The Government Records
- The Eagle is Up
- Clearing the Air
- Lectical Terialism
- What is Best for Poland
- The Beauty of Goals
- The Nose Condition
- The Weigh of a Piece
- Retroactive Careers
- Deathly Cotton
- The Power of Organization
- A Thief
- Powerful Stuff
- Natural Law
- Straight from the Heart
- Shutting Down Toothaches
- A Shift in the Symbolic Sphere
- Superpower Politics
- The Shadow of a Punishing Hand
- The Pillar of Europe
- The Splinter
- The Palm
- Improving the Rules
- A Drill Sergeant
- The Services from Abroad
- The Most Urgent Reform
- The Easter Episode
- Enough Is Enough
The Eagle is Up
The whole city was fast asleep. The Chairman gloomily pushed aside a pile of newspapers and started patting his pockets. He found what he was looking for. He pulled out his cellphone and dialed.
“Did I wake you up? Doesn’t matter. No, this is not for the phone. Yes, something of national importance. Yes, in my office. Hurry up. I’ll see you in ten minutes.
Soon an ambulance drove up with its sirens blasting.
“These services are working great—they come really fast,” the Chairman’s face brightened. A figure in a balaclava got out of the ambulance, cautiously looked around, and then opened the front door with a key. The chairman listened to the steps on the stairs, and when the knocking sounded on the door, he called out firmly,
The figure slipped into the office, bowed and stood at the ready, squeezing his balaclava in his hands. It was the President.
“We need to make a decision what to do with this Tribunal’s ruling,” said the Chairman, “It’s urgent—they are yelling so much my ears hurt.”
He pointed to the pile of newspapers.
“Don’t print it,” said the President, “it’s no good.”
“We’ll have the European Parliament on our backs, dammit,” said the Chairman. “On the other hand, we can’t look like we’re scared of them.”
“I suggest a monetary solution. Eagles [heads]—it gets printed, and tails—we toss it in the garbage,” said the President. He took a five zloty coin from his wallet. The Chairman flipped it, and the eagle was up.
“No, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” said the Chairman, “let’s flip it again.”
Again the eagle was up.
“Maybe I can try,” offered the President.
The eagle was up again.
“What a stubborn bird,” the Chairman got angry. “Do you have another coin?”
The President looked but he only found credit cards.
“No, we can’t flip those,” said the Chairman and reached for his phone.
He dialed and waited. Apparently the person he was calling had to wake up.
“Hello,” said the Chairman coldly. “You’re supposed to answer immediately. What? Immediately means immediately, dammit! What? An urgent matter, not over the phone. Yes, you must, right away.”
The President looked through the window, waiting.
“What do you see? Is she coming?” asked the Chairman.
Shortly a truck with the “Municipal Waste Management” logo stopped at the gate. A figure in thick work coveralls and a hat with ear flaps got out. After a moment they heard the cargo elevator going up and a knock at the door.
“Enter!” they said simultaneously. The Chairman glanced angrily at the President to remind him whose office it was.
“What do you say when you enter?” asked the President. The Prime Minister opened her mouth but she did not know what to say. It was too early for good morning, too late for good evening, and good night was no good either. It would sound too much like see you later.
“Get a coin,” said the Chairman, “and flip it.”
“But what’s the matter?”
“First flip,” said the Chairman, “then ask.”
The eagle was up.
“God dammit!” cried the Chairman, “Do these fucking coins have eagles on both sides?”
“Maybe we should use some glue?” suggested the President.
“We’re not cheating like some kid,” retorted the Chairman, “She has to flip it again.”
The Prime Minister flipped it and the coin fell under the desk.
“Her hands are shaking,” noticed the President with disgust. “Now she has to find it.”
“What is it?” asked the Chairman.
“Tails,” announced the Prime Minister rising from her knees. “But what’s this about?”
“Good!” grinned the President, “She has solved a matter of national importance.”
“That’s what Prime Ministers are for,” said the Chairman.
Clearing the Air
The chairman summoned the Minister of Defense. He was used to calling the ministers whenever he wanted. They would show up immediately. Some would be so sleepy they would be wearing their evening jackets over their pajama pants, or sometimes just one shoe. The Chairman would look straight in their eyes with his gaze of steel, and he would see what he needed.
But this minister was different. He was never sleepy. He would show up nonchalantly half an hour after he was called. In addition, the Chairman would get goosebumps every time he tried to look in this minister’s eyes. In short, the Chairman had to pretend he was not scared of this particular minister.
“Did you hear there were fifty thousand?” said the Chairman, “A shady-looking mob with red and white flags! Who gave them permission?”
“City hall,” answered the minister gloomily, throwing up his arms.
“It is completely unacceptable–my guy couldn’t watch the demonstration peacefully on the TV in his living room. It would have been just as well for him to watch it from his window; they were so loud they completely drowned out the commentator. I heard they threatened him with impeachment by the State Tribunal. And they wanted… wanted… wanted… him to give back his degree.
“The Tribunal will be gone soon.”
“What about colleges? They are defiling our country. They produce these people.”
“At some point they all will have to forgo their degrees,” said the Minister of War quietly.
“The President too?” asked the Chairman.
“Not the President,” the minister whispered raising his hand to the level of the Chairman’s eyes and looking at him through his fingers,” and not you, as long as I am here. The thing is that these degrees should not be given to anybody.”
The Chairman felt tingling all over his body and his eyelids became heavy.
“How can we tell who has to give their degrees back?” he asked in a weakening voice. As always during meetings with this particular minister, he gradually felt less and less afraid. He even imagined he had never feared him and that this minister was his only trustworthy confidante.
“With certificates from parish priests. They are good and cheap. It doesn’t always work though; unfortunately some of these priests can disguise themselves. We will have to check out some of the certificates thoroughly. I already told the Minister of the Interior that we have to introduce appropriate procedures in cooperation with the Minister of Health.
“Why the Minister of Health?” asked the Chairman sleepily.
“And perhaps with the Minister of Finance as well,” added the Minister of Defense.
The Chairman relaxed. His body became heavy, peaceful, and drowsy… peaceful, and drowsy… Yes, he was very tired because he never ever slept, except for these brief moments alone with the Minister of Defense. At their last meeting, didn’t they reach the conclusion that the worst sort of Poles have treason embedded in their genes? He closed his eyes and dreamed about compulsory genetic tests introduced all around the country. Every citizen whose certificate was suspicious had to take a test under court order enforced by the police. But the courts, well… anyway the courts would soon be ours too. Yet there was a problem. The Chairman knew how much the tests cost. He never experienced one himself certainly, but in the past he had encountered activists, state officials, and even coalition partners who were harassed this way in order to confirm their paternity.
“How are we going to pay for this?” he muttered opening one eye, “Even now we don’t know how to find five hundred zlotys per child.”
“That five hundred? We’ll take it from their parents, that’s obvious,” answered the Minister of Defense who followed the Chairman’s dreams as closely as if they were his own. “Don’t worry about the money. These are things you can’t do on the cheap—it would be shameful. The state budget is certainly important, but let’s not exaggerate. It’s not as important as the nation.”
“What do we do with genetic traitors?” the Chairman wanted to know.
The minister started explaining at length, and the Chairman nodded even if he heard the words as through thick cotton wool, and none of the minister’s brilliant thoughts stuck in his conscious memory. He got the impression that after having developed the subject of genetic traitors, the minister smoothly moved on to the balance of world power, or even to the plans for becoming a superpower. The Chairman allowed himself to float away on gentle waves of sleep rocked by pleasant feelings.
“It’s possible we will get nukes soon,” continued the minister melodiously.
“What do nukes have to do with any of this?” the Chairman woke up suddenly.
“These crowds aren’t the Gazeta Polska Clubs or Radio Maryja Rosary Circles. If on a day like today I could fire a blast above the center of Warsaw, it certainly would clear the air for a long while.
The Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister, cleared his throat signaling that he wanted to speak. They all looked at him. His shirt was inside out; apparently he took it off without unbuttoning it before he went to bed.
“Madam Prime Minister, can you make us coffee? No need to be offended, unlike in your office there is no service here, and it is so late that… My apologies, Mr. Chairman, this is by no means a criticism, heaven forbid. Unfortunately everything we say during our official meetings may leak to the hostile media. We all agree with Mr. Chairman that we need to continue those meetings to keep up a front, but without really touching on important matters. We will discuss those things here, in the Chairman’s office at night, when he calls for us. Today we need to answer a question from the valiant editors of our defiant press, about the interpretation of the number of participants in yesterday’s PiS march for the anniversary of martial law. In short, they’re asking us what to write.”
“The truth,” cried the Chairman, and was applauded.
“Yes, certainly,” agreed the Minister of Culture, bowing. “The thing is that nowadays it is not easy to determine the truth because at first glance the numbers that show up are… are…”
“What’s wrong with the numbers?” asked the Minister of the Interior.
“Nothing. But they will be compared with other numbers that were generated the day before when those bastards sent fifty thousand fools to the streets.”
“My people prepared a presentation that will throw some light onto the matter,” declared the Coordinator of Special Services. “We will show it in a moment.”
His employees (some in sweaters put on backwards) quickly set up the screen and hooked a projector to a laptop. A few kilometers-long sea of heads covering one of the main Warsaw streets appeared on the screen.
“This is the image captured by a drone during the demonstration. Can anybody say this is not enough people?”
There were indeed crowds. In a different shot taken from the street level, the beginning of the march was seen with agitated young people gesturing with two fingers the sign for victory.
“They are smiling, they are happy,” stressed the Minister of the Interior. And when the screen showed thirty angry-looking retirees carrying a flag, he added, “And these are our opponents.”
“These lefties are everywhere,” winced the Minister of Justice.
Other ministers were respectfully silent, only the Minister of Administration and Digitization wanted to know something.
“Can we get a close-up of that image with the youth?”
The technician tapped on the laptop and the screen showed the banners: one with the slogan “The President is the Chairman’s puppet!” and the other with the image of the Chairman and the caption “On December 13th, 1981 I slept until noon.”
“Are they really on our side?” asked the Minister of the Interior doubtfully.
“What the hell are you showing us?” snapped the Coordinator of Special Services at his staff.
“There was nothing we could do about this when editing,” explained the technician tearfully, “There were too many of these banners. And some of the slogans were much worse, for example…”
“We can do without examples,” the coordinator cut him off.
“Gentlemen, the view with the sea of heads is good and you can’t see what they are carrying. We can just use this one,” remarked the Minister of Culture.
“Yes, we’ll send it to our journalists, and they can put it in their online editions. And we will also give them the retirees for contrast,” agreed the Minister of the Interior.
“But how does this relate to the real truth?” asked the Minister of Administration and Digitization. There was a guffaw at the table.
“This is not a laughing matter,” chastised the Chairman, and from his desk drawer he drew a book without covers. “Look, I found a treasure trove of ideas in this. I have been using this book constantly recently. For instance, it says here that facts that directly contradict the truth can be interpreted as accidental fluctuations… That is, you can disregard them. The real truth has nothing to do with them.”
“What’s the book, Mr. Chairman?” the ministers started to ask, and pulled out their pens to write down the author and title.
“To tell you the truth, I have no idea,” said the Chairman. “I found it at home, dusted it off, and now I always keep it handy.”
“May I see it?” asked the Coordinator of Special Services. He drew a magnifying glass from his pocket, and suddenly gagged as if choking on something.
“Give him some water!” cried some of the ministers, while others asked, “What does it say?”
The Minister of Administration and Digitization reached for the book. She read from the colophon, “‘lectical … terialism…’ I don’t know, there are holes in the paper… Oh, here it is: ‘Dialectical Materialism’ by Lenin.”
What is Best for Poland
The Coordinator of Special Services opened the secret night meeting of the government.
“We have gathered for the second time today,” he said, “and again we’re considering a request by the editors of the defiant press that is truly independent. These are brave, committed people. We cannot leave them without the guidance they are waiting for, even if there are many other urgent matters before us.”
“What is it about this time?” asked the Minister of the Interior.
“One of those complacent Polish rags wrote that in 2019 groups of pro-Russia separatists will stir up unrest on our eastern borders,” said the Coordinator of Special Services.
“2019?” repeated the Chairman, “that’s the year of the next parliamentary election.”
“These scoundrels are suggesting that in such a situation we would call off the election,” said the coordinator.
“Their suggestion is correct, to some extent,” declared the Minister of Culture who was at the same time a Deputy Prime Minister. “The Constitution grants us such a prerogative. We would even consider it our sacred obligation.”
The coordinator stuck to the matter.
“Our journalists are combating this kind of reporting all the time. But now they have a problem. They don’t know how to fashion things in order to present the opposite view. They could ridicule the other journalists as fearmongers, because Putin would never attack us. But then they would look like pro-Russian compromise seekers.”
“Putin won’t dare attack us. We are a member of the European Union and NATO,” said the Minister of Administration and Digitization.
“But they can’t write that either,” retorted the coordinator. “They demand that we get out from all structures that are limiting our sovereignty.”
“They’re kind of right,” noted the Minister of Defense. “By 2019 we may be able to leave these structures.”
“Then what will we do if Putin attacks us?”
“First of all, he may not attack. Maybe he will just want to keep the borders smoldering. For certain reasons he may think keeping us is a better choice for him. He was pleased when we won the last election. The border disturbances will allow us to stay in power for an unlimited time.”
“Then all the tabloids will write that we are plotting with Putin,” said the Minister of Culture.
