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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Poland Looking West

As published at Smirking Chimp, OpEd News, CounterCurrents, LewRockwell, Unz Review and Intrepid Report, 1/24/16:

In 1985, Czeslaw Milosz said in an interview, “The importance of the movement in Poland, of Solidarity, is that it is not just a Polish phenomenon. It exemplifies a basic issue of the twentieth century. Namely, resistance to the withering away of society and its domination by the state. In the Poland of Solidarity, owing to some historical forces, there was a kind of resurgence, or renaissance, of the society against the state.

Quite contrary to the predictions of Marx, this is the basic issue of the twentieth century. Instead of the withering away of the state, the state, like a crab, has eaten up all the substance of society. Destroying society, as a matter of fact. As a workers’ movement, Solidarity resisted this. Whether various societies that have been conquered by the state will awaken in the future, I don’t know. The movement in Poland presents a hopeful pattern.”

Communism was the ultimate expression of state power, and it ate away and destroyed society, observed Milosz, but this sinister process also “exemplifies a basic issue of the twentieth century,” meaning to one degree or another, it was a universal problem. It still is. With increased surveillance from the state, and its power to micromanage or interfere with nearly all aspects of our lives, we’re entirely at the state’s mercy. In the US, the government can prevent us from flying without explanation, and it can even summarily disappear or kill us. Typing a word, we must look over our shoulder.

Culture, cuisine or crime, society is whatever evolves naturally from the people, and the state is the uber structure over all that vitality. The more infantile a population, the more it thinks it needs a paternal state, but free men will always rage and rebel against an all-intrusive government. In each Communist country, many did just that, though even the slightest dissent was met with the most barbaric punishment. Innocents were also round up by the paranoid state.

Thirty-one years after Milosz’ statement, is Poland still a promising bellwether? Seems like it traded one empire for another. Instead of being a Russian thorn against the West, it has become NATO’s point man against Russia. It is lobbying to have foreign troops in its territory to deter against “Russian expansionism,” though that would only increase the likelihood of such an aggression. To its disappointment, its effort to host American missiles fell through. It lost 74 soldiers in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, fourth highest among Uncle Sam’s vassals.

On a recent, brief visit to three Polish towns near the German border, I saw quite a few signs of Poland’s infatuation with the USA. In Luban, there’s an Uncle Sam’s Ice Cream, with the depicted vanilla and chocolate soft serve looking strangely like long screws. A clothing store displays a large image of Manhattan with a dozen taxis. There’s a Manhattan Bistro. Luban’s many one-room casinos also evoke that land of MTV and Hollywood fantasies, with Café Vegas showing a freeway and skyscrapers of… Los Angeles. “JACK HOT,” “HOT FUN,” “LUCKY SEVEN,” “LUCKY SLOTS,” “VIP ROOM,” all these Polish casinos have American names. It’s as if luck and America are the same, though of course you nearly always lose in these joints.

In Zgorzelec, Bar Kalifornia features the Statue of Liberty superimposed over Manhattan and the American flag. In a window, a small manikin sports a red, white and blue outfit with stars and stripes. In tiny Wignielec, population 3,072, a boy’s bomber jacket outside a store has American flag patches. Everywhere I went, I heard American pop music. On one station, the announcers even spoke English between songs. Needless to say, everything Russian has been purged from the landscape. On some menus, there is the pierogi ruskie. Filled with mashed potato, it’s as sexy as mashed potato.

Decades of Communist destruction of society has left its marks in Poland. East Germany had the West to help it recover, but Poles had to catch up by themselves. As of 2014, its GNI per capita of $24,710 was roughly the same as Russia’s and Hungary’s, but behind the Czech Republic’s $28,020 and just over half of Germany’s $46,850. Crossing from Gorlitz into Zgorzelec, I could immediately see the differences between the two nations. The Polish buildings were in poorer shape, the shops were homelier and there were many fewer places to eat and drink. Almost none had a menu outside to attract clients. Even the service was different.

