fisherman. When he carries four buxom pikes through the village, he feels uplifted when he overhears other people craving the bounty he is planning to lay down, like an offering, at his father’s feet. A moment later he feels terrible because his father places a pike’s heart, like a red flake, right in the palm of his hand, where it is beating for what seems like a long time after the gutting.

The boy works as a whipper at the hunt. He cheers every rabbit who manages to escape, unless the hunter who missed the shot is his father.

For the hunting, father and son use home-made bullets. For bird shots they use blanks, greenish shooting powder, cardboard, and felt. They also cast their own lead bullets, two at a time, for larger game. The book doesn’t specify where this production takes place (in the back room, in the basement?), but we picture the boy and the man busy at the table where a wooden box with compartments and a mold for casting lead bullets rest next to lead-filled tapes, a conical peg, and various pouches, tin cans, and small jars, barely exchanging any words while calibrating, folding, and turning the crank for what seems like hours and hours.

Random images of hunted animals inhabit the writer’s memory. The first deer he sees shot dead is a three-legged buck, crippled, obviously, after some earlier incident that nevertheless had left him alive (the skin with fur grew over the lost hoof). He is glad that it wasn’t his father who shot the crippled deer.

No stag, he explains later, is allowed to die a natural death. The only remaining mystery is whether it will be a tourist hunter who paid a fee in euros, or a local one who is going to bring him down.

They go to the forest on a motorbike: the boy watches his father breathing with relief at not having shot the wild boar who turns out to be a female with a cluster of piglets behind.

It’s at dawn in August when at last they round on their first buck. It might have been an ordinary summer day for the two does and a buck, but the father and son use a trick to provoke the latter to expose himself to a shot. The does flee (the scientists have been able to prove that animals who are victims of trophy hunting develop a permanently heightened level of stress). They find the buck toppled in the grass, intestines oozing from the hole in his belly. The father has to slash the buck’s throat, while the son tries to hold down the animal’s hind legs. The buck screams and slackens at last. On their way back, with the body of the buck on his knees, the son feels that “something very wrong has happened.” The father, too, is overcome by sadness. Both men, equally dispirited, return home.

The boy grows into a man who watches wild boars running for their lives, dodging bullets to no avail, and hopes he shouldn’t be the one to shoot them. But he does shoot them, almost involuntarily, as if his gun was emitting blasts on its own accord, a hunter who is about to give up hunting, dejectedly counting the corpses and accepting praise from his hunting mate (men hunt in pairs).

Kruczyński does not appeal to emotion. He doesn’t demand sympathy–at least not for himself. He did not write this book to exonerate himself.  In the interviews he talks about addiction, and when he does, he makes the unhappiness of an addict palpable, the sense of unease and woe of someone who finds a momentary happiness only when watching the rabbits playing with buds and stalks and, enchanted, lets them live.

After he quits, he will appeal to reason.

Kruczkowski_Farba

Zenon Kruczyński, Farba znaczy krew. Wołoniec: Wydawnictwo Czarne 2017.

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WELCOME TO WORLD YOUTH DAY!

Katedra

So we have World Youth Day in Gdańsk. Not only Kraków got lucky—Gdańsk did, too!

The pilgrims come on the 20th, and July 23rd is the momentous day when the official mass in the most prestigious cathedral of Gdańsk will be led by Archbishop Sławoj Leszek Głódź.

So who is this person who is going to speak to the youth of the world in the city of Solidarity?

Here are some useful tips:

He is known for drinking parties lasting long into the night, and other alcoholic excesses. To public knowledge, this appears to be the main reason he moved his headquarters from Oliwa Palace, picturesquely located in a historic park in the center of town, to a mansion, surrounded by a spacious garden, in the outskirts. Locally, he is called by the name of Flask. Obviously, not to his face.

Scandalous, but not to his parishioners. In fact, the drinking parties may even add to his popularity. He is an interesting case of a controlling alcoholic surrounded by men eager for free drinks. Usually, such a man is doomed to become insolvent and die a lonely death abandoned by his former spongers.

But this will never happen to the Archbishop. He is also the most influential and undoubtedly the richest man in town. As a former military bishop (his famous nickname obviously comes from his military times), he collects a military pension, of which a university professor could only dream, courtesy of our taxes.

When sober, he revels in humiliating his subordinates. Yes, he is one mean person. But since his people have chosen the path of sycophancy, they learn to bear it, perhaps wishing to stay close enough to inhale the fumes of his greatness.