“Dogs bark but the caravan goes on,” explained the Minister of Defense. “One of the characteristics of a superpower is that it uses others for its own ends. We should play Putin like a pawn. He needs to count on the benefits that the preservation of our power most likely would bring him, such as us hammering the last nail to the EU coffin, and so on. While we, by calling off the election, will gain more time to keep doing what is the best for Poland.”
Until now the Chairman sat silently in the corner, but for the recent few minutes his body occasionally shook with strange shivers. Now he felt compelled to say something.
“I can see we are avoiding a certain topic that is in the air, so I will mention the polls which say we are unfortunately losing support. If we really want to have it our way as long as possible, let’s not hesitate to use Putin toward our ends.”
“But if he won’t stop at the borders?” asked the Minister of Administration and Digitization. She was thinking that she would prefer to give up power. Such is the feminine nature! They never miss an opportunity for hysteria.
“If he won’t stop, we’ll fight,” said the Minister of Defense firmly.
“I am not sure,” said the Minister of Administration and Digitization, “that there won’t be a crushing disparity of power.”
“It does not matter for us because we are not scared,” answered the Minister of Defense in a condescending tone. By “we” he meant himself and the Chairman, but also all the ministers and the entire country. “We will not surrender the Polish land even if nothing is left, not even stone upon stone won’t. Even if we die.”
Hearing these words the ministers nodded their heads.
“The people who are educated by our defiant press,” added the Coordinator of Special Services, “will stand first in line to protect us with their bare hands.”
The Minister of Defense nodded vigorously.
“We will deploy tens of thousands of civil defense units. The guerillas will be firing from every window. The world will see how Poles die for their homeland. The West still does not understand that it owes us something, but there will be no more doubts.”
“Yes, we will show them!” cried some of the ministers. A few of them even stood up to sing the national anthem, but they started out of tune and quickly fell silent with embarrassment.
The Chairman closed his eyes. A happy thought came into his head, that when all the Poles have died heroically before the eyes of the world, that the West that only knows how to laugh at, finally will kneel before us.
The Beauty of Goals
A defiant journalist was ushered in. He was preparing an interview for his newspaper. He was yawning a bit but he was a tough young man. His shoes matched, and his shirt was put on properly. This was unlike some of the other guys.
“Mr. Chairman, you’re not a man who is stuffing his pockets, who chases women, or cares about awards,” began the journalist. “What then motivates you?”
“Ideals, young man. The most idealistic ideals. That’s how I see it.”
“I see. Ideals. Yet one complacent rag recently wrote that there is no idea or goal behind your actions.”
“A goal, my dear young man,” the Chairman smiled gently, “is behind every action, whether good or bad. If there were no goals, people might sleep until noon, or even all day.”
“Yes, of course. Good and bad goals. How can you tell which is which?”
“There is no simple recipe. Some people are genetically endowed with an instinct that tells them which goals are good, and which are bad. But such people are very rare. The rest of us should put our trust in them.”
“Currently, contradictory opinions are being expressed in the public sphere, and contradictory goals have been proposed. How are the rest of us supposed to figure out whom to trust?”
“Yes, this is certainly a problem that makes the lives of some people hard, and even leads some astray. For now, since we have so much confusion around us, the easiest thing would be to follow the sound of words. There are certain words that immediately induce a positive response in us and make our hearts feel warm. These are words like good, beauty, tradition, national pride, and God, Honor and Fatherland. These are the words that we ought to stick to. Words that evoke anxiety should awake our suspicion, to put it mildly. For instance, take a word like tolerance. Tolerance for whom, you want to ask. We must not be afraid of asking such questions, we should ask them courageously. Is tolerance for those who don’t believe in good?
“‘There is nothing but good in me,’ to quote your lofty phrase from the past.”
“That’s right, nothing has changed,” said the Chairman.
“There also are evil goals and evil activities.”
“These need to be eliminated. That’s precisely our idea. Everyone who helps us is on the side of good, that’s obvious. So there is no need to look into their past or yield to the unhealthy excitement of someone being a Party activist, a communist prosecutor, or a member of a martial law loyalty committee. If today someone like that goes against people who may even have been in communist prisons but now are against the side of good, he should wonder if they really were jailed by accident. Because sometimes it happens,” the Chairman continued looking at a very old book without covers that was lying on his desk, “that facts occur by chance and as such they add nothing to our knowledge of the world.”
“At the recent infamous march of the fools they carried banners with your image and the caption that on December 13th, 1981 you slept until noon. What did you do on that day?
“Well, I slept,” admitted the Chairman. “I did not get up at dawn. I was young and I did not suffer from insomnia yet. If nobody bothered me, I slept. What’s your next question?”
“You were right,” nodded the journalist. “But we can’t write this because somebody will pick on us immediately. They still keep pointing out that you once wanted to take over the moon.”
The moon shone; its silvery glow spread over the desk and the floor.
“Young man, to take over the moon is good for a twelve-year old. What are we talking about here—a serious politician aims higher,” said the Chairman.
“That’s right. To take over the moon… that’s nothing. What is your long-term goal now, Mr. Chairman?”
The Chairman smiled to himself. He sighed and said,
“It is a shining and all-encompassing goal. Its brightness and purity are unrivaled…”
The journalist guessed at once.
“I know, the sun.”
The Nose Condition
A group of MPs from the ruling party requested an urgent early-morning meeting with the Chairman. They led a strange animal into his office. It arrived in a pickup truck, which now was waiting outside. The animal looked like a miniature elephant wrapped up in a sheet.
“What do you want now?” asked the Chairman who had had a hard night.
“Mr. Chairman, this is a tragedy,” the MPs cried, “What should we do?”
“First of all take this thing away so that we can talk,” interrupted the Coordinator of Special Services.
One of the MPs tried to push the animal into the hallway.
“Move!” he cried, “Go! Go!”
This was to no avail, because another MP was pulling it in the opposite direction, whining, “Mr. Chairman… Mr. Chairman…”
“Help!” brayed the animal desperately.
“What a mess,” said the Chairman. “I can’t work in these circumstances. Security!”
“No, no!” the animal brayed in a strange nasal voice.
The sheet fell to the floor and they saw an unusual sight. Most of what was revealed belonged to the Chair of the Parliamentary Legislative Committee. The remainder, that is, the front part, belonged to… No, not an elephant…
“Pinocchio!” stammered the stunned Chairman. “Sorry, gentlemen, a slip of the tongue. Odd things come to mind early in the morning after a night like the one I just had. I think I need to go home. Security, get my car ready!”
“Mr. Chairman, what shall we do with him?”
“With him? I’ll take a nap, and then his nose will shrink back to its normal size.”
“But what if it won’t, how can he go before the public? We just went through the scandal of him not showing up at the Legislative Committee meeting where the opposition read their amendments. They declared it was disrespectful and arrogant. But then his nose was nothing—fifteen centimeters at the most—and after a one-hour nap it went back to normal. We haven’t measured it yet, but it looks like he would need to sleep for at least two years…
“Did this happen after that night vote?” asked the Chairman, regaining his concentration.
“No, this was after the evening one when he had to repeat the vote, and he then told the press that it was because inappropriate people had voted.”
“Actually they are all inappropriate,” said the Coordinator of Special Services.
“No matter what the pretext, we had to repeat that vote at any price if we wanted to push the law through the Senate. I told him to repeat it myself,” said the Chairman. “We can’t have committees where we are outvoted by the opposition. We will vote over and over until we have a desirable outcome and it’s voted our way. Whining won’t stop us.”
“We have the law about the Constitutional Tribunal, and that’s the most important thing! Hurray!” the ministers cried in jubilation.
“Thank you, thank you,” said the Chairman. “This is a really wonderful Christmas present.”
He closed his eyes. He still could hear the tremendous choir of his MPs, who after the final vote stood up and shouted in unison, “De-mo-cra-cy, De-mo-cra-cy!” The others thought this was their word. Not at all—thought the Chairman, overwhelmed by his emotions.
“Obviously there were some sacrifices,” remembered one of the MPs and they looked once again at the Committee Chair. His nose stuck out a meter and a half, then collapsed under its own weight and was twisted into loops tied with ribbon. The Chair had to carry it in his hands.
“He should stay home until we figure something out. For now we’ll say he has the flu. And the Committee should continue its work under the vice chair,” commanded the Chairman.
“Mr. Chairman, the vice chair comes from the opposition.”
“Damn it! See how every little thing we overlook turns back on us?”
In the meantime the Coordinator of Special Services was dialing the number of the Minister of Health in order to describe Chair’s case. The Minister of Health picked up the phone, but he did not wake up and thought the Coordinator was the one who was dreaming.
“The only solution in such a case is plastic surgery,” he giggled and hung up.
“That’s a good idea,” said one of the MPs, “The Minister of Health could create a secret governmental office of plastic surgery. It could come in handy more than once.”
“That’s right,” agreed the Chairman. “We should be prepared for everything. This is for the sake of democracy, after all.”
“Everything for democracy! Everything for Poland” cried the MPs at the top of their lungs, surreptitiously feeling their noses.
“We will begin tonight with some directives for our defiant media,” opened the Coordinator of Special Services.
“No we won’t,” declared the Chairman, “there are some more urgent things which actually I am not very pleased about.” He looked angrily at the Prime Minister.
“Well, I thought,” said the Prime Minister, “that since the Constitutional Tribunal has become toothless anyway, and won’t bite us anymore, we could have printed its ruling.”
“The people won’t understand this. Once you say no, it should be no, no matter what. We have to stick to our words. This is what people expect from us. That’s why they supported our ticket.
(At the word ‘ticket,’ the Minister of the Interior jumped. Recently when he was about to be given a ticket by the police for speeding while going the wrong way, he had to press the pedal so hard he wasn’t even sure he would get away with his life. He didn’t mind the lousy five hundred zlotys—which he would not pay anyway because he had immunity—but there would have been significant PR damage, and no immunity could help with that. Even now he trembled from this memory.)
“Exactly. The people won’t understand. They gave us their mandate because we do not waste our words,” the Minister of Finance backed the Chairman, “And because of their gratitude for the five hundred zlotys we are giving them.”
“They haven’t seen that five hundred zlotys yet,” needled the Prime Minister.
“They see this money all the time,” retorted the Minister of Finance, “on all the TV programs.”
“Quiet!” cried the Chairman, “no raised voices here. I am the only one here who is allowed to raise his voice, and I never do.”
A complete silence fell at once and the Chairman looked around and said,
“I see you’ve gotten nervous. We are playing hardball but that’s no reason to lose your cool. There are ways to detach yourselves from reality to such an extent that it has absolutely no impact on you and you can do whatever you need without emotion. The simplest way is to plug your ears with cotton balls and close your eyes.”
“You can’t do that,” said the Prime Minister. “What would it look like?”
“Anything can be done,” said the Chairman.
“I blast my inner music,” said the Minister of the Interior. “Then whatever anyone says to me falls on deaf ears.”
Silence fell again during which everybody tried this method, and for a moment the Chairman thought he heard trumpets, trumpets, trumpets—but he couldn’t tell if these trumpets were more in his head, or in the ministers’.
“If we had declared from the beginning,” he commenced after a pause, “that the fulfillment of our promises would require the State to be disassembled, our ticket would not have won. But it is absolutely necessary to disassemble the State. In order to fix something you have to destroy it. Giving people five hundred zlotys, of course… but that can wait.”
“The lowering of the retirement age also can wait,” said the Chairman of the Permanent Committee of the Council of Ministers.
“And the reform of health services,” said the Minister of Health.
“And the modernization of the army,” said the Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister.
“As for the army, I would not give them any arms at all,” declared the Minister of Defense. “You never know who they may turn against.”
The ministers contemplated this proposition and felt that the Minister of Defense was correct—without the army it would be even safer.
“Let’s go back to the issue for which we gathered tonight,” said the Chairman. “To the problem of the Constitutional Tribunal. Until now it was a sacred cow. They have similar tribunals in several Western European countries, and unfortunately we are falling into the habit of aping everything they have there.”
“‘You have been the peacock and parrot of nations…’” the Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister quoted the national bard. “We all know where this leads.”
The Chairman nodded, looking pleased, and continued, “As we agreed supermarkets and banks would have to pay for the fulfillment of our promises, and the Tribunal has broad holdings in supermarkets and banks, especially those with foreign capital. Therefore it will never allow us to implement reforms.”
“That’s why the Tribunal has to disappear,” said the Minister of Defense.
“Then maybe we should get rid of banks and supermarkets first?” suggested the Minister of the Interior.
“No,” said the Chairman, “a fish rots from the head down, so we need to start the treatment with the head. The only question is how we will do it. Shall we not let the Tribunal enter their building—or the opposite—not let them out?”
“Don’t let them in!” the ministers started to shout, “Don’t let them in!”
“In fact,” said the Chairman, upon whom the beautiful phrase ‘self-criticism’ suddenly dawned, “the alternative seems to be more beneficial for the Tribunal, and for all of us as well. We will lock the doors, and let the Tribunal sit there until it sentences itself.”
The Weight of a Piece
“Tonight we gather” the Chairman started, “in a smaller circle to talk about the complacent media. It turned out that their representatives were among the journalists invited to go to Kiev with the President. Wasn’t this a wonderful act of good will on his side?”
The ministers nodded.
“Take a seat,” the Chairman addressed the President who had just entered. “Hmm, you might have shaved on your left side as well. But don’t be embarrassed, it’s not a big deal. If you knew in what shape some people report here… Please, help yourselves to the tangerines—but don’t leave the peels under the table.”
“So what did the complacent media cook up now?” asked the Minister of Defense reaching for a tangerine.
