Anyway, on with the narrative. Krzysztof's first book, O siedmiokilogramowym liściu i inne historie, written under the Toyah pseudonym, is a collection of his pre-Smolensk blog posts, written during the glory days when he was Polityka's political blogger of the year (2009). Sadly, the posts are not dated, which would have been useful to future historians. Because this is the pre-Smolensk, there's less rancour, a lighter tone; those early years of PiS in parliamentary opposition with a PiS president in office now seen strangely exotic.
Toyah's second book, Twój pierwszy elementarz, written in the style of an ABC primer, was written after April 2010. Essentially, it stands as a who's who of Polish politics and blogging (even I get an entry!); with everyone neatly categorised into nasi ('ours') or else as tools of 'the system' (system), witting or otherwise. Many famous Poles, we learn, are or have been agents (of Moscow, of the security services, of the system) or are (as in my case), 'lemmings' (lemingi), who passively accept today's reality. An excellent guide to the works of the PiS mindset.
Krzysztof's first book published under his own name is Marki, dolary, banany i biusztonosz marki Triumph, is a much-needed first hand account of Poland's transition from communism to what we have today. An autobiography that moves from childhood and adolescence in Katowice (or indeed Stalinogród, which is what the city was called when Krzysztof was born), through his student days, Martial Law and the political and economic transformation to today's Poland - which he doesn't much care for.
|Cover art by Marek Kamieński|
One was a taxi ride from Katowice to Sosnowiec. As his taxi was approaching the destination, the driver recognised a militia-man (milicjant) at traffic lights and began chatting to him. The militia-man got into the front passenger seat and continued the conversation with the driver in the stationary car, who was ignoring his passenger as the taxi-meter continued to spin. Krzysztof did not dare butt in to remind the driver that he was still in the car. After a while, the militia-man turned around to Krzysztof and announced that he didn't like his hair-cut. Krzysztof maintained a polite tongue, explained why he was going to Sosnowiec (to register for his studies), but was noted down anyway. The taxi ride turned out to be extremely expensive - and there was nothing - nothing at all - that he could do about it.
The other concerns his first job. He was directed to work at the Zenit department store in Katowice as a junior radio and TV sales assistant. This was in the mid-1970s, when Edward Gierek was First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party, and sought to buy popularity by borrowing money from the West and spending it on the production of consumer goods, to create the illusion of prosperity. Krzysztof recalls, however, that none, literally none, of the radios (Śnieżka and Jubilat brand) worked. It was a similar case with televisions, but unlike the radios, there was demand for TVs. When anyone wanted to buy one, it would be plugged into the mains - and would not function. It was repacked, put into a store-room, and when the store-room was full, men from the Unitra factory would turn up, fix them, and place a sticker on each one saying 'Pre-sale repair' (naprawa przedsprzedażna).
As a citizen, as a consumer, in PRL you had next to no rights whatsoever. And yet if things were so bad back then, why is everything today so bad? There is a note of nostalgia running through the book, in particular to his childhood; Krzysztof was blessed with wonderful parents. And to times when you could spend blissful hours with friends, listening to music, talking about life, drinking, smoking, not worrying about the future.
Harbingers of the transformation to come - the introduction of democracy and the free market - were Krzysztof's journeys to 1980s West Germany, and for him the smell of fresh products. For me, my memories of trips to communist Poland are also connected with smell - the aroma of cheap newsprint by a Ruch kiosk, the smoke from Sport and Popularne cigarettes, that tantalising blend of damp, disinfectant and stale cooking smells of a tenement staircase
A note of mortality creeps in every now and then - so many of Krzysztof's friends have passed on; far more than would have been the case for a similar age cohort in the west. Better healthcare, healthier lifestyles, more to live for. And that sense of injustice - the children of the old communists went on to achieve wealth, those that fought for freedom live in relative poverty.
Marki, dolary, banany i biusztonosz marki Triumph is a worthwhile read for those interested in recent Polish history; an eyewitness testimony to bygone times that have changed beyond recognition in less than a quarter of a century. [It is available online for a mere 30 złotys or six quid plus postage] There is room in the English language for accounts of day-to-day life before, during and after transformation from communism to market democracy; I'm sure these will help future generations understand better this particular moment in human history, and its early 21st-century fallout.
I learn from the book that Krzysztof reckons he's got another three books inside him. I look forward to reading them all!
This time last year:
The Shard changes London's skyline
This time two years ago:
In praise of Warsaw's trams
This time three years ago:
Plans for the railway line to Radom
[three years on: what's changed?]