Spotting an inviting restaurant, I walked in to find a lady at a table. Since she barely looked up, I assumed she was a customer. I went to the counter to pick up a menu then peered into the kitchen to see an old woman, whom I waved at. I sat down. After about two minutes, the first lady stood up, turned around and said to me, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” It turned out she was the waitress and cashier.

The place was more bar than restaurant. Middle aged men would walk in, order a tall draft of Okocim then drink at a table mostly in silence, though they all seemed to know each other. Sauntering in, a guy said hello to everyone and shook their hands. Seeing me, he shook my hand also. I had a plate of soothing pierogi filled with a pork paste for just $2.20. An honest bowl of tripe soup with bits of ham and vegetables set me back $1.90. The decors flaunted plastic chandeliers and velvet curtains with tassels and frills. On the walls were postcard-sized, mass-produced paintings of rustic scenes. It was kitschy all over, but worn and faded, like an old, affable whore. I like you, too. Dipping half a pierogi into sour cream, I felt very at home and comforted. On TV, there was a Turkish soap opera that was dubbed by a single male voice. Everyone sounded the same.

Along with Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Poland is rejecting the European Union’s mandate to accept thousands of Muslim refugees. With recent memories of having their societies deformed and suffocated by Soviet Russia, these central European nations know only too bitterly how precarious national identity and autonomy is. In 1985, Milan Kundera pointed out, “When it comes to the misfortune of nations, we must not forget the dimension of time. In a fascist, dictatorial state, everyone knows that it will end one day. Everyone looks to the end of the tunnel. In the empire to the east, the tunnel is without end. Without end, at least, from the point of view of a human life. This is why I don’t like it when people compare Poland with, say, Chile. Yes, the torture, the suffering are the same. But the tunnels are of very different lengths. And this changes everything.”

Citing this difference, Kundera reminded us that Communist European nations were subjugated by Russia, and that’s why they couldn’t terminate their misery organically, from the ground up. When the masses rebelled against dictatorship, like the East Germans did in 1953, the Hungarians in 1956 or the Czechs in 1968, the Russians brought in the tanks. Kundera also asserted, “For a thousand years, Czechoslovakia was part of the West. Today, it is part of the empire to the east.” Like the Poles, their fellow Slavs, Czechs also see an affinity and allegiance with the West, not Russia.

Having regained their identities, these nations won’t allow Brussels to tamper with them. They will certainly stay in the European Union, however, since this association allows their citizens to work in many wealthier countries. They want to export, not import, immigrants. Crossing into Poland, I noticed that the Turkish and Vietnamese food joints practically disappeared. I did run into Bar Orientalny Restauracja, however.

Its owner is one of only two Vietnamese in town. Tran has lived in Europe for 30 years, with the first three in the Czech Republic, where he met his first Polish wife. Following her back to Zgorzelec, he survived by selling black market cigarettes, then clothes, and was locked up several times. Tran started cooking 20 years ago, and now has a spacious restaurant. On the wall was a common New Year’s greeting. It translates as, “MUCH WEALTH MUCH LUCK.”

Working seven days a week, Tran leaves the house at 7AM and doesn’t return until 10PM. Married to his second Polish wife, he has six kids altogether, with three grown ones working in Leipzig, Germany. His 20-year-old has a job across the river, since German wages, averaging €2,183, are three times higher. Tran has two Polish employees.

“I’d rather hire a Pole than a Vietnamese, to tell you the truth. If it’s too busy, a Vietnamese wants a raise. If it’s too slow, she wants a raise. That woman has worked for me for nearly eight years.” Tran nodded towards the waitress and cashier. Square-jawed and assured without being pushy, he exuded a resilience that had allowed him to survive, and his relaxed charm was also evident. As a newcomer, you need to muster up all assets.

Tran never had enough money to fly back to Vietnam before 2010, but now returns annually for a month to see his aging mother, and to take the extended family to the beach. I’m sure he also gives quite a few people money. It’s expected. By a miraculous coincidence, we come from the same block in Saigon, though he got there just after I had left. Tran has no desire to retire in Vietnam. “Everyone knows me here. I’m at home here.”