“During the President’s press conference in Kiev, one of those ungrateful idiots got up and asked what was the President’s vision of Poland helping Ukraine to develop democratic institutions while it is dismantling them at home,” said the Chairman.
“How insolent,” said the Prime Minister, “to do something like that! During an official visit abroad! And in Ukraine who wants to follow our example, as everyone knows!
“To tell you the truth,” said the President reaching for a tangerine, “they had no other option. Here the security agents would intervene at once.”
“That’s exactly how it should be,” the Minister of Defense praised the security agents.
“The complacent media are still a problem,” noted the Minister of the Interior. “Our collaboration with the defiant media is going very well but the complacent media seem confused.”
“Who is it that screams ‘Down with the commies’ during demonstrations against us, and shows it all over the complacent TV channels?” asked the President, “They’ve got everything backwards.”
“This reminds me,” scoffed the Minister of the Interior, “of the words of our beloved classic, ‘No cries or shouts can convince us that white is white, or black is black.’ See—he was right. White is black.”
This amused everybody including the Chairman; however the Prime Minister almost choked on a tangerine.
“Don’t be cynical!” she cried, enraged.
They still laughed, now at the Prime Minister.
“Some complacent journals dare to protest when our defiant press blames them for participating in the introduction of martial law. Their editors say they were too young, and their editors-in chief were jailed. But if our press sees smoke, there must have been a fire,” said the Minister of Defense who had been also jailed, but now nobody blames him with participating in the introduction of martial law. Therefore it is clear that someone was able to have not participated in it unless he really wanted to.
“Back to the point, back to the point,” said the Chairman who had not been jailed.
What happened next seemed as if some mighty and unknown power had heard the Chairman and suddenly responded. There was a loud boom, the lights flashed and went off.
“The circuit breakers,” said the President, in darkness.
The Minister of the Interior lit a lighter and went into the hallway. He reset the circuit breakers and the lights came back on. Everybody sighed with relief. The office looked like it had before, only there were tangerine peels under the table. One more thing was different.
“What’s that writing on the wall?” asked the Chairman. “Was it here before?”
On the wall were three words, ‘Numbered, Weighed, Divided.’
“It’s just a practical joke by some idiot,” said the Minister of Defense. “It’s a translation of ‘Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,’ the prophesy of doom that was written by a mysterious hand during a banquet in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Everybody looked at him as if he were crazy, so he added with a shrug.
“It’s in the Bible in the Book of Daniel.”
“In my opinion this is about something entirely different,” declared the Minister of the Interior. “When something is counted, and then weighed, and then the latter is divided by the former, what results is the weight of a single piece.
“A piece of what?” asked the annoyed Chairman.
“Beata, get a rag, get up on a chair and clean it,” said the President.
“She’ll just smear it,” the Minister of Defense expressed his doubts.
The writing would neither smear nor disappear.
“Forget the writing; let’s get back to our business. Tomorrow I will have it painted over,” said the Chairman.
“I am afraid this can’t be painted over either,” sighed the Minister of the Interior who was standing on a chair probing the writing with his finger.
“It can be chiseled off,” said the Minister of Defense.
The Minister of the Interior chipped off a piece of plaster with his pocket knife.
“Nope, it is too deep.”
A thought flashed into the Chairman’s mind—it’s the complacent media. Who else could have done it? But how did they manage it? What was their trick?
Now he will have to explain the presence of the writing to every important guest. And when he is alone, he will feel uneasy looking at it.
“Something surely can be done,” he cried. “If not, we will blow up the wall.”
“You don’t need to stare,” said the Chairman to the incoming guests, “It’s just a hole in the wall.”
The debris had already been removed.
“What happened here?” they were asking, “Did the wall blow up?’
“Terrorism!” cried the Minister of Labor.
“Listen,” said the Chairman, “This was not an act of terror, and the hole is not directly connected to today’s meeting.”
“Does this mean there is some indirect connection?” wondered the ministers in lowered tones.
“We’re not dealing with this today,” stressed the Chairman impatiently, “Our meeting is about something entirely different. We need to discuss the problem of the membership, or lack thereof, of certain people in the communist party.”
“But none of us belongs to it!” called out the Prime Minister who was responsible for the government. “At least, not now.”
“There are some people,” warned the Chairman, “Who can’t wait to dig for old information about our representatives and officials. Actually they are already digging for it. For instance one of our MPs has been accused of the worst things, just because he rightly called our opponents unprincipled. Now they blame him for once being a party member who as a prosecutor accused underground activists during martial law…
“It will stop soon,” said the Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister.
“As soon as we get our hands on the media,” added the Minister of the Interior. “I already talked about this with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice. We will adjust the law, and that will take care of it.”
“They will scream, and invoke the Constitution and freedom of speech all over again!” shouted the ministers.
“We’re no danger to the freedom of speech,” said the Minister of the Interior. “Anyone will be allowed to write whatever he wants providing he writes the truth. We will create a body to enforce this. Of course we will take care to introduce an enforcement mechanism. Any editor who publishes a false fact or opinion will pay a fine. After he pays once or twice he will be gone.”
The ministers ponder the idea.
“When the media go bankrupt en masse, we’ll have lots of unemployed journalists,” said the Minister of Labor. They all looked at her, and she blushed.
“Why we?” objected the Minister of the Interior, “They’re the ones who will have the unemployed, it’s their problem.”
The ministers nodded, and the Minister of Justice giggled. The Minister of Culture who was also the Deputy Prime Minister censured him with a stern look, and said,
“It is important not to waste these acquired assets. Certain journals that currently lie, in our hands will soon shine as examples of reliable journalism.”
“Of course,” said the Coordinator of Special Services. “Count on us.”
The Chairman started to fidget in his chair.
“Friends, these are all good projects, and certainly a few of us have had similar ideas. We will deal with them at the appropriate time.”
The Minister of the Interior felt he needed to go back to the topic.
“I don’t think it’s possible to remove the membership of people who once had belonged to the PUWP,” he admitted, “It would be easy if the party still existed. But now it’s too late. The only thing we can do is flatly deny.”
“On the other hand, we can enroll people who didn’t belong,” the Coordinator of Special Services suggested, “but should have, in our opinion.”
“O yes, it was a big oversight that they didn’t belong,” agreed the Minister of the Interior. “And now we can correct it.”
The idea intrigued the ministers.
“But how do we do it,” asked the Prime Minister, “If the party no longer exists?”
The Coordinator of Special Services looked at her condescendingly.
“We will issue their party cards with retroactive dates. Our services will have no problem producing such documents.”
“You want to hand these to them?” the Minister of Science wanted assurance, “What if they won’t accept them?”
“No, we won’t be so stupid as to hand them party cards,” answered the Coordinator of Special Services. “That would be like handing the only copy of a compromising document to a suspect. He would tear it up and flush it in the toilet, and the whole effort would be for nothing.”
“That’s not how such things are done,” the Minister of the Interior backed him. “These cards should go where they belong—to the Institute of National Remembrance.”
“And that’s where we will discover them,” added the Coordinator of Special Services.
“But some people will protest,” the Chairman pointed out, “that they were five years old when that party ceased to exist.”
“That’s not a problem,” the Minister of the Interior assured him.
The Coordinator of Special Services smiled with delight.
“Instead we will enroll their grandparents as leaders of the Nazi Party.”
The Chairman and the cloaked figure met one-on-one. The figure’s hat was down over the eyes, and a scarf covered the nose and mouth.
“If it was you who arranged this circus for the media in order to cover up our changing the Civil Service Act,” said the Chairman angrily, “then I appreciate your good intentions, but you should have at least asked first.”
“No, that wasn’t my goal, and I didn’t arrange a circus,” said the figure in an offended tone and looked at the Chairman with that piercing gaze that gave everybody goosebumps.
“Then why did you do it?” asked the Chairman, overcoming his shivers.
“I don’t wish to talk about it.”
“I can’t believe this!” cried the Chairman. “You conduct a night raid on an institution who is aligned with NATO, you risk a scandal and a big stink, and you don’t even want to talk about it.”
“Luckily it all went away. The Americans officially declared that they did not care.”
“What else could they say? Fortunately they ignored it. For now we are not being kicked out of NATO.”
“As for NATO,” shrugged the cloaked figure, “I am not sure who needs whom more, we them, or they us. We can cope perfectly well without them, whereas without us… I doubt it. When I reversed those rocket and helicopter contracts, NATO didn’t protest. Sometimes you need to take risks and play dirty pool.
“But why?” demanded the Chairman.
“I assure you, there were reasons. And there were reasons for that night raid too.”
“But what were they” cried the Chairman.
“I already told you, and the media even wrote about it. One of the officers was working with the Americans.”
“As far as I know that was part of his job.”
“You’re so naïve. Don’t rush to judgment before you know that it will benefit Poland. For your information I got rid of a nest of vipers. We’ll change the locks and secure the documents, and I’ll keep an eye on everybody who worked there. Better to cause a minor scandal than expose Poland to a very great danger.”
“I have to take you at your word,” said the Chairman, “because you’re not explaining anything to me.”
“That’s correct. We need to trust each other.”
For a moment the Chairman pondered whether he should say something.
“I do trust you, but you… I think…”
“Listen, you’re acting like a child. How do you know this very office isn’t wiretapped? I would be surprised if it wasn’t.”
“It’s checked every few days.” said the Chairman.
“I know. But it should be checked three times a day, and even this would not provide full security. Nowadays there are methods of eavesdropping that are practically impossible to detect. Even if we wrote everything on scraps of paper instead of talking, there would be no guarantee that we wouldn’t be spied upon.”
“So we’re not going to talk about important matters anymore?”
“The Minister of Defense won’t be under constant threat from blackmailers!” the cloaked figure suddenly erupted. “When I protect myself, I protect Poland.”
So that’s what it’s all about, thought the Chairman, and got goosebumps again.
“What do they want from you?” he asked.
“For now I just have a warning, an anonymous package, something like the dead rats that the mafia in the movies send to their victims before hurting them. The package was sent during work hours from the post office near their headquarters.
“How did you discover they sent it?”
“Intuition,” said the cloaked figure, not without pride.” Because of my intuition I don’t need to wait for the situation to develop.”
“Can I see it?” asked the Chairman quietly.
The figure reached for a black briefcase, opened it and put on latex gloves. From a stamped and addressed padded envelope the Chairman’s guest took a torn piece of cotton fabric of the kind t-shirts are made.
“I have no idea how this fell into their hands,” he whispered. “I haven’t seen this for more than forty years.”
The Chairman saw a faded image of Che Guevara.
The Power of Organization
“That guy Owsiak is back with his charity orchestra,” winced the Minister of the Interior. “Every year it’s the same, just to harass us. If people have too much money, let’s just put out collection boxes in front of the Palace of the Council of Ministers.”
“Or in front of churches,” added the Minister of Science.
“We can say that the collection will go to aid hospitals,” added the Minister of Finance.
The ministers sighed, imagining the collection boxes full of money so needed by the state.
“The directive by Central Command on army participation in the orchestra fundraising has found just the right wording,” noticed the Minister of the Interior. “It seemingly says nothing except the obvious, but now every officer will think three times before moving a finger to help them.”
“That was clever,” acknowledged the Minister of Justice. “It was enough to underscore that each officer should make his own decision, and then everybody started having doubts. But we didn’t forbid anything!”
“Why are we giving them a hard time?” asked the Minister of Health naively. He was still wet behind the ears and had no idea how politics is done. The question was so funny that the ministers laughed and laughed.
“Do you know why you’re laughing?” asked the Chairman.
The ministers fell silent and looked at each other. Suddenly they realized that the reason for their laughter was as obvious as it was elusive. It had seemed clear, but after the Chairman’s remark… Now each minister will have to think three times before opening his mouth.
“Did we make a mistake? Are you going to support this?” The Prime Minister asked courageously.
“Of course not, my dear,” smiled the Chairman. “I have never dropped a penny into their boxes, and I have never said a single positive word about them. I just want you to understand that there is a particular rule that human brains follow. If we always keep this rule in mind, we’ll never lose the power we’ve won.”
“The rule that people are lily-livered.” volunteered the Minister of the Interior.
“Friends, that’s not really a rule, but something obviously obvious.” said the Chairman softly.
“Then what rule do you mean?” the ministers started asking simultaneously.
“The rule is that human brains like to organize their values, with all the positive ones on one side, and the negative on the other.”
Nobody had a clue where the Chairman was going with this.
“Remember what our defiant media said about the last demonstration our opponents held near Parliament?” prompted the Chairman, “That these people are incapable of independent thinking… Stupid, indifferent towards corruption and the fate of the Fatherland? And above all…”
“They’re paid for protesting!” cried the Minister of the Interior who was beginning to understand.
“Exactly. It has been said that a Jewish banker gave 150 million towards that demonstration. That’s a large sum, but it’s easy to imagine that the public would believe it. Why is that?”
“I don’t think so,” the Minister of Finance dared to disagree, “They won’t. 150 million? It’s very unlikely. He could have chipped in 50 dollars or so, but certainly not that much. Bankers are stingy. In my opinion he didn’t give a penny.”
The Chairman silenced him with a gesture of his hand.
“That’s irrelevant. Look at all the negatives combined in a single unit easy for the brain to process. There are people who are stupid, evil, and corrupt—what else is needed? If we found out that they are giving their own money to help sick children, we would feel an internal unease, wouldn’t we? As for the banker, that’s fine, we have nothing against him. To the contrary, his existence, even if doubtful, assists in moving the negatives to the correct side, especially because bankers are disliked. As for Owsiak with his orchestra….”
