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.

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Run, Fiver, Run

220px--Ludwik_Zamenhof_speaking_ogg

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.