Yet another book I read for my never ending research on Polish communism, in particular the Martial Law period. This one is titled: The Image of Everyday Life in Press during the Martial Law. It was written by three young historians and I believe it was originally their Master degree dissertation. Unfortunately, it does read like a dissertation. There is a footnote for every piece of information included and the style is very clunky. Occasionally it gets worse and sounds like an essay written for extra credit by someone in Junior High.
Yet, from my point of view – that is a writer who is researching the era, it was extremely valuable. The authors have gathered every bit of info imaginable. I now know the prices for everything (both ‘official’ and ‘black market’ ones), the average salaries, products rations, cinema and theatre listings, even TV Programme. They even talked about the weather. This is all extremely helpful but unbelievably boring to a regular reader because it is served with no interesting commentary and no genuinely original conclusions.
It didn’t enrich my understanding of the era but thanks to this book, my novel will be hopefully as error-free as possible.
Now, this would have been the review I would post on Goodreads, if it weren’t for their recent antics regarding deleting people reviews, censorship and general asshattery, so instead I’m posting this:
Review compliant with the new Goodreads TOS
“This book is irrelevant to Goodreads because you can’t buy it on Amazon. Also it talks about oppression, censorship etc. and no one really likes reading about that because it’s boring. Yet, let me tell you anyway.
The title of this book is ‘The Image of Everyday Life in Press during the Martial Law’, which is a little bit ridiculous because what could be read in Press those days when it was so heavily censored? Well, you had to read between the lines.
The Martial Law was one of the darkest periods of recent Polish history. In December 1981 General Jaruzelski decided he had enough of strikes, protests and demonstrations and introduced the so called ‘Martial Law’. Back then Poland was, funnily enough, called the People’s Republic of Poland but it didn’t really care about its people. It didn’t have to answer to its people. Poland was then only a satellite to USSR and it only had to answer to Moscow Kremlin. Nowadays Jaruzelski claims he did what he had to because the USSR was pressuring him and threatening with military action. But unless Russia opens up their archives we will never know if Jaruzelski was just over-zelaous in oppressing his country or whether he was just following orders from the USSR.
Martial Law started before anyone knew what was happening. Overnight they thousands of people arrested people, turned off the phones and closed the borders. And then they announced there would be new laws. New laws, which were arbitrary and often frankly puzzling. Sometimes you wouldn’t know about things that were banned until you got in trouble. It was almost as if they were making them up as they went on. There was a curfew (at different times in different cities), ban on travelling outside your town, ban on public assembly, there was even a ban on most water sports (and no one knew why that was). Once the phones were turned back on, all the conversations were monitored, and you could be arrested or even forced out of the country if you were caught saying something the government didn’t like.
So what did people do? How could they rebel against the oppression when the other side had tanks, tear gas, riot teams and a whole of USSR? And yet they did. When the 8 o’clock news came on (censored and full of propaganda), they left their houses and went for walks. They would greet all their neighbours and keep walking, just so they are not accused of public assembly. The government’s response was to push the curfew, so that everyone had to stay at home for the evening news. The people would wear the Solidarity Movement symbols but those were soon banned (together with all other political symbols), so people started pinning ‘resistors’ to their jackets. A resistor is just an electrical component, it cannot possibly be described as a political symbol. It’s just a piece of metal, and yet there it was. A tiny little sign of resistance.
The cultural events were banned and there was a strict censorship. But what’s a censorship to people who had been dealing with communism for forty years? They knew how to play that game. They knew how to write about what they wanted to write about, pretending they were writing about, say, Spanish Inquisition, but it really was about the here and now. And their audience knew that and they winked at the artist, and the artist winked back at them. And even the government knew it but they couldn’t do anything, unless they admitted they were in fact acting like Spanish Inquisition. Some say that Polish artists have never been as creative as in those days. That the opposition had liberated a certain energy in them, some sense of a true mission.
During Martial Law lots of Polish people emigrated, not because they wanted to, they loved Poland but they just could function in that reality, some people were forced to emigrate, they got a one way ticket and were banned from returning. Many stayed and fought. Some openly and bravely (in sure way to get them in trouble), some in a more quiet and symbolic way. Others did nothing, they just tried to go about their lives and navigate somehow this new reality. Yet, some said it didn’t affect them, they said you wouldn’t have anything to worry about if you were a law-abiding citizen. They even sent letters to newspapers thanking the government for bringing peace and order and shutting down the troublemakers. Some say it was the government themselves sending those letters.
Did any of those little rebellious acts work? Many people said: why bother, why bother wearing a metal resistor in your jacket? How are you going to win against the USSR and their army with a resistor in your jacket. Don’t fool yourself, you’re not running against the Polish government, the Polish government has no say in what is happening in Poland, because Poland is fully owned by the USSR. You can’t win, you can’t beat the USSR. I guess, if you stopped and thought about it, you would realise it was true, which is why you didn’t stop to think about it. You just kept on with the resistor in your jacket. And a few years later, what do you know… the Solidarity movement which started in Poland spread to other countries and the Iron Curtain crumbled. And maybe the Soviet Block was doomed to fail, maybe it was all the geopolitical and economic factors, but who can say it wasn’t the resistor in your jacket?"