Suddenly all the ministers understood the Chairman’s concept, and realized why they had been laughing. Everything was clear, and the Minister of Health’s remark was half-baked. Their intuition recognized this instantly, they had only been missing a solid foundation.
“A positive on the side of the negatives,” they cried. “It can’t be like this! It’s cheating! Negatives with negatives, and positives with positives!” they cried. “Organization, organization!”
“But hospitals exist in real life… And they need money,” protested the Minister of Health shyly.
The rest of the ministers wouldn’t let him finish. Now they could laugh to their heart’s content since they knew the reason. They laughed so hard the walls were shaking.
“Hospitals! In real life? What real life? Dear colleague, do you see any real life anywhere?”
“About our collaboration with the media, we should consider certain options that the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban has already implemented,” the Chairman opened. “Please try not to yawn.”
“Are we to consider some options?” the Minister of the Interior suddenly woke up.
“We could place an order in Hollywood to build for us entirely new complacent-like media that we would have no problem collaborating with.
“But is Hollywood sympathetic to us? Until now they’ve completely ignored our invitation to make a terrific movie about our history,” remarked the Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister.
“How much will this new media cost us?” asked the Minister of Finance.
“We won’t need to pay for it,” said the Chairman.
“”Then who will?”
“Gamblers from all around Europe. Orban transferred his casinos to a Hollywood firm in exchange for the media. If we do the same, we won’t have any more problems with the complacent media—having to compete against the movie industry will finish them off.
The ministers started to reminisce about their favorite Hollywood movies.
“Do you remember Bogie in ‘Casablanca?’ He wouldn’t say a word about who he was or what he wanted, and the audience was crazy about him anyway. We should do it like that,” said the Coordinator of Special Services.
“‘Bonnie and Clyde,’” cried the Minister of Justice. “I learn from them over and over again.”
“My favorite was ‘Snow White.’ But I may not be up to date,” confessed the Chairman.
At this moment the secret governmental meeting was interrupted by the Chairman’s bodyguard.
“Mr. Chairman, there is a strange man downstairs who says he needs to see you.”
“Don’t let him in,” said the Chairman. “If he breaks the door down, tackle him and call the police. Do I need to teach you these things?”
“Zdzisiek is guarding the door. I came to ask what we should do because the guy says he has to deliver an important message to you from higher up.”
“What higher up?” grunted the Minister of Defense in the corner. “We’re the higher up. Tell him to get lost.”
“Yes, somebody is there,” said the Prime Minister looking out the window. “He’s in a white overcoat, without a hat. Long hair. He has something on his back… like a hump.”
The bodyguard shifted back and forth awkwardly.
“I’m not sure how to tell you—the guy is wearing wings.”
“A faggot,” said the Minister of Defense.
“More like a loony,” said the Minister of Health.
“Call the ambulance,” said the Chairman.
“We can’t, Mr. Chairman. We don’t have a signal. He emits some field… Down in the lobby you can feel it with your skin, even through a closed door.”
The ministers pulled out their cellphones. There was no signal.
“Why are you bothering us with this,” the Minister of the Interior became impatient. “You are down there to cope with such situations whenever it’s needed.”
“I think this is a provocation,” said the Prime Minister when the bodyguard had left the room. “We don’t know who organized it and for what, but I am concerned. And I don’t like that there’s no coverage.”
“If this is a provocation,” said the Minister of the Interior,” then we know where to look for the instigators.”
“In the complacent media,” clarified the Minister of Justice.
“Perhaps they already know about our deal with Hollywood. They will try to stop it at all costs.”
“It better not be the Russian secret service,” said the Prime Minister gloomily.
“No,” the Coordinator of Secret Services waived his hand dismissively, “It’s certainly not the Russians.”
A few minutes passed and the bodyguard again knocked on the door.
“We pulled him inside and promptly handcuffed him,” he reported. “He’s weird. He looks like a man, but he has a woman’s voice.”
“No, no—but very melodious.”
“What did he say?”
“That the message he has to deliver to the Chairman from higher up is about the Constitutional Tribunal and the civil service.”
The ministers began to laugh. They laughed so hard they were unable to stop.
“It’s too late,” said the Prime Minister wiping aside a tear of laughter. “We’re not interested, the matter is closed.”
“But what does the message actually say?” the Coordinator of Special Services was curious. He never missed an opportunity to earn brownie points.
“Should I bring him up?” the bodyguard asked. They all looked at the Chairman. He looked at the Minister of Defense who sat in the corner strangely disturbed and kept silent. The Chairman had no choice but to nod his approval.
The fellow who was ushered in had no overcoat but was wearing a long white dress. His loose hair was very long, and he glowed with a delicate light that was barely visible—a curious trick. And he was wearing the wings that the bodyguard had mentioned. They were beautiful—probably cost a fortune.
“What did you do to the signal?” the Minister of the Interior confronted him.
The man either did not know what a signal was, or was a brilliant actor.
“Colleagues, this is how one looks after a sex change,” warned the Minister of Health, even none of the ministers was planning a sex change.
The guest blushed like a girl.
“Hormones, or the knife?” the Coordinator of Secret Services addressed him with a smile.
“Or the opposite, maybe they sewed something to him,” guffawed the Minister of the Interior.
All the ministers started to laugh heartily.
But there was no happy end.
The guest moved his wings slightly (a piece of paper on the Chairman’s desk flew to the ceiling) and made an attempt to say something. But he could not utter a sound. He was so dumbfounded that his glow even dimmed. And he began to disappear together with his glow. In a moment he was no more. As if he’d been just a hallucination.
“My handcuffs. Give them back, you thief,” shouted the bodyguard.
The sound everybody had been hearing for a while was coming from the corner occupied by the Minister of Defense. He was grinding his teeth and there was foam at the corner of his mouth. It took a moment for the ministers to realize that he had lockjaw.
The Chairman summoned the President shortly after midnight to talk about the European Parliament going overboard with their interference, and also not wanting to apologize. Something needed to be done.
“Sit down,” said the Chairman, and pointed to a chair.
The President could see the chair, but suddenly started to yawn and missed it. He fell to the floor and was hurt. When he got up he pushed the chair to the side; he preferred to sit on the sofa.
“You’re tired,” noticed the Chairman.
“I don’t sleep at all,” complained the President. “I haven’t been able to sleep since the twelfth when they were screaming in front of my windows. Can you imagine, fifty thousand people…”
“This was a long time ago,” said the Chairman. “I forget such things right away. If I can forget, they can forget too, and then these things don’t exist anymore. I often forget different things on purpose if I think they should disappear from public discourse. For example…”
The President was well aware of the examples.
“I am exhausted, Mr. Chairman,” said the President. “Whenever I fall asleep I dream about the slogans yelled at the demonstration. I start shouting them myself and this wakes me up. What I experienced then is beyond words. They took over the street as if it was theirs, and screamed, ‘Poland is here!’ But I had already promised the place in front of the Presidential Palace to another group. Someday it may happen that both groups will be facing each other and screaming ‘Poland is here!’ to each other. I don’t want it to look like I’ve been playing both sides.”
“I don’t sleep either, and for a longer time than just since the twelfth,” the Chairman comforted him. “I don’t know why, it’s not because of my nerves. Wait… I have something that may help you… Here, try these pills.”
He handed the President a little vial.
“What is this?”
The name of the medicine on the label was blackened with a thick marker.
“It’s some kind of barbiturate—really powerful stuff. I got it from the Minister of Defense. No, I’m not taking it. To tell you the truth sometimes I get high too, but I rather like it. I have no problem with it—I can turn it off and on at will, just like the TV.”
“Mr. Chairman, my wife told me to be careful with drugs.”
“I can call the Minister of Defense if you want. Maybe he remembers what he gave me.”
The Minister of Defense apparently couldn’t sleep either, because he picked up the phone at once. He said he did not remember the name. He had blackened the label to erase the traces, and threw away the box and leaflet. He doesn’t take this medicine either; he tried it just once.
“It was prescribed by my doctor but I don’t know why. The reason I don’t take it is that it blocks my natural expression.”
The President did not suffer from an excess of natural expression and was not concerned about this. He took a pill from the vial, looked at it, sniffed it, and washed it down with water from a glass that was on the table.
“Yes, powerful stuff,” he acknowledged in a weakening voice after a moment. His head was spinning so he lay down on the couch and sighed. He began to dream…
“I had to wake you up because you screamed so terribly,” said the Chairman.
“What, what?” asked the President, his eyes blinking. “Where am I?”
“In our headquarters on Nowogrodzka St.” the Chairman explained soothingly. “You only were asleep for fifteen minutes.”
“Did we declare war against Russia?” the President asked in a trembling voice.
“No, not at all,” the Chairman calmed him down.
“And what about America?” the President wanted to be sure.
“No, not against America either.”
“And we don’t have to fight against everybody?”
“They didn’t kick us out of NATO?”
“What about the Palace of Culture, is it still standing?”
“Yes, it’s fine.”
“Because I just saw it being blown up… It was horrifying. I will never forget it. To tell you the truth, I suspected we blew it up ourselves to have a pretext to bomb the European Parliament.
“Relax,” said the Chairman. “Nothing is happening, nothing at all. Everything’s under control. The Minister of Defense reassured me that his ministry is planning no wars in the coming year.”
The President was the last to arrive. He had shaved on both sides and looked quite fresh for this early hour, especially compared to some in the room.
“Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” he was greeted with loud caroling, “Once for our salvation.”
The President bowed, reminiscing about a recent meeting with the Polish diaspora who also greeted him like this. Now it will become a tradition, he thought with pleasure.
“Okay, okay,” the Chairman interrupted, “Enough joking, today we have to deal with the interview the Foreign Minister gave to the German-language press.
“What did I say?” protested the Foreign Minister. “Just that we want to cure diseases in our country. Why is that so scandalous?”
“We agree,” said the Chairman, “that our country needs to be cured, but in respect to the media, especially the German media, we can’t forget about tactics.”
“I relied on their common sense. They have the same diseases as we do, only much worse. It’s already occurring to them that they need treatment, but they still don’t what kind. I don’t imagine that the average citizen in these countries is pleased with these hordes of bicyclists and vegetarians. Not to mention renewable energy installations, or such explosive mixtures as mixed races and cultures. These are the symptoms of infectious disease. Even here we don’t know what to do first.”
“The bicyclists,” prompted the Minister of the Interior. “They are a disgrace to traffic. As for the vegetarians—well, if they don’t want to eat something, it’s not a tragedy; there will be more for the rest of us.”
“Those vegetarians are worse than bicyclists,” declared the Foreign Minister. “What do you think they put into their Easter baskets? Carrots and parsley! I’m not making this up—they fight all forms of religion.”
“Carrots and parsley!” the ministers were indignant. “What idiocy!”
“More like duplicity,” said the Foreign Minister. “Don’t believe they’ve given up sausages altogether. They eat them on the sly. Even I was told by my doctor not to eat meat, but I still do.” He lifted up his eyes as if calling upon the heavens to bear witness.
“He also told you to switch to a bicycle,” the Minister of the Interior reminded him.
“That’s true, and I didn’t do that either. I am always true to my values. Just like the majority who won us the election, and who are unsympathetic toward suspicious lifestyles and behaviors. Whereas the minorities—just look at them! They are breaking ranks on purpose, in order to question everything dear to us, like our love of traditional food, customs, and heterosexual unions.”
“They want to blow up our country from the inside,” declared the Minister of the Interior, “This is the goal of their bosses, whoever they are. Am I right?”
Everybody looked at the Chairman.
“Europe will slowly get used to us,” the Chairman reassured them. “In the meantime we need to keep doing everything here our way. Until recently bicyclists and vegetarians were even hiding among the civil service personnel. Pink slips from top to bottom throughout the entire country—this is the way to cure that disease.
“Those bicyclists and vegetarians took offense that the Foreign Minister excluded them from the Polish nation,” giggled the Minister of the Interior. “They already are collecting signatures over the internet.”
“Let them collect as long as they can,” responded the Foreign Minister in a dignified voice. “This will end quite soon. Shortly we will get our hands on the internet.”
“They’ll start screaming about human rights!” predicted the ministers.
The Chairman cleared his throat, and everybody looked at him again.
“Human rights are not the foundation of politics. Laws do not grow out of social norms, but power, and power grows out of domination. Since we have a majority everywhere, we do not need to follow written laws. Our law is natural law. And what is natural law?”
The ministers looked at each other. Fragments of Sunday sermons raced through their heads, but they felt this was not what the Chairman had in mind. They looked at him again. He drew a deep breath and his eyes glowed like an animal at night.
“The law of the jungle,” he declared. “Nature works by power.”
“The political system of the state needs to be liberated from ulcers like minority rights,” added the Chairman. “That is, eliminate the demands of all kinds of bicyclists and faggots. But please, don’t rush to the media with everything we’ve been talking about amongst ourselves here. Especially not to the German media because they will associate it at once with…, well you know with what.”
The ministers were embarrassed that the Chairman would suspect them of rushing out to the media. But the Foreign Minister could not let the reprimand that he brought upon himself go, and he very much wanted to have the last word.
“Do you remember the time when our nation yearned to adopt the western lifestyle like it would be a salvation?” he said. “While in fact we are the ones who are the salvation for Europe. The mission to civilize the West has fallen upon us. Because of us, the West will understand what family, faith and tradition are. And they will want to have these too; as well as our sausages.”
“What if their authorities throw a monkey wrench into our plans?” asked the President, and in one breath listed the names of the most obstinate western leaders, those who are simply impossible to talk to.
