Jamie Stokes: Loving bureaucracy
I've always been confused by the fact that Poles hate bureaucracy and rules, but have a highly bureaucratic system of government and administration. I assumed this was because the system had originally been imposed on them by foreign occupiers and it had not yet been possible to replace it completely. Now I'm beginning to wonder.
It has been 22 years since the end of Communist rule. Bureaucracy and officiousness on the part of the authorities have decreased in that time, but certainly haven't been swept away. Twenty two years is enough time to have done that, if Poles had really wanted to. Is it possible bureaucracy and officiousness actually play a vital role in society? Is it possible that the Polish sense of identity only makes sense if there is a faceless, bureaucratic 'enemy' for it to stand in opposition to?
Everybody hates politicians and governments, but I've never come across a country that hates its governments and politicians quite as vociferously as Poland (with the possible exception of the United States). Again, I assumed this was because Poles have suffered under a lot of governments that were hateful. Now I wonder if Poles need to hate authority in order to be Poles. The occupiers are long gone, but the Polish sense of identity as an irrepressible people battling for freedom remains. In this situation it is vital that somebody plays the role of oppressor, and the government is the obvious choice, even if it was democratically elected.
I'm not talking about the extremists here. Ninety-nine percent of Poles are far too civilised to even consider making bombs or throwing chunks of concrete at the police, but a lot of that 99 percent remain firmly of the opinion that their governments are, at best, callous fools or, at worst, actively out to ruin them. Seen from this perspective, the hundreds of thousands of Poles who work in local and national government offices and agencies are heroes. They are selflessly sacrificing the respect of their fellow countrymen while providing a vital service to the nation as bogeymen.
Like all my best ideas, this insight came to me in a bar. Elsewhere in this bar, young, fashionable people were playing music while other young fashionable people listened to them. The playing and the listening went on beyond 10pm, which meant it became illegal. The Straż Miejska appeared almost immediately and handed out 100zl fines. Arms were thrown in the air and loud complaints were made, but what struck me was that nobody was genuinely angry. In fact, everybody was smiling and thoroughly enjoying themselves, even the Straż officers.
I believe I was witnessing the education of the next generation. The youngsters around me were learning that there will always be dour faced force intent on ruining their fun and curtailing their freedom, and it made them feel properly Polish. Somewhere in that bar, a young man or women saw the joy that being oppressed by the Straż Miejska had brought to their friends, and decided to join their ranks.