“Don't you miss the food? Like a really great bowl of pho?”

“I can make it better myself.”

A few Zgorzelec restaurants have German and English menus, but Orientalny Restauracja even boasts a Japanese one. “There’s a Toyota plant not too far away, and their Japanese employees sometimes come in here. I also get a few Americans. They’re on the basketball team.”

Playing at a 3,500 seat arena, Turów Zgorzelec has two American players, Cameron Tatum and Kirk Archibeque. Tatum averaged 8.1 points a game during his last year at the University of Tennessee. He majored in Africana Studies. Archibeque averaged 13.1 points during his third season, his best, at Northern Colorado. Though not immigrants, these men have found a way to survive outside their native land. It beats becoming a mercenary.

Tran on how accommodating Poles can be, “If you ask for directions, they won’t just show you but may walk you there. If there’s an argument between a Pole and a foreigner, they will side with the foreigner, but it depends on which foreigner.”

Last November 15th, Poland’s Independence Day, a young priest, Jacek Miedlar, bellowed out a fierce speech to a flag waving crowd in Warsaw. Miedlar began, “Dearly beloved, the enemies of the homeland and the enemies of the Church are furious today because they see a huge, enormous army of patriots, army of nationalists, and army of supporters who have ‘God, Honor, and Fatherland’ in their hearts and are ready to give their lives for them. But I am more than convinced that leftist propaganda is trying its best to destroy us, to destroy the Church, to destroy the Polish nation. We cannot let them do it. We are the Church Militant. We are the warriors of Great Poland. They aren’t even aware that the more they attack us, the more our pride grows!”

Is this paranoia? How besieged is Poland, really? It seems to me that what threatens Poland also endangers many other countries, and that’s the subjugation of local needs to a master scheme cooked up far away by an elite that owe no allegiance to any nation. Going after immediate benefits, Poland risks long term damage. To avert disaster, it will need to stop supporting Uncle Sam’s belligerence, appeasing Brussels and antagonizing the Kremlin.

Though the narrative that Russia invaded Ukraine is absurd, most Poles buy into it, such is their hatred of their long time nemesis. At least ten thousand Poles have even joined militias to prepare for an invasion. Clinging to that dangerously flailing zombie that’s Uncle Sam, Poles might just see their worst fear realized.



Ian Keenan said...

"Thousands of citizens marched through city streets across Poland on Saturday to protest the right-wing government's encroaching authoritarianism, including a new plan to enact sweeping surveillance measures.

""Our privacy, intimacy is under threat, we can be followed, watched over both in our homes, and online," Mateusz Kijowski, founder of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) party and one of the protest organizers, told a large crowd in Warsaw as people held signs and stood in frigid temperatures to voice their opposition to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that took control in November following parliamentary elections....

"...In a national poll taken in December, more than half of Poland's people (56%) said that Kaczynski and the PiS were a direct threat to the nation's democracy...

"...One protester held up a sign that said "Happy New Year 1984" and explained to the Associated Press her fears that life in Poland could begin to resemble the authoritarian state depicted in George Orwell's famous novel...

"...Amid the growing concerns of the Polish government's behavior, the EU's investigation seeks to determine if any of the newly-enact reforms violate the bloc's democratic standards. As Agence France Presse reports:

" Brussels introduced the "rule of law" mechanism in 2014, giving the 28-nation bloc the right to investigate and if necessary punish any member state which violates key EU democratic and rights norms.

" If found at fault, a country can be stripped of its EU voting rights—the so-called "nuclear option"—but the procedure has not been used before and officials say they hope it does not come to that.

"Said demonstrator Anna Straszewska, a 42-year-old art historian marching in Warsaw, "We are afraid that things could get that bad if we don't protest now. I remember communism. When democracy came I thought we would be part of the West forever. Now I am even afraid this could end up in us leaving the EU." "

LJansen said...