This is just for starters. Let us proceed to less pleasant facts. For the Easter High Sunday celebration of 2015 in the Oliwa Cathedral he said that “legal regulations of same-sex unions would be the mockery of family,” in contrast with what such a family really needs, which is “respect, appreciation, and constitutional rights.” He may repeat something to this effect at the celebratory mass of World Youth Day.

In the same breath, he proceeded to call for his parishioners’ participation in the parliamentary and presidential elections in alignment with the teachings of John Paul II. Mingling into politics? But how else can a church representative take a moral stand.

And then, the girl. The girl was the victim. Her name was Zuzanna and she was 14; a country girl from a village of Mechów; the matter dragged since 2005. The priest was arrested for 5 months in 2008 but got out. He was then sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in 2012. He appealed. In January 2014, the Gdańsk court maintained the original sentence. His lawyers motioned for cassation, but this last resort appeal was rejected. He went into hiding. But he was eventually discovered and brought to prison in September 2014.

For all this time the priest enjoyed the protection of his Archbishop and other priests. At some point, he resided in Chwaszczyno, where his bio read: “Educator of children and youth.”

Oh, but then, there was another girl. She was less lucky in terms of demanding justice because she was just passed 15 when things happened. (Because the law here treats 15 year olds as consenting adults, in terms of sexual conduct. Although they cannot visit a gynecologist on their own. Never mind.)

So she was treated by the court as an adult. The matter dragged in various courts since 2001. The Archbishop went on moving this priest, whose specialty is religious instruction to youth, from one parish to another, too. Finally, the court ended its proceedings in August 2011.

So in 2011, after 10 years, this priest, whose name is Mirosław, received a 4-year suspended sentence, a 2-year injunction from teaching religion to minors, and a ridiculously low 2,000 zł ($600) fine. He’s still around and believes in his own innocence. This was a bad girl, he says.

Who knows, dear international pilgrims, perhaps you will see one of the Archbishop’s protégés at the celebratory mass of World Youth Day. Or perhaps you’ll feel him, standing right next to you.

Just don’t ask the Archbishop any uncouth questions, such as: How could this be? Don’t you know how demoralizing your actions have been? Don’t you have any shame? No conscience? He’ll tell you what he told us in November 2013: “In the church it is us who decide what must be, not you.”

And if you dare to ask the Archbishop how many more of such incidents there were, since you already know about Zuzanna and Ola, if you dare wonder if there were more offenses, some that didn’t see the light of day, he will tell you: “We don’t tell journalists what we do in the church.” This is what he told us in November 2013. Ah, and Pope Francis’s spokesman called it “the Polish affair,” the local matter.

The archbishop was moved to Gdańsk in 2008 by Benedict XVI. There were protests in the city. No one paid any heed.

Ah, and we pay for these festivities. I pay for World Youth Day. From my taxes.

My government has budgeted 148 mln zlotych (37 mln dollars). In the final equation, there may be more. Municipalities chip in, too. Gdańsk will pay 400,000 zł ($100,000). And you will pay. Your volunteers will pay 300 zł (about $80) per person; that is, if they want to have a bed to sleep in after a day of volunteering.

So iron up your Sunday best and get ready, dear pilgrims. Ah, and when you hear the Archbishop using the word “trash” know that he actually refers to people. But surely, he would never call you trash. He says that only about the people who remain uncharmed by his gallivanting and his bullying. About the lesser people, that is.

Run, Fiver, Run

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I remember the day following the elections. It was October, but the sky was clear, and the air was pleasant, with an eerie quality to it, as if the moment I’d turn my back a meteorite would hurtle from the sky to crush into my window.

B., a friend from work, stopped by to visit. “For the first day in a fascist country it doesn’t feel all that bad,” I said. This was meant to be a joke. Earlier in the day I had visited the farmers’ market, bought raspberries. In less than a week the parliament of owls would begin its nightly proceedings, spewing decrees. How did they manage to keep turning out all these amendments, memoranda, new laws, annulments of existing laws faster than anyone could ever read them? Before I’d wake up, people would already post the results of the Parliament’s nightly production on Facebook. Morning in morning out I’d copy these links into my private archive.

After six months, I have it all fairly well documented, our transitioning into an Eastern-European je ne sais quoi. I’m still doing it, adding links to the Polish Circus folder; I’m in May now. The Council for the Prevention of Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was abolished right before the weekend of patriotic holidays, on Friday, April 27. Then, on May 3, the Constitution Day, we were told firmly and clearly that instead of following the constitution they want to change it.