“We will give them pink slips,” answered the Foreign minister.
“You’re kidding?” said the President.
The Chairman would have done it long ago, except he had no access to the proper paperwork.
Straight from the Heart
“What do you think you’re you doing?” asked the Chairman.
“Mr. Chairman, I suffer from a rare disease,” the Foreign Minister answered. “Every part of my body goes its own way without paying attention to the rest. For instance when my mouth says ‘go to the right,’ my finger will point to the left. When my knees bend so I can sit, my hand pushes the chair away. And when I go to the… oh, sorry.”
“I don’t need to know this.”
“I can bring you a doctor’s note.”
“I heard,” the Chairman interrupted, “that after your interview for that German tabloid you managed to talk to several papers. To one, you said you did not say what you said, while to another, you said you said it, but that you meant something else. To the third one, you said you did not remember who said it, and to the fourth one, that a particular word meant something entirely different than everybody thought. But this is not what bothers me. Let me give you some advice. Never ever explain yourself. This is the greatest mistake you can make.”
“What do I do then?”
“Nothing. If somebody does not like it, that’s too bad. If something like this happens again, remain stone-faced. Sometimes I too have slips of the tongue, but that’s nobody’s business. ‘What did you mean?’—‘You heard what I said, idiot.’ Stick to this. You have to be careful because everybody is laughing at us. I am not happy with you.”
“But what about my predecessor Sikorski,” the minister cried in a high-pitched whine. “He let himself be taped! And the former Foreign Minister Fotyga…”
“Quiet. Never show embarrassment, no matter what happens. Being embarrassed is deadly for us. Follow the example of others. The Coordinator of Special Services received a sentence of three years in prison—and is he embarrassed? And what about the head of a credit union who is being harassed because he transferred the union’s money to Luxemburg? Now he is the chair of the Senate Finance Commission, and he’s always smiling and happy. Or take the Minister of Transportation—his license was revoked for speeding tickets. He is proud, he thinks the speed limits are unfair. Or the Defense Minister. Between us, he once went slightly overboard making intelligence materials public, and so what. You’ll always be okay, as long as you don’t feel embarrassed.
“But Mr. Chairman, I have this defect I mentioned,” said the Foreign Minister feeling embarrassed. “In my heart I feel happy that I told those Germans what they need to hear— that it’s enough to have a horse cart, ham hocks, the warmth of the hearth, and tradition. That’s all you need. But I have this anxiety in my legs, and they carry me from radio station to radio station to radio station. My head was spinning trying to figure out what to say; no wonder every other word was a slip.”
Instead of laughing at the Defense Minister, the Chairman looked at him with sympathy.
“If you want to know, I suffer from a similar condition. When my right leg takes a step forward, the left one gets in the way, and then… Never mind. Do you remember when I kissed my assistant’s hand? Why was he standing with the ladies? And the other time… Well, that’s not important. What I wanted to say is, it is not important what your leg or hand is doing. You may not even be looking at it. Do you know what is important?”
“That it comes straight from the heart?” the minister tried to guess.
“No, not at all. How you look at someone is important. You must practice this every day, preferably in front of the mirror. The right look will put everybody in his place immediately, whether he’s a German, a Frenchman, or a Russian. Then a Pole also will know where he belongs.
“But Mr. Chairman, what about this ruckus that they started recently?”
“Oh yes, yes. With Poles, it is trickier. I thought that once we won the election they would finally calm down. Would anyone have ever expected that when we got into power they would be singing again ‘Oh Lord return our free Fatherland!’ instead of ‘Bless our free Fatherland’? It’s like a vegetarian eating a lion.
Shutting Down Toothaches
It was early in the morning and the Chairman’s guests had toothaches. For most of them, their molars hurt.
The Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister was in pain because he had been reading too much stuff he didn’t want to.
“They’re writing that we’re starting to shut down Poland,” he said waving some ragtag journal.
The Speaker of the Parliament was hurting because the Chairman had told him to grit his teeth and do what he had to do. He grit his teeth with all his might and proceeded with legislation at breakneck speed.
“We? That’s nonsense!” he cried. “We’re only shutting down what serves no purpose. The Constitutional Tribunal, the Civil Service, and middle schools.”
The Minister of Justice’s upper fifth ached. He had already had a cavity there for some time.
“No one should mourn the Civil Service. It’s a breeding ground for potential anarchy. Clever tricksters can easily circumvent the appointment process for state positions. So if we abolish these processes altogether, it’s out of pure respect for the law, so it won’t be broken. For instance, if I constantly ignore the ‘do not pass’ sign, then it is better to remove the sign than keep sending police to encounter my immunity. In short, we don’t want the situation where the law is turned into a circus.”
“Middle schools, ugh!” shuddered the Minister of Education whose chipped incisor ached. “They’re filled with problem youth; it’s such a difficult age. Luckily in elementary schools there is peace and quiet. We’ll push the middle schoolers back there to give them a proper upbringing. Otherwise how would they turn out? Just another generation of rabble-rousers!
“These rabble-rousers are the disgrace of our country,” agreed the Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister. “And their public media too.”
The Chairman cleared his throat, visibly pleased. The media was the subject he actually wanted to talk about with his people.
“The media should treat their work like it’s a mission. But not a mission to turn people against each other, but a mission to reconcile ourselves with ourselves, that is, with the things that we have to accept. In other words, reconciling those who have to resign themselves to…” The Chairman stopped and took a breath. “It surely does no good for national reconciliation if Poles hear different things from every channel, or read different things in every newspaper. It just makes you dizzy. If we have shut down anything, it’s really this dizziness.”
“The National Council for Radio and TV Broadcasting is written into the Constitution,” noted sourly the Minister of Justice. “This will hamper the shut down significantly.”
“We’ll bridle the Council with executive legislation,” said the Chairman lightly. He was not hurting.
“Even now the rabble-rousers scream that I am gagging the opposition,” added the Speaker of the House in a tearful voice. He was holding his hand against his cheek.
“Filing cavities can hurt but it’s necessary, and we go to the dentist on our own accord and don’t call the police when he picks up his drill,” said the Minister of Justice, who should have visited the dentist for his upper fifth, but somehow didn’t. “An intelligent person will notice that we only shut down things that hurt like hell… That is, I wanted to say we only shut down what badly hurts. Like the independence of prosecutors. What is that independence about? Can a prosecutor really direct himself as well as I can direct him? This goes for judges as well. We don’t want each judge to understand the law in his own way—one like this, and the other like that. How would this look—the appeals would drag on for years and years.”
The Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister had over-the-counter painkillers. He poured water into a glass and took some. When he noticed the envious looks around him he offered up the pills.
“I would shut down the right to appeal. The courts should issue only just sentences,” mused the Speaker of the House.
“The EU will go bananas,” whined the Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister.
“Always this EU,” said the Chairman. “They understand there the rule of law as the preponderance of the public over the Nation.”
“And according to us?”
“The other way around,” tried the Minister of Education.
“Also not. Law should be sacred; it shouldn’t be challenged all the time with some regulations. If regulations undermine the law, then we will…”
“The rabble-rousers will scream.”
The Chairman showed them an unopened pack of earplugs.
“Out of our respect for the law we’ll gradually and consistently shut down the regulations, one by one.”
Everyone brightened up. The over-the-counter painkillers were working.
A Shift in the Symbolic Sphere
The Speaker of the Parliament withdrew a letter from his briefcase.
“Several groups of voters wrote me letters expressing their concerns about the large number of former functionaries of the communist enforcement apparatus, at least many of whom were surely responsible for different crimes. It turns out that in Warsaw alone there are several thousands of such people, not to mention other places in the country. This is, as the voters write, ‘an army of people who are capable of anything,’ and they demand that we find them and lock them up.”
“The data on the number of enemies, where does it come from?’
“From the media. They have been covering the demonstrations that are supposedly in defense of freedom. Ha, ha, ha! We all know what these demonstrations are really about!”
Everybody knew. They were about the perks, all the perks in Poland.
“We have to show the protesters as fewer, but redder,” prompted the Defense Minister.
The Speaker waved his letter.
“Listen to what they write, ‘These dinosaurs of totalitarianism have not only lasted longer than anyone else, but they are in surprisingly good shape and their form is enviable. Apparently they have different health services than we do.’ The electorate is complaining that we are doing nothing about this.”
“Mr. Chairman,” said the Minister of the Interior, “our electorate is worrying that the minority will impose communism upon us. That they will start putting people in jail for jokes, and will hang portraits of Stalin and Bierut in every office.”
“Even if the enemy takes to the streets, there is no reason to be afraid,” remarked the Chairman. “The communist apparatus lost their teeth a quarter century ago.”
There was a murmur among the ministers.
“What’s the matter?”
“You rightly said that those who are protesting are communists.”
“And thieves,” added the Chairman. “But as for tens of thousands that’s an exaggeration. We have different numbers.”
“The authors of the letter are well aware of this: ‘Someone won the election, someone lost it,’ they wrote. ‘There is a majority, and there is a minority.’”
“Those are my words,” cried the Defense Minister.
“Doesn’t the electorate see that we are working night and day to solve this problem?” said the Speaker of the Parliament. “We have already stepped on the minority’s toes more than once. We do what we can, and it’s all for Poland.”
As soon as the word Poland was uttered there was a loud thud. The ministers looked around, scared. But nobody was shooting at them. It was just the picture of the eagle falling off the wall.
“Luckily the glass did not break,” said the Speaker and picked up the eagle.
Security was called to bring a hammer and nails, and after a moment Poland’s coat of arms was back in its place.
“Yes, it’s all for Poland,” agreed the Defense Minister. “That is, for the majority. For many years we have been denied the freedom of speech. For what kind of freedom of speech is it when in response to every one of our words, someone else says that it is the opposite? Therefore finally we are defending freedom of speech against those who denied it to us before.”
The Chairman looked at his watch as if he was waiting for someone, and at that moment the new head of public television entered.
“No need for introductions,” said the Chairman. “You all know him. He’s not a coward or a weakling. He will be a symbol of the improved and trustworthy TV. He’s going to tell us how to introduce objectivity into the media.”
The new TV head gave the Chairman a tender and devoted look.
“If truth is to come to the surface and not sink, we need to boost it a little,” he said. “And add some color, preferably with bright shades because people don’t pay much attention. Also it will be good to emphasize that the people are in power. And to keep reminding them that they are in power, because they have short memories. In addition there needs to be a distinct shift in the symbolic sphere. Poland should…”
At that moment a loud bang sounded. Again the eagle fell off the wall and was on the floor. They called security.
“You can’t even hammer properly,” snapped the Coordinator of Special Services.
“I tried,” stammered the officer. He gave it a few more taps with his hammer, and the eagle was up again.
“A shift in the symbolic sphere,” repeated the Chairman thoughtfully. “Too bad there’s nothing we can do with the eagle. We could put a crown on him, but he’s already got one.”
The TV head had an idea.
“Let’s put him against the background of the Royal Castle.”
The Coordinator of Special Services had another idea.
“Let’s give him hussar’s wings. Because Poland…”
He was interrupted by a thud. The eagle fell for a third time.
“What is the matter with him?” asked the Chairman.
“Nothing. What could be wrong with an eagle?” said the Speaker of the Parliament.
“I am losing my patience,” said the Defense Minister. “Turn it to face the wall and let it stay where it is.”
“The most important thing is objectivity,” continued the new TV head. “And of course freedom of speech which I love more than life.”
“We all love freedom of speech,” remarked the Defense Minister in an offended tone.
“But he has proved this in the strongest way,” said the Chairman. “No one among us can boast as many court sentences for defamation.”
When the Prime Minister entered the Chairman’s office she was greeted with applause.
“Your address was first-class,” exclaimed the ministers.
“It was not just me,” she murmured.
“Did you like it, Mr. Chairman?” asked the Minister of Culture who was also a deputy Prime Minister.
“What can I say…” the Chairman smiled humbly.
“Besides, its literary quality was quite extraordinary,” said the Minister of Culture who was also a Deputy Prime Minister. “There are not many such texts that are as clear and simple, and with a patriotic message. These days the texts that win awards are mostly about nothing. Therefore I have decided to create a special literary prize for the best speech. We’ve had quite a few of them recently so there should be a pool to choose from, but the jurors will have a hard time making a decision.”
“I would give the award for her latest address,” said the Foreign Minister, “for conveying that particular idea that dirty laundry that should be aired at home.”
“Those people from the West shouldn’t stick their noses into our business,” cried the ministers.
“The Poles should lecture us even less. We’re already hearing their complaints that after only eight weeks we are at war with all of Europe.”
“They had eight years and did not even manage to begin!”
“Gentlemen, it is not us who is fighting Europe, Europe is fighting us. Haven’t you noticed that the East is not criticizing us at all?” said the Foreign Minister.
“This may look suspicious to some,” the Deputy Speaker of Parliament found a possible downside.
“So let’s immediately open a second front in the East, just in case,” rejoined the Defense Minister. “Then nobody will break away.”
“She reminded the West correctly that when they turned to us for help during the crisis in Ukraine they got it. We provided support to the government they were backing because it was in the Polish national interest,” remarked the Foreign Minister.
“But what did you mean when you said that the interests of our party at that time were entirely different?” someone asked the Prime Minister.
“Stop it, give the gal a break!”
A commotion ensued.
“Quiet!” said the Chairman.
The ministers stopped mid-sentence and were all ears.
“We did not join with the West during the Ukrainian crisis, it was they who started to implement our plan,” the Chairman qualified.
The ministers nodded.