The might CIA Wurlitzer keeps playing. In this EMPIRE FILES episode, Vijay Prashad explains that the U.S. is still executing coups and regime change almost at will.

The people of Poland will hopefully be noticing that alliance with the U.S. does nothing for them except cause trouble with their neighbors.

Thanks, Linh. Love potato pillows too.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Ian and LJansen,

Law and Justice just got voted in by a very large margin. I suspect that the street demonstrations and bad publicity may be triggered by their modest resistance against Brussels. Our CIA goons may be behind it.


Ian Keenan said...

LJansen, Wonderful interview find.. Prashad in Arab Spring, Libyan Winter identified Khalifa Haftar as the CIA's point man in Libya, who currently leads the military in Eastern faction of the civil war. After working for Qaddafi he was allowed to immigrate to the US and settled in Vienna, Virginia.

For whatever reason, the Law and Order party in Poland seeks stronger ties with the US, increased military spending and participation in US military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, with fewer ties to the EU. You're aware of the CIA role in the Maidan movement in the Ukraine.

Within the Obama administration, Hillary had a particular zeal for subversion in Honduras, Haiti, Libya, etc but even Bernie supported the Libyan war.

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Ian,

And I don't mean to belittle legitimate criticisms against Law and Order. I just find strange that this party, barely in power, has received such close scrutiny. Foreign Policy is even suggesting that Obama should boycott the NATO summit in Warsaw this July.


Ian Keenan said...

Linh, US may or may not be playing both ends with the EU and Law and Order. These kinds of governments tend to attract grassroots opposition in any case.

Linh Dinh said...

A comment at Smirking Chimp:

as a Pole, I feel obligated to put in my two cents -

I found the article very insightful and measured, although this enthusiasm about USA is fading fast... and there is quite a bit of disenchantment about "democracy" in a form of corporate democracy, and the moral values of the West. Poland is now, interestingly, going through a political equivalent of Americans electing a GOP president, just to show the Dems that bringing up the boogieman is not enough to get elected forever. In an election a month ago, voters gave a boot to a Platforma Obywatelska (Citizen Platform) party, akin to Dems in US, and elected (those who bothered to cast a vote, that is) nationalistic and religious party led by the people who belong in a lunatic asylum (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, or Law and Justice). What those people accomplished in a month, is impressive, if one can be impressed by attempts to demolish the state, media, administration, relations with the EU, and the like. There is a healthy resistance, though, and a newly formed nation-wide committee for Defense of Democracy, with tens of thousands showing for demonstrations week after week. Poles are somewhat difficult to tame...

polack in idaho

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, the famous cute bourgeois debates abut parlimentarism. I wish it mattered that much to be worth discussing.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

To avoid confusion, please sign in with some sort of name next time. I don't want to confuse you with other "Anonymouses." Thanks.


Linh Dinh said...

P.S. There was an asshole Stalinist freak "anonymous" who vandalized this blog about a month ago. I don't want to confuse you with him.

Linh Dinh said...

P.S.S. I just changed the setting. From now on, no hit and run "Anonymous" sniping.

Linh Dinh said...

Now, I'm convinced it's the same asshole Stalinist freak from a month ago. The same sneering sarcasm that enlightens nothing. Here we are talking about an actual situation in a country, and a Stalinist freak jumps in to sneeringly dismiss it. I'm sure he's very offended by my characterization of the evil Communists. I'm sure he thinks Milosz and Kundera are fools too.

Linh Dinh said...

People who hanker for an all powerful state are angry infants. They're even sillier than those who think the Pope can solve everything.

Linh Dinh said...

And speaking of the bourgeoisie, 99% of the Communist freaks I've encountered are spoiled, middle class or upper middle class brats. They have no familiarity with working class values and opinions. Else, they dismiss them from afar. These brats are about as elitist as they come.

RegularPoster said...