In sync with these revelations a playwright was beaten to a pulp in Warsaw for standing up against the soccer fans to defend a Pakistani man. This becomes normalized, the news of another non-white person viciously attacked. The people who have lived among us for twenty years or so are falling victim to violence, while the president is signing decrees and turning speeches, and the bishops are blessing, blessing, and blessing. But some of us can stand up and get beaten up, too. I’m proud of us writers.

Earlier in the middle of April (Thursday, April 14), the district prosecutors in Katowice interrogated Jan Gross for 5 hours. I wonder why it had to take 5 hours to ask Gross if he “committed the crime of publicly insulting the nation” under Article 133 of the Criminal Law. Was that a glimpse of hope that he’d start contradicting himself? But the prosecutors said in their statement to the press that they were simply bound by law to act based on 166 individual citizen complaints. Jan Gross, they said, was interrogated merely as a witness. Meanwhile, the President is deliberating whether to strip or not to strip Gross of the Order of Merit. He will leave this question hanging until the end of his presidency, even though he could visit the Polish Center for Holocaust Research and educate himself.

Two new books by Polish scholars were published within the last two years on the same subject: the Poles benefitting from denouncing the Jews, perpetrating crimes, staging small-scale pogroms, etc. If these local writers do not face similar complaints, one expects that it must be so because the government sees no purpose as yet in making a case against them. Or else, is it because no one reads anything anymore? The complaint-mongers who brought this interrogation on Gross probably belong to the statistical 62% who didn’t read a single book last year. They represent the 20 million of cultural illiterates in this country. How dangerous is that?

Two days after Jan Gross’s interrogation, on April 16, the organization called National Radical Camp (ONR) held a rally in Białystok. It was Saturday, and international students visiting under the Erasmus program were warned not to leave the dormitories of Białystok Technical University for the whole day because a racist group was going to have their festivities on the campus.

These festivities started out with a celebratory mass in the cathedral. Pictures featuring banners with fascist symbols leaked out, and the diocese issued an official apology: “The church doesn’t support nationalism.” “However, anyone,” the diocese let out, “can ask for a mass to be celebrated in any good intention; for instance, for an anniversary.” And indeed that was an anniversary, the 82nd anniversary of the ORN’s formation in 1934. The city officials never apologized. Poland still seems to have the law that penalizes racism and anti-Semitism, but an investigation into the complex network of racist crimes in Białystok has just stalled due to the hiring-and-firing frenzy in the jurisdiction.

A bit of history then: the ONR, influenced by Italian fascism and remembered for its anti-Semitic excesses, was registered in April 1934. Its violent antics too much to bear for the seasoned interwar conservatives, it was soon outlawed, lasting mere 3 months, from April to July 1934.

Revived in 1993, the ONR struggled hard to be re-registered. At last one local chapter was reinstalled in 2003 under the condition that the present-day organization renounce its links with its prewar past.

Two marches the ONR organized in Warsaw for the Polish Independence Day in November 2007 and 2008 turned into battles. Anti-fascist activists and common citizens formed a human barrier holding the banner “Fascism won’t pass.” In 2008 some ONR members were caught with their hands extended in a fascist greeting. Brought to court, they insisted they were ordering a beer.

The turning point for the ONR was the invitation from the Arch-Cathedral of Sacred Family in Częstochowa for a celebratory mass on the occasion of the organization’s 75 anniversary on April 18, 2009.

In 2012 the ONR achieved its goal; since then it is officially registered.

The previous pro-EU government did not impede the ONR taking over the celebrations of the Independence Day in 2009 and 2010, inviting delegates from Hungary, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Bielorus, and so on, because the EU aficionados were most likely hoping to create a niche to release the citizens’ negative emotions, while they were busy drafting out “a low-cost country.”

In 2011 the Independence march organized by the ONR attracted 20,000 participants. This could have been a good reason to become concerned, but the pro-EU MPs were willing to sell their soul to the devil to stay in power. They probably also nurtured a secret hope they’d be able to negotiate their bailout.

Back to the present. A week after the events in Białystok, ten days after the interrogation of Jan Gross, on Friday, April 22, the government claims to see nothing wrong in including the ONR in its plans of forming the civil militia. One MP says: “They are a legal organization after all.”

