Wednesday, December 31, 2003

If you are looking for the overview, just scroll down about four essays. Or, if you are wanting to talk about something you have read here, or about anything you have on your mind, please write to me at Today I am starting a two-part essay. Part two might be after the New Year. And of course, have a happy one.

The Joys of captivity
Part 1.

There are a lot of things from the book that I am not sure I have brought out as well as I could. The reason for this I think is that the book was written in chronological order and depicts the time I was there as it felt to be there. Some of the ideas that I am writing bout now come from a place of strength, a distance that was not available to me when I was actually in the middle of all of this. And of course, I have actually had a chance to look at the documents that were used in my court case.
What I am thinking about today has to do with the general style under which the Polish Judicial system made their case against me. Specifically that they decided to try me while purposely withholding knowledge from me in an official public trial. What I am thinking about is that this suppression of facts came very naturally to the people who were holding me. And what is worse, it seemed to be a very natural thing even for people who are on the other side of the fence; the common everyday folk trying to make their way while living under the Polish flag.
My first taste of how natural this cult of intrigue is, was when John Grondelski took over for James Holemo at the American Embassy in Poland. Halmo was a friendly if distracted bureaucrat who was only a short term stay, taking the place of Foster Stolte, who I think left for another job in India because of his involvement in my case. In my first meeting with Grondelski, himself fully Polish, I asked him for a courtesy phone call to the prosecutor’s office so as to determine the status of my case. Grondelski, as a way, I suppose, of showing me that he was fully in charge, asked a colleague in a voice loud enough to be over heard if the post could “trust” the word of said prosecutor. Well, there was a new revelation. Was he telling me that his predecessors were incompetent because they failed to understand this most basic of Polish traits? Was he trying to let me know that I myself was a fool for even expecting any honesty from my hearing? The only thing I did know is that it absolutly meant he was not going to be on my side, a decision also made in the polish style in that is disregarded the facts of the situation. I say I know that for sure because all of his subsequent actions regarding my case proved this theory.
But the inference in that moment was clear enough: There is simply no reality to Poland but for its current existence. No truth anywhere to be found; don’t look for any.
Now this knowledge was hard earned. While I was sitting in Poland, I spent a lot of time talking to some of the bikers I knew there about my own situation and how it related to their own. I remember talking quite often to Betty, an independent courier there about the real lack of protection that the day in and day out bikers have. By protection I refer to of course both a lack of insurance and also that that they have no generally known legal body, which would be there to help them in case of accident. In the states of course, there are hundreds of “bike lawyers”; advocates who have knowledge of and /or specialize in bicycle related fields of litigation. But in Poland, all they have is their general feeling of being “in” Poland, and apparently this is enough for them.
Now I was astounded to find that this was sufficient for them because the idea of actually have trust for the people who were screwing me over with their lies day in and day out was a physical impossibility. I completely disagreed. But agreement or not, there was no one to call for help in the case. But much more interesting, was the “why” as to there not being any help available. The answer to this I think comes from both sides.
There is no market for some hungry young lawyer, who himself enjoys biking as a pastime to exploit because there are no lawyers who are allowed to do so in the first place. Perhaps this is because under communism, there was no real “property” per se, as we in the stated understand the term and therefore, as all “owned” things would be fleeting, cases against property damages would be abstract. Perhaps, but it ids my feeling that ore to the point would be that there is no such entity as an advocate of individual rights or property because any such dealing would reflect upon the importance of the individual. And, as the de facto philosophy of Polish law is solely and completely in place to prolong the existence of the Polish state, any attempt to allow for the importance of the individual would be seen as an event in opposition to the states existence. And if this is not entirely true in general, it is absolutely true in cases where there is even a hint of any opposition to authority.
Marcin Boris, my second state appointed council was a poster child for this theory.
But the problem with this situation is that Poland, at least theoretically, is trying to live in the new democratic and economically independent world. No one is getting any money from the state anymore. Everyone must find their own way. But they have to do so under the thumb of a government, which acts as though they are still dishing out the paychecks. The necessity of property protection is very real when ones property is directly related to ones ability to feed themselves. Do not think for a moment that there is not an effect to knowing there is no privacy or stability in anything you do. In the states, we demand of ourselves the strongest of egos and self-possession as a manner of dealing with a overly competitive world. But in the east, they are being asked to compete for their money, while at the same time, their competition (read: gains from competition) is being controlled, or at least closely monitored, by anyone with any state connections. Got to be a paranoid situation.
But what was really remarkable for me was what our heroic common man was doing about all of this. The answer: Not a damned thing. In all of those conversations with Betty, at best, he simply enjoyed listening to my rhetoric. But more to the point, neither he, nor any one of the bikers with who I was associated, ever so much as lifted a finger to do anything more than what seemed funny moment by moment. I would talk and talk about the logic of protecting oneself from abuse, and they would simply reply that this was Poland, and not the states. The abuse you see, was a part of life, and the sooner I understood and excepted this, the easier I would live.
I was generally astounded. Not only did the bikers I knew have no desire to push back, they had come to love this fear and found it to be something that they drew strength and comfort from. The very idea of coming out from under the thumb of their system would be like taking a step out into the existential void. It was “1984”. Big brother was not only watching, he is laughing at you and waiting for you to join in the laughter. I was being held prisoner in a self-perpetuating, permanent childhood factory, rife with corruption, but where one draws absolutely no salary. But amazingly enough, those who are at work there, refuse to leave out of simple fear of what life is life without it.
For the bikers, and Poland as a whole I imagine, being suppressed is simply a way of life. To actually have a voice be heard would be tantamount to an invitation to be abused. And for me, of course, this was exactly the result.
Check out 1984 sometime. If you read it in high school, read it again. It is a good book. And then check out Being Had. Tell me I don’t have a point.

There was a riot there over all of this, you know. I’ll tell you all about it next time in Part II of this essay.