“They can do the same now,” said the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, “providing that they give up their particular priorities, that so-called Constitution of theirs.”
“It was good she made this completely clear,” acknowledged the Foreign Minister, “but their attacks are no surprise to us. We knew that by aiming at foreign capital we would curtail some businesses and step on toes.”
“Yes, international corporations and big finance,” prompted the ministers.
“In short, international leftists. Remember this is the reason the leftists are attacking us by bringing various western politicians down on us. While at the same time our… ugh!… fellow-countrymen help them by informing on us.”
“They spread false and hysterical claims that undermine Poland’s prestige,” added the Chairman. “The conclusion of your address was correct. The opposition needs to unite with us in firm condemnation of any unlawful interventions.”
“In my grade school we had a gang.” the Deputy Speaker began nostalgically. “We picked on the boys who let themselves be bullied. Even when we played soccer with a slipper in the corridor we wouldn’t allow them to win. If they started winning, we would change the rules. Once one of them complained to the teachers that he was supposedly beaten up by us. We told all the boys that no matter what was between us, we needed be united before the teachers. So when they asked if there was any beating going on, all the boys responded that there was none.”
“I appreciate that,” praised the Coordinator of Special Services. “A fine example of solidarity.”
“Solidarity with a capital S,” added the Minister of the Interior.
“An enormous S,” agreed the Deputy Speaker. “Afterwards we all went and gave the sneak a good beating.”
“And you have been united ever since,” the Prime Minister was deeply moved.
“With them? Are you kidding? We kept on bullying them as usual.”
“Well, we have a problem,” said the Chairman. “Who would have thought it? Still, I think there have been some serious mistakes on our side.”
They all held their breath.
“What mistakes, Mr. Chairman?” the President dared to ask in a trembling voice.
“Did we push too hard?” stammered the Prime Minister.
“Certainly not. But your job was to predict this and not let it happen.”
The Prime Minister flushed and tried to offer an excuse, “I thought the EU wouldn’t pay attention. And even if they did, they never give a shit about Poland, so I thought they would let it go and sweep it up under the carpet. I am really surprised.”
“You’re so naïve! They’ve turned Poland into a cash cow and now they’re watching it closely so it won’t kick. They won’t find another one that easily,” cried a few of the ministers.
The Chairman waited until they calmed down.
“We recently have heard a lot of nonsense and slander from the Union,” he said. “Like that bullshit about the great successes of Poland during the previous period. We watched them shed crocodile tears over Poland’s democracy getting ruined. Now are we supposed to swallow their lectures like a Strasbourg goose swallows noodles? You promised our voters that we wouldn’t make foreign policy from our knees anymore. So now what?”
“They promised this for themselves, and they are not responsible for what the EU is doing,” the Foreign Minister defended his colleagues, while at the same time defending himself. “The fact that the EU is criticizing Poland comes as no surprise to our voters—what else is our enemy supposed to do?”
“It could send tanks, like Putin,” mumbled the Coordinator of Special Services. He had been dozing off and suddenly woke up.
“We have tanks too,” remembered the Defense Minister. “I had no time to get rid of them yet.”
“The EU will squawk for a bit, and then it will stop,” the Finance Minister comforted the others. “If we honestly add everything up—funds, premiums and various historical facts on the ground for which we have never been compensated—it will turn out that we are a net payer. Simply speaking, we are financing the racket. The EU won’t screw around with us like we are some small-bit player.
“Everything is still going according to plan,” agreed the Foreign Minister. “It is hard to understand what the European Commission’s problem is, but they have been talking politely to us, and I think they will be happy with our explanations.”
“Only if the opposition acknowledges their equal responsibility for Parliament’s rulings.”
“Yeah, I totally can see them acknowledging that,” said the Speaker of the Parliament despairingly. “We reined them in, and when they tried to object I turned off the mike. Now they will tell us to go screw ourselves.”
“But actually they have acknowledged it,” declared the Foreign Minister. “I don’t have any delusions that they are any better kind of Poles than we thought, but Madame Prime Minister got the opposition to promise that they wouldn’t air Polish controversies abroad. Boom and it was done! Now they are saying we must speak with one voice about Polish matters in the European Parliament. Foreigners are foreigners—but Poles are Poles, that’s how it has always been and will be forever. Now all the Schulzes and Timmermanses who went out of their ways to support the protests will drop their jaws in amazement. As the poet said, there may be wrongdoings in the Fatherland, but if need arises we put everybody at attention with no further discussion.”
“I had an alcoholic neighbor once,” remembered the Minister of the Interior. “He slept all day while his family tiptoed around him. His wife did some sewing at home so he had some money. If something was not to his liking he would beat her mercilessly. Finally a neighbor on the first floor called the police because he thought the guy was murdering his wife. And what happed? With one voice they both testified the neighbor must have misheard them. As soon as the police left, the guy gave his wife a beating for good measure. The Union will do the same as the police: they will come and then they will go.”
“No need to worry Mr. Chairman.” The ministers were confident about the Prime Minister. “She will talk to them and fix it. Besides, we can count on our ally in the European Parliament. For now we have only one ally, but soon there will be more. This is just the beginning of our superpower politics.”
“But what if the EU is stubborn?” asked the Chairman gradually regaining his good mood.
“They will have to pay for it. They’ll sing a different tune when we cut their funds.”
The Shadow of a Punishing Hand
“So we passed the surveillance law,” the Minister of Justice crowed triumphantly. Some of the ministers offered lackluster congratulations.
“I don’t hear any cheering,” the Chairman said somewhat reproachfully.
“Mr. Chairman, we are too sleepy,” the ministers explained sheepishly.
“Oh really?” cried the Minister of Justice. “I’ve seen you show much more enthusiasm at other times. It seems to me you don’t care for this law very much.”
A long and tense silence fell.
“But we all voted for it…” said one of the ministers hesitantly, addressing the Chairman who was the Minister of Justice’s superior and ought to keep him in line.
“I know how you voted,” retorted the Minister of Justice abruptly. “I’m not talking about that but about what you really think.”
The ministers erupted.
“Mr. Chairman, if it has to be like this, fine, but he shouldn’t force us to be happy about it. We did what we were expected—we pressed the button and raised our hands. Did any of us vote against it? He should leave us alone. Why is he picking on us at this late hour?”
“Calm down,” said the Chairman gently. “It’s not for the small fry, but for the big fish. If you play by the rules you don’t need to be afraid.”
“But playing by the rules has different gradations. People make mistakes. They may accidentally view something they shouldn’t, or impulsively write something—are these really crimes? But even when we’re sorry and confess, and the priest grants us absolution, the Minister of Justice will still have something on us.”
“I should have thought about the confessional too,” admitted the Minister of Justice to the Chairman.
The Chairman cleared his throat.
“My dear ministers,” he said. “It’s not like this law just fell out of the sky. A year and half ago our predecessors were planning to introduce it but they lacked the resolve. Their bill omitted some important elements. For instance the maximum time for surveillance is a very important matter, and our bill delineates this.”
“It also includes ways to extend surveillance even if this is not explicitly stated in the articles,” added the Minister of Justice looking pleased.
“Status reports are also important,” the Chairman returned to his argument. “The police will have to give them every six months.”
“They will be just statistics,” clarified the Minister of Justice.
“Had our predecessors done what they were supposed to, the bill would already be law, and nobody would be criticizing us.”
“But perhaps they would have done it… well, differently.” some voices protested.
“That’s for certain,” agreed the Minister of Justice. “Mr. Chairman, we would have had to correct their mistakes anyway.”
“Gentlemen, let’s not romanticize them,” snapped the Chairman. “They eavesdropped, harvested cellphone data, and collected intel on the opposition.”
“But they didn’t collect on me!”
“Not on me either!”
“Nor me. And they didn’t collect on you, Mr. Chairman.”
“How do you know this?” the Chairman was surprised.
“A friend in the Special Services checked on it for us.”
“In fact they didn’t collect on any of us,” admitted the Minister of Justice, “those sloths. If we allowed ourselves such indolence we would lose the next election.”
“What if this law makes people turn away from us?”
“It sounds like you’re more concerned about covering your own asses than about the people, so let’s talk about this. Nobody’s interested in what you are doing on the internet as long as you play by the rules and the party can rely on you. I don’t care what pages you visit, what you view, and what you send out. Even if I see something, I won’t use it against you as long as you don’t give me a reason to. I understand that the opposition is up in arms about this, but you shouldn’t be.”
The Chairman listened with a pleased smile. It was good they saw the shadow of a punishing hand above their heads. He himself remained beyond the reach of the new law. He knew the Minister of Justice would never find anything on him, and the Minister knew it too. The Chairman was not subject to any gradations. He didn’t know how to access the internet; he couldn’t even turn on a computer.
The Pillar of Europe
The Chairman turned his back to the President and looked out the window; he was irritated. It was cloudy and there was no moon.
“I did what I could Mr. Chairman,” said the President in a strangely high-pitched voice. “I really tried.”
“That wasn’t our deal,” responded the Chairman angrily. “Was it what you were supposed to say when he claimed that the EU wasn’t plotting against Poland? It was inexcusable. Here in Poland the mass consumers of our truth won’t understand.”
“If I had insisted there was a plot, they would say I was out of my mind, and then somebody would lower our ratings again.”
“Those ratings don’t matter that much; we’ve manage to survive worse things. You should have become outraged and protested that he was lying—the way we did before.”
“Mr. Chairman, these EU people wouldn’t have believed there was a plot.”
“Then at least you could have accused him of bringing down ruin on Poland. And what did you say instead? That the Polish economy is thriving! That was a total mistake. But what was the worst thing? When he said that Britain should be encouraged to stay in the EU, and that the expansion of the Baltic pipeline posed a risk to Europe—and you just nodded at him. I’m sorry, but I am very disappointed in you.”
“But Mr. Chairman, we support these things…”
“So what! We can’t accept that he is saying things in public we agree with at such an occasion. You should have steered the conversation in a different direction, and it was your job to make him say something different. The mass consumers in Poland won’t understand all that polite nodding and smiling. We simply do not do it that way here. Those who are partial to our truth would have liked to see you crush him under your heels.
“But you’re pleased with her,” said the President dolefully. “Even if she also smiled constantly during the session, and only said things they wanted to hear. She even repeated the same things over and over like a broken record. That she was attached to democracy, to EU legislation, and to all the laws and treaties, and that she was a European and proud of it!”
“That was very good. They were ready to accuse us of curbing the rule of law in our state. And she told them that it was just the opposite, and that we are doing all these things in order to improve the rule of law. She disarmed their main weapon. She did not agree with a single one of their arguments, and did not give an inch on any of the issues. And about the notion that we are anti-European? She reminded them that Poles are a nation who have sacrificed our lives not just for our own freedom.”
“That was clever.”
“See? After that no one could ask her why the EU flag was not present at that press conference. Also, did you hear anything specific from her about the Constitutional Tribunal, the Civil Service, the public media, or the prosecutor’s office and the courts? She avoided specifics like the plague. They must understand by now that we won’t negotiate with them. I expected the same spirited kind of fight from you.”
“Mr. Chairman, in my situation… I mean, during the press conference… It was not as easy as you think. There were some actual facts on the ground that he could bring up …”
“Don’t try giving me excuses like a bad ballerina blaming her tutu getting in her way. After her session we were able to publicly declare that she won, and the entire European Parliament recognized she was right. Whereas our enemies who thought the EU would kick our butts retreated with their tails between their legs like complete fools. You see? She did what she was supposed to do, and fixed your missteps in addition. Even if you screwed up the plot theory, in the end everything turned to our advantage. So what do you say to this? Are there any facts on the ground? You let yourself be scared. But facts are never as rigid as some people believe.”
The government met at the Chairman’s office to celebrate the success.
“Today we can be proud that after many humiliating years Poland has risen from her knees,” declared the Foreign Minister. “We finally see a Polish Prime Minister who does not apologize for being a Pole, who won’t be told that being a Pole is an embarrassing condition that needs to stay hidden from the world, or some kind of disability. We have a Prime Minister who tells the truth straight to their faces, the Polish way. And the impression we made in Strasbourg is even stronger because our Prime Minister is a woman. When they saw the unfailing strength of a Polish woman, they must have felt even more respect for us. They liked it, I saw lots of applause on TV.
“They would love to be able to talk the same way, straight to people’s faces!” shouted the Ministers over each other.
“But…” mused the President, “she really avoided answering. Like the question about the Venice Commission for Democracy, and the one on the Constitutional Tribunal. Neither yes nor no, even when they asked her directly, and not even when they asked her in Polish.”
Everyone fell silent. They were confused.
“She avoided them, but with what spirit! The important thing is they that they liked it, and they liked it here too,” summed up the Chairman.
“A proud Polish woman never bows to a German,” the ministers kept repeating in awe. But they did not know what else to say.
“My mother taught me that bowing is a sign of courtesy and culture,” said the President timidly.
“It is more the sign of a flunky,” the Defense Minister cut him off coldly, and the President felt like a student who naively volunteered an answer and was told off.
“Do you remember from grade school that book about the general who didn’t bow before bullets?” said the Foreign Minister. “The bullets flew around him, and he was not afraid and kept standing?”
“He was a Soviet collaborationist,” dissuaded the Defense Minister.
“Bullets won’t be moved by someone who stays standing. You can pay dearly for such arrogance,” the President went on.
“Baloney,” said the Defense Minister. “Arrogance is the best organizer for the complexities of social life. It clearly shows who’s the most important.”
“He who gets away with his arrogance is the most important. Personally I think it is better not to bow than to bow,” confessed the Chairman.