The news about arming the ONR reach me as usual in the morning. It’s Friday and on an impulse I decide to visit the webpage of our local reformed synagogue. I had planned to convert some years ago but stopped myself for personal reasons. This time there seem to be nothing to stop me. In the evening I‘m sitting at the table set for Passover seder because I crave a community who understands what it means that the ONR is going to be armed. The Poles don’t really get it. Even when they are smeared as traitors by the government media, even if they are gay and afraid to come out to their families, it doesn’t occur to them that they could be hunted down by their own people, by their neighbors.

But the Polish Jews know it well. They retain this knowledge in their bodies even while singing Seder songs to merry tunes.

On, Monday, the third day of the Passover, the city board in Białystok votes to close down the Zamenhof Center.

 Yes, that Zamenhof, the man who had a vision that all disagreements would cease once we start speaking in a common language, so he invented esperanto. The Białystok MPs substantiate their decision: “He is not really well-known in the world.” Suddenly, a carnival of willful idiocy sets off. Basking in reflected glory of the short-span TV attention, another MP observes that “Zamenhof was like Hitler because he, too, was a utopist.”  This bestower of wisdom has never heard of Thomas Moore who coined the word “utopia,” the man determined enough to become a Catholic martyr. And this is all the news from Białystok, the new world capital of the White Power.

Before writing this blog I read Viktor Klemperer’s Diary of the Nazi Years 1933-1941 until he notes: “But everywhere complete helplessness, cowardice, fear.” Obviously, that’s different. No one is afraid. We carry on protests every week. Will it be a matter of months—or years?—before we witness this bubble of personal safety burst? Remember 1984, how easily bravado washes off in the face of physical violence, or even the fear of such violence.

So far the internet is streaming jokes and meme pictures commemorating the daily funnies spewed by our MPs in bubble-gum captions. Sometimes I can’t help but imagine how the government masterminds must hate being made a butt of a joke. If I were them, I’d start resorting to fantasies of public executions, anything, to end this incessant snickering, this tee-hee and haw-haw. But for now the anti-terrorism law will most likely put a lid on our merrymaking.

And the general conscription. That was announced in the last week of April, together with a bill proposed by the young nationalist MPs that will annul parental child support altogether by replacing it with shared custody. Because the bill is plainly stupid (no one knows how the shared custody can be carried on in case of parents living in two different cities or countries or, let’s say, in connection with the currently proposed limits on the abortion law: Will a rape victim be expected to share child custody with her rapist?), this legal concoction is likely to produce a lot of social frustration.

Social frustration, civil militia, and the army—that is all that this government needs.

Kempener writes: “I am constantly listening for ‘symptoms.’” Symptoms. I know how it feels to be attuned to symptoms, listening to the rumble of illness in your body attentively and yet not being able to do much about it. I’m sure he chose the word consciously. But then, I’m home, watching the cats play in the sun, listening to birds: it is so peaceful. That other stuff outside is like somebody else’s bad blood; it just doesn’t seem real.

I think I’d like to be Klempener, but I’m really Fiver from Watership Down. Fiver is a small rabbit, the smallest of the litter and endowed with ultra-sensory abilities. These abilities sometimes allow him to predict danger. While other rabbits nibble at grass and cowslip, Fiver goes about muttering that “something terrible is going to happen.” Sometimes he works himself into a veritable frenzy, despite how sweet the air and the grass are to his fur, and how pleasant living among friends and his loved ones must feel.

WOMEN, FORESTS, AND WILD BOARS

 

 

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What I’m failing to understand is our government’s ambivalent relationship with nature. Natural law is treated literally as the substitute for God, when it comes to erasing the three exceptions (incest, rape, and the danger to women’s health) from the harshest anti-abortion law in Europe. Similar to the dismal amendment brewed in the ministry of justice’s cauldrons, the minister of farming issued an order to hunting circles to eliminate 40,000 wild boars by shooting. Now, the hunting of the wild boar, as I’m reading on the Hunters’ Daily discussion forum board, should not be done in the spring because it unavoidably involves shooting females in advanced pregnancy or nursing. But an order is an order, and the government insists on its completion under the threat of closing down some factious hunting circles.

