When you ask a Polish person how they are, they start racking their brains for some sad story, some tiny cataclysm or at least a spell of bad luck they could share with you. It’s all to avoid the embarrassment it would cause both of you the retelling of one’s good fortune. It’s not done; you keep your triumphs to yourself or you play them down if you don’t want to be rude.
As a nation we excel at losing in style. We have mastered to perfection the art of being defeated. You should hear those bitter-sweet songs of Polish football supporters after every game that our national team inevitably loses. There is a very particular kind of pride in those songs.
Now, success. Success always takes us unexpectedly. It catches us off guard. There is something unsavoury and morally dubious about success; and celebrating one’s success seems plain sinful. There is nothing dramatic or romantic about it. It’s plebeian and coarse.
I don’t know what possessed Witold Bereś and Krzysztof Burnetko to go so much against this time-honoured custom and write a book about all the Polish triumphs from 1989 to 2009. They do apologise for it in the afterword. They emphasise that they do know that everything is still shit. They say they are aware the roads are bad, there is corruption, and the justice system is far from just. But yet, here they wrote this little book to say, quickly and quietly, that we’ve come a bloody long way since the communism, rationed meat and sugar, and the inflation rate of 1360%.
They take each year, starting from 1989, and patiently enumerate every little success and triumph. There are quotes, photos and interviews to back it up. To take the edge off this humiliating propaganda at the end of each chapter they also offer a short list of things that didn’t go so well and also of important people who died that year. Yet, mostly it is great things: we beat the 1360% inflation and the external debt of 43 billion dollars; we overthrew the communists gently without shooting them, in 1991 we opened the Warsaw Stock Exchange and actually made it work, Szymborska won the Nobel Prize, we joined the NATO and the EU, in 1994 we came second in Eurovision… Ugh, I can’t go any longer, this is really embarrassing. I feel like I’m masturbating in public.
To every Pole out there - buy this book! Lock yourself in the bathroom, read it hurriedly and then take a shower. And let’s never speak about it again.
And of course to this list of Polish successes we now have to add BookLikes!