“But if we bow from an equal footing…” tried the President again.
The Chairman started to laugh, and in no time all the ministers were laughing heartily.
“There’s a fairy tale!” responded the Defense Minister. “There’s no such thing as an equal footing. One or the other always will have the upper hand. That’s just pulling the wool over your eyes so that we will bow to them even more.”
“I once had a friend,” said the Foreign Minister, “who wanted to pick up the prettiest girl in our class, although he himself wasn’t very handsome. In the bar where he was waiting for her he spotted a famous actor, and talked him into coming by and saying ‘Hi Wojtek’ when she came in. The girl came in, the actor said ‘Hi Wojtek,’ and Wojtek answered ‘Get lost, can’t you see I’m busy?’”
“That’s it!” cried one of the minister ecstatically. “It’s not enough just not to bow. A real triumph is when you don’t return a German’s bow in front of the whole wide world.”
“Yes,” agreed the Chairman. “Only in that case not bowing gains its full strength. Then the world sees we are not just nobodies. And our own people will appreciate that no short-term concessions will get in our way when our goal is…”
The Chairman grew short of words and there was silence
The goal was—what exactly? Everyone felt he knew what it was, and everyone had it deep in his heart. It was like a splinter, but to say it out loud, straight to their faces? No, it cannot be said straight to their faces. The only thing was to let the world know in as many ways as possible that we are not the way we believe that they think of us.
“This was where the Prime Minister showed her class,” summed up the Defense Minister to help the Chairman. But the Chairman did not like his remark.
“That was nothing exceptional. We all know how not to bow,” he was offended by the suggestion that the Prime Minister knew better than he.
“We do not bow, and that’s it,” placated the Foreign Minister. He was a diplomat. “And we can also reproach them for some things.”
The ministers got excited again.
“Reprimand them!” they cried.
“Kick them in the ass!”
“Sling mud on them!”
With every cry, the splinter in their hearts seemed to ache less. Signs of relief and hope appeared on their faces.
“Who’s he?” asked the Chairman.
“My assistant,” said the Defense Minister. “He’s been vetted and is reliable. I promised him that he could come with me.”
“OK, he can stay,” the Chairman agreed reluctantly and turned to the President. “Why are you so gloomy?”
“Mr. Chairman, they were in front of my windows again last Saturday,” the President complained. “It was large crowd. I work like a dog all week, so I’d like to have some rest on my weekends.”
“Aren’t a bit obsessed?” asked the Minister of Justice, “It wasn’t that many people—I saw it on TV.”
“They’re not in front of my windows,” said the Chairman. “You see, you can do things in such a way that they don’t show up.”
Everybody knew the Chairman knew how to do this.
“It all started with the controversy about the Constitutional Tribunal, and then it just kept going,” sighed the President dolefully.
“And who started the controversy about the Tribunal?” the Minister of Justice was outraged. “Not us! It would have been over long ago if they hadn’t meddled from abroad. Our media should talk about how the foreigners stir things here up by manipulating the local papers and TV. Poland should know about this. We should air some of our surveillance tapes.”
“And the footage from our hidden cameras,” added the Coordinator of Special Services. “We should show them wearing their furs. All those minks and chinchillas. People should see who talks with whom.”
“The opposition talks with the foreign press and informs on the government.”
“They are manipulating the entire foreign press through these correspondents,” said the Minister of the Interior. “They set them up at will. It’s all done through connections and family relations! The correspondents send utter fantasies to their papers, who then spread them. And whatever is published in a foreign newspaper is sacred here. So some newspapers here get all spun up, write about it, publish analyses, and then people read it and also get spun up. No wonder they are going in front of his windows and singing the national anthem. So then the correspondents see this and ask them to comment.”
”And the circle closes,” the Coordinator of Special Services summed it up.
“But are not in this at all. We are just standing on the sidelines, ready to make a reasonable compromise. The Prime Minister offered them a reasonable compromise, and what happened? They don’t want it. Who has uttered the word ‘compromise’ more, us or them?” whined the Minister of the Interior.
“They’re filing complaints all over place. We just want some quiet in order to get some work done,” said the Minister of Justice.
“And we want that the Constitutional Tribunal to be able to work,” said the Chairman.
The Minister of Justice was surprised.
“Mr. Chairman, I thought we had a different agreement—we were to arrange it in such way so that it wouldn’t be able to work at all.”
“Actually so that it would be able to work without interruptions,” clarified the Chairman. “This body has been preoccupied with itself for several months already — about whether they like our improvements, whether the justices we gave them are to their liking, and so on. Nothing but complaints.”
“Yes, nothing but,” agreed the Minister of Justice. “And how about our cleansing the media? There has been a constant racket coming from there. And what about these shitheads on the internet? They’re on the loose again.”
A gloomy silence fell.
“There used to be a slogan, ‘Students go back to your studies, writers go back to your pens,’” volunteered the assistant of the Defense Minister. He probably was majoring in history or law. Even his father was probably in diapers at that time. The student was very proud of himself and was surprised that the Chairman looked at him crossly.
“We will need a special office to oversee what the media write,” continued the Chairman. “And also for the TV stations. Otherwise there will be no end to the quarrels. The only thing is I still don’t know where to position it.”
If the Defense Minister’s assistant was studying law, he would know the Chairman meant what place in the legal system. So most likely he was studying history.
“I know of a nice office building on Mysia Street,” he cried. “There was such an office there once. And there is another magnificent office building nearby on De Gaulle Square. All we would need is to kick out a few banks. These buildings are only a few steps one from another, and it’s much prettier area than here on Nowogrodzka St. But that palm tree on the square would not be appropriate for such an important place. It would have to go.”
Improving the Rules
“Where’s the Chairman,” asked the ministers.
“He’s running late,” said the Minister of Development.
“Is that a board game?” asked the Minister of the Treasury.
“It’s educational,” explained the Minister of Development, and spread out the game on the table. “The Chairman will like it. And it will remind us all how it feels when you have to pay five times what you actually have in your wallet.”
“The Chairman won’t play,” said the Minister of the Treasury.
But when the Chairman entered his office the ministers saw that he would play. He hadn’t seen a board game for years, and certainly not one like this. He started with a flair by rolling two sixes. He was able to buy the property that he was on, but he didn’t want to.
“Why do I need it?” he asked.
The ministers almost forced him to buy it.
“Mr. Chairman, you make a profit from ownership in this game.”
“After rolling a double, a player can roll again,” announced the Minister of the Treasury who was holding the bank.
The Chairman rolled a double again and bought the property where he landed. Then he rolled two sixes for a third time. He was moving around the board like a hurricane. But this time he saw smirks on the ministers’ faces instead of admiration.
The Minister of the Treasury threw up his arms. “For the third double you go to jail. According to the rules, three doubles is cheating.”
“I have gotten rid of worse rules than that,” said the Chairman.
“Mr. Chairman, you just rolled another two sixes. Even if we abolish the rule, you would have to go there,” exclaimed the ministers pointing to the square marked ‘jail.’ The Chairman looked at it and sighed.
“Then let’s play something else,” he demanded.
“You’ll be pardoned,” comforted the Minister of Justice. “All you need is to roll two sixes when it’s your turn. You won’t even miss any turns.”
“Someone who only rolls sixes shouldn’t go to jail like some thief. Beata, start writing down improvements for the rules.”
The ministers were rolling the dice, buying and collecting properties, renting and selling, and Beata was writing down all the improvements. The Chairman was paying his speeding tickets with a smile because they were cheap. It would be more expensive if they discovered he had no driver’s license, but they didn’t check. Then he got a prize for a beauty pageant which recouped some minor losses. After several turns, when some of the ministers had given up and others were yawning and glancing at their watches, he became in charge of the power plants, water supply, and railroads. He sold some and purchased others. He bet on real estate and was building blocks and blocks of houses.
“Mr. Chairman, you’ll be building three million apartments priced at twenty five hundred per square meter,” giggled the Minister of Housing.
“Our voters are not so childish as to understand everything literally. They’ll take this promise as a beautiful metaphor,” said the Chairman. He smiled the whole time he was receiving money from the rest of players, until he drew the card that said “Real estate maintenance costs.” It was very expensive because he owned multiple properties.
“Do I need to return all my cash?” he was surprised.
“Unfortunately yes, Mr. Chairman. That’s what happens in this game,” apologized the Minister of the Treasury.
The Chairman paid what he owed, and since he had a double, he rolled again. Then it turned out he had to allocate the same amount of money for social services.
“You should have some collateral, Mr. Chairman,” advised the ministers, “Or put some security on your properties.”
But he did not want to.
“It’s just like finding money for the five hundred+ program with an empty treasury,” the Minister of Development explained to him. “You borrow money.”
“Or you can sell off,” added the Minister of the Treasury.
“Beata, write this down” said the Chairman. “We will introduce a special tax for everybody in the situation when the principal player loses his financial liquidity and refuses to sell off state property.”
“But these are private properties,” protested the ministers.
“Yours are private,” said the Chairman and collected from each player five hundred in monopoly money with the images of a bear and a bull. “That’s why I taxed you. Do you want the extra five hundred zlotys per child, or not?”
This worked, so the Chairman started collecting more taxes: to lower the retirement age, to lower the VAT tax, and even to raise the level of tax-free income.
In the next turn the stock exchange and state finances collapsed, and the entire economy broke down. The ministers went bankrupt and wanted to go home, but the Chairman locked the borders and put the key in his pocket. Everybody started fighting, and the board fell on the floor. The houses, factories, power plants, railroads, and water supply systems were scattered everywhere. There wasn’t even any water in the faucets.
“Beata, write this down,” said the Chairman. “If a player owns a mint he may salvage his finances by issuing unlimited quantities of new bank notes.”
“But Mr. Chairman, there is no mint in this game,” said the Minister of the Treasury.
“There is one in real life,” responded the Chairman. “And you better make sure that everything we wrote down is passed right away by Parliament.”
A Drill Sergeant
“Are you making trouble again?” asked the Chairman, “Why did you send a colonel to the NATO command instead of a general? Didn’t you have any generals handy?”
“I did,” responded the Defense Minister gloomily. “In fact he was trained especially for it, but I had to get rid of him—you couldn’t trust what he would do.”
“So now a Danish two-star general is serving under a Polish colonel. Won’t he be offended?”
“He can be offended all he wants,” erupted the Defense Minister. “It would serve him right.”
“You’ve been fuming for several weeks now,” remarked the Chairman. “It’s infecting me too, whenever I look at you.”
“Then don’t look,” retorted the minister angrily. “I am so pissed off at NATO.”
“Is it about that Slovak guy?” asked the Chairman. “Listen, you stuck your neck out quite unnecessarily. You said the break-in to the NATO counter-intelligence center was agreed upon with him. And then he claimed you lied and left you holding the bag.”
“It was not my fault. I expected he would want to avoid a scandal and keep quiet.”
“The opposition was laughing at you.”
“If this alliance was of any value, NATO would have confirmed our story instead of emboldening the opposition to ridicule us. The West betrayed us again. I’m fed up with this hypocrisy—let’s start calling things their proper names.”
“But the mass recipients of our message won’t understand it.”
“They are scared shitless that we will die without NATO,” shrugged the minister.
“Maybe we’ll die, maybe not. We won’t know until we try,” admitted the Chairman philosophically. “But we have to take into consideration that the average voter prefers an unequivocal and reassuring message.”
“Which at the same time is a bit bland, alas,” sighed the minister.
“They won’t go for things that are too extreme,” agreed the Chairman. “It’s a pity—because then we have to hold our tongues.”
“The Deputy Minister of Justice accused an opposition MP of being a pimp. This was at a parliamentary session, and the world didn’t collapse. But even so you ordered him to apologize, God knows why.”
“It wasn’t an apology,” replied the Chairman. “Certainly not. After everybody heard what they heard, he told them they heard him wrong, that he did not say it, but simply presented a complaint from the neighbors of the pimp. So his only apology was to those who misheard him. We always do it like this, and it always works.”
“Then perhaps we should accuse some NATO bigwigs of being pimps?” pondered the minister.
“I would think twice before doing that. It would go way beyond our backyard, and there would be a huge fuss about it.”
“Which would be a great relief,” sighed the minister.
“The average recipient of our message would not understand this,” the Chairman was wary.
“That’s because has no noble instincts—you can’t get him inspired,” cried the minister. “Instead he just stretches out his hand for the five hundred zlotys. Peace of mind—that’s all he wants!”
“We can promise that.”
“There you have it,” said the minister. “By the way, it is not our goal to balance different priorities. We have our own ones to push through. We are becoming a player in our own right. If a Danish general refuses to carry out the orders of our colonel, I would accuse him of cowardice and desertion. Besides, my impression is they all are cowards and potential deserters. Do you know what would fix them?”
“What?” The Chairman did not know. He was never in the army, or had forgotten everything.
The Defense Minister jumped to his feet.
“A drill sergeant, dammit!” he shouted and clicked his heels. He sat down, and added more calmly, “It is not such a big deal that some general is the underling of a colonel. We really should send a drill sergeant to take charge of the entire NATO command.”
The Services from Abroad
One night the Chairman was so fed up with all of them that he did not summon anybody. He lay down on a couch and tried to sleep. But he couldn’t because of a vague feeling that he was not alone. He opened his eyes. In the darkness he saw a shadow of somebody sitting in his chair. He found the alarm button with his finger.