            It may be that all the blood and gore of the proposed springtime wild boar hunting is meant to habituate the hunters, first, to following any dreadful and nonsensical order they are handed, and, second, to habituate the hunters,  and their children, who are legally allowed to participate, to an even higher level of atrocity than that which is normally associated with the elimination of animals, like watching the unborn piglets move in the bellies of their expiring mothers. Not accidentally, the government’s plan to form the armed militia is taking shape simultaneously—as we read in the currently released report of the National Center for Strategic Studies, the militia, named Territorial Defense, but resembling a lynch-mob, armed with machine guns, is expected to “constitute a preventive means aimed to discourage the anti-governmental opposition.” That is, us. Will I feel intimidated by the young men with machine guns? Time will tell, but for now it seems as if the part of me capable of experiencing fear has simply taken a hike: no one can be preventively afraid day in and day out. Still, we are not expected to sink into hysteria, not for now, because “this plan doesn’t have yet univocal support in the decisive circles.” But is univocal support necessary? Shouldn’t it suffice that the civilian militia is the most cherished idea of our insane minister of defense, who will now be speedily promoted to the rank of general, since the president of the Peace and Justice (Piecemeal Justice) party expressed just such hope in his speech at the prominent national mourning celebration only last Sunday (April 10th).

But who will become part of the civilian militia? Well, apart from the hunters interested in adding on to their duties in the Hunters Union, it will be the shooting circles who have been meeting for years now at provincial parishes. For the hunting circles, the mass spring killing of wild boars will be a formative experience. They will learn how to act in a similarly discouraging manner towards the anti-governmental opposition; this will be their education: to follow absurd or atrocious orders without thinking. Someone noted recently on Facebook that, “Luckily, with the Poles, it all ends with a lot of talking.” Sometimes it does end with talking; sometimes it ends with mass purges.

Ah, but the soccer fans. They are the hefty players. Also destined to be fed into the civilian army, this group had already started the year as guests of honor at the Częstochowa sanctuary, where they amused their priestly hosts with rocket shooting and a midnight march with torches. Special guests from Hungary were present. They all united in Christ. But we are the anti-Christ. As a sideline to the national mourning celebration, the former “Solidarity” chaplain, an important figure, condemned taking part in KOD (Committee for Defense of Democracy) marches and deemed a hunger strike a deadly sin. Poor Miszk (a native of Gdynia, he started out in the democratic opposition as a teenager, in the 1980s) is fasting in front of the first minister’s office in Warsaw: it’s the 27th day now. Other deadly sins, just to keep the record straight, are: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

Meanwhile, the mass logging of Białowieża primeval woodland, the only one of its kind in Europe, with the approval of the environmental minister, is taking place in the background. The condemned trees, in the eyes of the government, are old and contaminated and useless. Ecologists counter, however, that the old trees, even if they fall of their own accord, are essential to the forest’s ecosystem. Is this simply greed, as the trees will prove useful at last when logged and sold as wood planks? (IKEA, by the way, has already declined to buy Białowieża wood.) I suppose it is a sort of message sent to the opposition made up of, as our foreign affairs minister believes, mainly cyclists and vegetarians, that the government is all powerful, and we can stuff ourselves and feel embittered (like Milton’s Satan, free to reside in “Regions of sorrow, [among] doleful shades.”

When set side by side, these random targets (women, woodlands, wild boars) begin to make sense: women must submit (to dying if necessary), and the woodlands, too, have to be controlled and felled-to-order. As to the hunters, the only hunters that matter are the hard-currency bearers, eager to pay good bucks for the pleasure of shooting Białowieża’s deer, foxes, and, why not, ancient bizons, thus deserving easier access to the beasts, no longer hindered by the old trees.

 

lovelasy

On April 12, Greenpeace has started the occupation of the Ministry of Environment roof in protest against the destruction of Białowieża Forest. Check for the latest information at kochampuszcze.pl and @ObroncyPuszczy or @Greenpeace_PL on Twitter. If you wish to show support, post a picture of yourself with a hashtag #KochamPuszcze or email kontakt@kochampuszcze.pl

 

Sources:

Easton, Adam. “Poland’s ruling conservatives clash with EU over media control.” BBC News 4 Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. 

Discussion Forum, thread 111938. Dziennik Łowiecki (Hunters’ Daily). Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Molga, Tomasz. “Chłopski minister zaplanował rzeź 40 tys. dzików. Nawet myśliwi buntują się przeciwko ‘wielkiemu safari’.” NaTemat. 6 Apr. 2016. Web. 6 Apr. 2016

Noch, Jakub. “Wyposażona w broń formacja odstraszy przed działaniami antyrządowymi.” Dlaczego PiS tworzy obronę terytorialną?” NaTemat. 10 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Paszyn, Maciej et al. Koncepcja Obrony Terytorialnej w Polsce. Raport. Warsaw: Narodowe Centrum Studiów Strategicznych, 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“Poland approves large-scale logging in Europe’s last primeval forest.” Agence France-Presse. Guardian 26 March 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.