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.

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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.