Linh Din,

Ok. Yes, I guess I'm that "Stalinist freak". I don't know what this phrase is supposed to mean? Can you explain it more thoroughly please? Could I also venture a guess?

Is it enough to simply have a differing opinion on Stalin as opposed to the one established by the bourgeois elite over the decades? Or perhaps it is enough to claim that Stalin wasn't the evil dictator he is made out to be and the USSR during those years wasn't the imperialist dictatorship that you probably think of?

That's quite hypocritical of you to call someone that when by looking at your responses to my comments you seem to be more insulting and oppressive (just because I seem to have a differing opinion) than I have ever been on here.

I will try to give a long response to the topic at hand a bit later today. You can ban me if you want (for being the "Stalinist dictatorial state loving freak"), I will still visit this blog because I like many of the observations and pictures you make.

Linh Dinh said...

I'm only responding to your mocking tone. I've tolerated all kinds of comments here, even people who say my poems are shit or that I should go back to Vietnam, whatever. What I don't appreciate is the sneering sarcasm you've displayed on several occasions. I've stated my stance against state terror repeatedly, and I know many people who suffered terribly from Communism. You're free to yearn for that, but count me and billions of people out of it. I don't dictate anything to anybody.

Poles reject the Russian imperialism they suffered for nearly half a century. You can disagree with their stance, of course, but it's not your country. It's not mine either, and in this article, I'm merely trying to give a brief overview of what's going on there. Transnistria, on the other hand, is a little breakaway region of Moldova that's clinging to their Communist heritage (but without living as Communists!). That's their business. Should I get a chance to visit it one day, I'll try my best to give a respectful account of it also.

When I was in Turkey, you teed off on me and apparently got a big kick out of it. Perhaps you don't even hear yourself.


RegularPoster said...

Linh Dihn,

Ok, let's leave this bickering behind, I'm sorry if my posts insulted you. Didn't mean to do it at all. Like I said - I like this blog but have been visiting it for only a couple months, therefore I'm not yet familiar with your conventions. However, I must say that when someone wants to keep an open public blog like this one he must be ready for all kinds of opinions and visitors. You wrote "even people who say my poems are shit or that I should go back to Vietnam, whatever". What did you expect? Is everyone you meet in real life a nice person? No. Neither are the people on the internet. In fact, the internet allows people to let off a little steam, that's why assholish behavior is more prevalent on it.

"I don't dictate anything to anybody"

You are doing that. You are dictating not to support Stalin or communism on this blog (not that I was doing that, I was only critiquing the current system). Like it or not, but you are overlooking your own contradictions.

Ok, now that I have slightly more time on my hands, I will try to expand on what I was trying to imply earlier.

First of all, let's start with the claim that communism has caused great suffering. You claim to have encountered it. Yet, you don't even seem to understand that communism has never existed on this planet in any way, shape or form. All we had was a very rudimentary, nascent form of socialism with all of its contradictions and still existing class consciousness for a very short period of time. Communism is the highest stage of socialism, with absence of markets, labor exploitation and money-commodity exchange. You can follow the path of the US empire that you so despise and call everything you don't like communism but it doesn't make it that.
I wonder why you are so adamant about despising communism. Have you ever read Das Kapital or the Poverty of Philosophy by Marx? Give them a chance, those books might give you a better clue on how the system we live in necessitates oppression, exploitation and inequality.

"Poles reject the Russian imperialism they suffered for nearly half a century"

Poland is one of those countries that is bound to live off blaming others for its misfortunes. Be it Germans, Russians and soon it will be the EU. Remember - the advanced, civilized and enlightened German nation once became enamored with the idea of racial superiority and fascist-capitalist economy. Sometimes some serious propaganda takes decades to develop. Sometimes a few years is enough. The Poles have had a quarter of a century (think about it again, that is a quarter of a century) now to prove that it wasn't the USSR that was pulling them back. Instead they have been moving to wealthier EU countries to wash toilets there and cook for their new overlords. Meanwhile, the social welfare system they had has been slowly withering away. No one (I mean the leading imperialist countries) is gonna let another large and densely populated area like Poland to get a piece of the ever shrinking pie that is the global markets. Poland is slowly descending into more and more poverty, inequality and dissatisfaction. Mark my words. You can show me all kinds of figures, GDP, bourgeous statistics, salary increases, blah blah blah. We all know what the deal is. We all know how fucking difficult it is getting for the average person out there. The Poles were given some hope and even monetary help and belief in the benevolence of their new rulers (Too bad they have such short historical memory) but now they are seeing the reality for what it is. They have been duped.

RegularPoster said...

"You can disagree with their stance, of course, but it's not your country."

Concepts like countries, nationalities etc. are only useful to an extent. Poland has given up its sovereignity. There is no more Poland. There is no more Estonia, Norway, Lithuania, Bulgaria etc. They don't decide shit, they don't do anything if it goes against the interests of the empire that controls them. They are useful pawns. Today you are used for some purpose, tomorrow you will be thrown away because you have stopped being useful. There is no more Polish, Spanish, French, German culture. The culture you think of in the sense of food, some very insignificant superficial aspects like that is meaningless. Our culture is now money and commodity glorification. I think you will allow me to quote Marx on this one: "When money seeps into a community, it becomes the real community"

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Regular Poster,

Now that you're discussing instead of sniping, we can talk. Think about you coming in here to mock a discussion between three people as "cute" and "bourgeois" with a bitchy "oooh" to precede it. No blog owner would put up with such an attitude REPEATEDLY. No one.

I agree with you about these many countries being used by the American Empire. I've written many thousands of words about just that from my first political article, and I've written hundreds of articles. I'm against all countries being used as pawns, or being invaded or perverted. I've also argued relentlessly for local solutions as decided by the people of each country. That's why I reject any global system being imposed by above or from a distance. Since all nations are different, they need different solutions and arrangements.

If you want to be a Communist or live in a Communist society, that's your decision, I don't care, but do not prescribe that as the only solution or hope for mankind. That is beyond arrogant and absurd.


Linh Dinh said...

P.S. Perhaps you can articulate your argument in an article, and have it published on webzines, like I do. That way, readers can debate the merits of your thinking.

Linh Dinh said...

P.S.S. As for nations, borders will be reinforced. The European Union will break up. The US itself will break up.

Ian Keenan said...

The past and the future are only mutually exclusive for con men. Hence Bill and Hillary played Fleetwood Mac's "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow/ Yesterday's gone.." when they first accepted the party nomination.

The Polish Solidarity movement, as much as it became a partial cause for Western triumphalism, was not a case of people being duped but an enlightened and effective uprising against Stalinist corruption, unattainable food prices, elitist decision-making and unsustainable import-exports and investments. Although the movement strove for unity over ideology, the program drafted October 1981 has been described as anarcho-syndicalist, calling for local authority, full rights of debate and democratic participation and provision of essentials for the poor.

Next month Linh you may visit a country where 2,687,246 people voted for the Communist Party in the 2012 parliamentary elections, but your ability to ascertain whether those Ukrainians were wealthy hipsters may be hindered by the fact that the US-backed Kiev leadership banned the party and expression of Communist ideas and symbols.

swindled said...

The world is looking to America for salvation--because what else could this "infatuation" be about? Well then, the world must be in pretty piss-poor shape.
Oh, I almost forgot, the world is in piss-poor shape!
And only getting worse every minute with the spread of disinflationary growth (ebbing toward deflationary--when the shit truly hits the fan) and the Zika virus.
Though in truth this is not a new phenomenon to me. The Filipinos I know imitate American cultural ways, our habits and styles and especially our pop culture, obsessively .. a guy I know in Cebu saying anything that happens in America gets here, if not instantaneously, then within 2 months. Even before the balikbayan box.

swindled said...

I meant to say pop music.

swindled said...

Actually "pop culture" works better. I must learn to trust my instincts!


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.