“It won’t work,” said an unknown voice. The button really did not work. Neither did the phone. The stranger had black unshaven bristles on his face and his eyes glowed like a cat’s. An Arab terrorist? From Syria? Who once studied in Poland and because of that knew Polish? But more likely this was an ordinary Arab thief. Who the hell let him in?
“I got in by myself,” responded the thief.
Not only has he entered, but he also interrupts my conversation, thought the Chairman irritatedly. He liked to answer his own questions. And my security guards are sleeping again.
“I bypassed the security,” explained the thief. “Once they handcuffed my colleague, tore his feathers from his wings, manhandled him, and he didn’t get anywhere.
“How did you get in?” asked the Chairman. “Through the wall?”
The thug nodded yes.
The Chairman recalled the fellow with the wings. Pftt! It looks like an organization. They want something. But an organization that wants something can make a deal. Perhaps it is a paramilitary group, one of those that joined the civil defense. The Defense Minister promised them that they can keep their structure, ethos and loyalties… This guy shows some training. How should I address him? You can expect anything from such thug. The Chairman treated everybody firmly and condescendingly, even the highest officials in the state. They bowed to him and addressed him as Mr. Chairman.”
“I don’t mind, Mr. Chairman,” said the thug. “In my firm, pride is out of place. The Boss doesn’t like it.”
“Same here,” the Chairman was pleased. “Why doesn’t your boss come here in person? We’d make a deal faster face to face. If you want to get into the casino business or liquor sales in exchange for your contributon to the defense, this would require the cooperation of several ministers, but we can discuss the conditions.
“The Boss is extremely busy,” said the thug. “Casinos, liquor sales? Why would he need them? The ground is burning under his feet.”
“Maybe the justice ministry could help.”
“I don’t think so,” responded the thug. “We need your direct involvement. The Boss already tried to communicate with you, but it did not work. It’s about the Constitutional Tribunal.”
“Why do you care about the Tribunal?” the Chairman was surprised.
“Certainly, it is not our main problem. The Boss now has the Security Conference in Munich on his head, and he’s doing whatever he can about it.”
“I sent my President there. He said what he was supposed to say.”
“That was good,” acknowledged the thug. “But nobody treated him seriously there. And that was precisely because of the Tribunal. The Boss wants you to tell the President to swear in whomever he has to, and let that Tribunal start working. They should rule on the law on the Tribunal, and for god’s sake, don’t call the verdict an opinion. Trust me, even if you find it hard to believe–when you rebuild the trust, then the entire EU will survive. This is also your only hope. If only you knew what is brewing…”
The Chairman broke out in a cold sweat and he immediately got suspicious. A journalist, he thought. Of the worst kind. That’s how far the tentacles of their editor-in-chief reach! This is who really rules the EU and NATO! Who is putting a wrench in our works. The Defense Minister insisted on preventive arrests. But the Chairman did not want them, it would look too paranoid. And this is the result.
“As for the Tribunal,” said the Chairman cautiously, “I offered a compromise. A compromise can be made in every circumstance. A long time ago I was assaulted by a thief who wanted to steal my wallet. He got it, and I couldn’t grab it from him, but I wouldn’t give up. Finally we both had enough. He was panting, and said to me, ‘let’s compromise.’ I agreed and said, ‘let’s split the money.’”
“And what happened?”
“He didn’t want to. He negotiated a different compromise: the money for him, the wallet for me. He was honest—he returned the wallet and went on his way. A thief in a dark alley understands what compromise is. But the opposition doesn’t.”
“The Boss is not interested in this kind of compromise. The Boss requests that you returned the wallet and the money to the Tribunal. The Boss does not want Europe to fall apart and does not want a disaster. We on high did not entirely recover from the previous ones.”
The Chairman had an illumination. This is not the press, he thought. This is the Russian special services. Moreover, these are not the ones everyone is scared of. The Defense Minister was right to warn me. We are surrounded by the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Trotskyites.
The Most Urgent Reform
“I brought you here to discuss a very urgent matter,” said the Chairman.
The ministers seemed unfocussed; each had a different opinion about what was urgent.
“But we didn’t give a firm promise to lower the retirement age,” said the Minister of Development who was also a Deputy Prime Minister anxiously. “I have been explaining this to the media over and over again, and it doesn’t sink in.”
“What does it mean that we didn’t give a firm promise?”
“As you know,” said the President, “all promises are either firm or loose. As for the lowering of the retirement age, our promise was a loose one.”
“What about the five hundred zlotys per child?”
“It was more loose than firm,” said the Minister of Development who was also a Deputy Prime Minister. “And we are doing what we can about it.”
“What about the free drugs for seniors?”
“What do you think?” the Chairman became impatient. “I’m surprised you need these things explained to you. These promises were made during the election campaign which has been over for a long time. If you ever look into your fridge you will notice that things past their expiration dates go limp even if they initially were hard.”
“Except for what dries out,” added the President.
“Yes, except for that.”
“But with time, loose evidence becomes firm,” observed the Minister of the Interior.
“Yes, with evidence it is the other way around,” agreed the Chairman. “Can we finally move to the urgent matter?
“But which of our promises are firm?” the ministers wanted to know. “Certainly not the ones that have dried out?”
“What’s wrong with you all?” cried the Chairman. “What are you talking about?”
“About the most urgent matters,” replied the ministers.
“Not really—we are going to talk about the most urgent matters now. That is, about a certain reform that I was thinking about recently. I reached the conclusion that we should have begun with it in the first place. It is more urgent than anything else.
“What reform is this, Mr. Chairman?” asked the ministers.
“We all know the future depends to a certain degree on the past. So if the past is fine, then the future should be more or less OK. It is most difficult to start from a failed past and end up with a great future.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” said the Minister of Development who was also a Deputy Prime Minister.
“Quite unnecessarily. We will achieve more by reforming the past. For example, take Great Britain. What do we see? Prosperity. Prosperity in the past, and very likely prosperity in the future.”
“So Mr. Chairman, why don’t we reform our historical statistics?” volunteered one of the ministers, but the Chairman pretended not to hear.
“So, Great Britain—no bowing to foreign powers or compromises. And they didn’t have police informers. They can look the world in the eye with their heads raised high.”
The ministers nodded.
“But unfortunately we had informers,” remarked the head of the Institute of National Remembrance.
“And this is the problem we have to solve. We need to detach the past from events and individuals who are liabilities. I am sure that in eight years we will congratulate ourselves for doing this.”
“We can’t erase the Secret Police entirely,” declared the head of the Institute of National Remembrance gloomily.
“But we can decide what kind of people are eligible for recognition,” hazarded the Minister of Justice.
“In some cases an individual needs to be separated from his deeds,” prompted the Minister of the Interior. “An individual needs to be put his proper place, whereas the deeds…”
“Indeed, it should not be that a totally inappropriate person gets the Nobel Prize,” said the Chairman.
“A nameless guy with a mustache…” added the head of the Institute of National Remembrance thoughtfully.
“I can’t think of any good way to take the prize away from him,” admitted the Minister of Justice. “Maybe we should levy a fine and send him to collections… But it’s a million dollars. There are no such fines. We would have to introduce them.”
“There would be a scandal,” said the ministers. “We already are taking too much blame. In Great Britain such a thing would be inconceivable.”
“You don’t understand,” said the Chairman. “That’s precisely my aim, so that we won’t have to take the blame. We need to do a historical investigation and declare the truth. And the truth is that no such person ever existed.
The Easter Episode
“Today we are going to deal with some important domestic problems,”—opened the Chairman.
The Minister of the Interior raised his hand.
“Can I say something first?”
“Yes, but be brief,” agreed the Chairman.
The Minister had witnessed a disturbing incident in one of the churches.
“Someone was buying a book in the narthex, and he was getting his change during the elevation.”
“It doesn’t matter, Mr. Chairman. Certainly not the kind they award for political correctness.”
“So what! They were selling these books in the narthex, not in the nave, right?” noted the Minister of the Special Services.
“Exactly. And some crazy guy burst in and knocked over their tables.”
“Excessive agitation in patients often occurs before the holidays,” the Minister of Health offered an explanation.
“Well, they have God knows what delusions. He probably imagined he was driving the money changers from the Temple,” guessed the Defense Minister.
“What about the police?”
“I called them. They showed up in two minutes. They didn’t even write a report—they took him straight to the cruiser because he had no ID. Besides, he even looked suspicious. They dragged him on the ground a little. What else could they do since he wasn’t cooperative? He was sort of a dark skin guy with curly hair. He hardly spoke any Polish and had an accent.”
“A refugee from Syria, or something?” said the Defense Minister. “Apparently it is like this with them. If they don’t like something, they just destroy it.”
“But this guy wore a small cross on his neck,” remarked the Minister of the Interior.
“A cross, a cross. Everybody wears a cross—even the worst thugs,” said the Coordinator of Special Services, and he showed his own cross.
The Chairman interrupted.
“Did they notify the proper authorities? The Office for Foreigners? The Department of Sanitary Inspection?”
“Why Sanitary Inspection?”
“These people should be examined, for parasites, for example… Or did they put him together with the regular detainees?”
The Minister of the Interior called the precinct immediately.
“They have did not examined him yet, but he’s being held in solitary. They’re not as stupid as to risk an outbreak.”
“Why do we have to deal with this,” the Chairman became impatient, “while more important matters are waiting?”
“The bishops asked us to resolve this as quickly as possible. The parishioners are spreading stupid rumors.”
“I think these parishioners are out of their minds. They surely know what He looked like—he was tall and slender, with long blond hair and blue eyes. Completely different.”
“I brought you here today,” the Chairman said impatiently, “in order to deal with the issue of the brazen attacks against…”
At this moment the Minister of the Interior phone rang. He listened with a frown, and said, “Yes. Better hurry up!”
“What happened?” the ministers wanted to know.
“The captain of the precinct is asking if he needs to send a warrant. After I called he told a warden to look into the cell through the peep hole. It was empty. They opened the door and the squad enterd. Nobody was there. The window is small and it has bars, and there are no traces of tampering. Somebody must have helped him.”
Some of the ministers got up and started singing “Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise.”
“Very funny,” said the Chairman ironically. “Can we get back to business?”
Enough Is Enough
“The report of thespecialcommissionfor…” the MPs were yawning, their heads were drooping, and the Speaker’s litany drowned on.
“Thechangesintheproposalfromthefloor… Inthebilltoamendthebill… thefloorhaslistenedtothereportfromthecommisionanddebatedtheproposal… wewillbevotingaccordingtothesamerulesasinthepreviousvote… amendmentsnumberonethroughfifteensubmittedby… thecommissionproposestorejectalltheseamendments…”
“What time is it?” asked the Chairman, or at least that’s what the Prime Minister heard. She glanced at her watch but she couldn’t read the time.
“Around 4AM, Mr. Chairman,” she whispered leaning towards his ear.
“What? What?” the Chairman jumped, woken up suddenly. “What do you want?”
He had been sleeping. Even he, who suffers from chronic insomnia was sleeping. In the back, the Minister of the Interior was moving. He too had woken up, or at least that’s what he thought. The current time appeared on his cellphone; indeed, it was four. But never mind the time.
“Is it September already?” he wondered. “So soon?”
“Nowwewillvotetonthebillinitsentirety,” announced the Speaker from above.
“We were supposed to vote on the amendments,” one of the MPs woke up.
“We rejected them all a moment ago,” explained his neighbor. “Your finger pressed the button without waking you up.”
This had to be true since even the Minister of Culture, who was also a Deputy Prime Minister, voted the correct way while snoring at full blast.
“Thoseinfavor? thoseopposed? anyabstentions? thankyou. thisandthatmanyvoteswerecast. thismanyayes. thatmanynays. becausethebilleceivedanabsolutemajorityofvotesIdeclarethatthebillhaspassed.”
The opposition MPs stood up in the aisle and chanted “Down with the commies! Down with the commies!” The Speaker of Parliament was beside himself and rang his bell as if on fire.
“What did we pass?” asked the Chairman.
“Nothing special, they’ve dreamed up something,” reassured the Minister of the Interior.
The Coordinator of Special Services, his eyes as red as a rabbit, ran up to them.
“Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman!” he whispered. “We haven’t made it public yet, but our Intelligence Agency got a leak from abroad that they are about to kick us out of the EU, and probably NATO too.”
“Because of what we voted on just now?” asked the Chairman.
“No, not that. They don’t know about that yet. It must be about something entirely different.”
The Foreign Minister guessed what it was, and only sighed.
“So they figured it out, clever assholes.”
A minute later (ZZZ-Zzzz-ZZzzz-hngGGggh-Ppbhww) all the Chairman’s people were in his office on Nowogrodzka St.
“So what if they’re kicking us out!” said the Defense Minister and puffed out his cheeks. Shivers were going down all the spines under his gaze. “Instead of panicking, you should appreciate the benefits. I know some of you feel regret and would like to beg them to let us stay, apologize, and prostrate ourselves. But others have waited avidly for the moment when we can wake up in a new reality.”
A prominent MP echoed this with chattering teeth.
“As for the restructuring funds, they were to end in four years and we’d kiss them goodbye,” remarked the Finance Minister. “The situation we have luckily found ourselves in frees us from paying dues, and most of all it removes foreign oversight from our finances.”
“It removes foreign control from all areas of our life,” added the Minister of the Interior and shouted, “And the EU can stick their noses elsewhere.”
There was some hesitant applause that died out almost at once.
“What about the UK?” asked the Chairman.
“It stays in,” answered the head of the Intelligence Agency who had just run in. “And it will sup-port the resolution.”
At that moment the Chairman’s cellphone rang. The ring was harsh and demanding.
“Do they have to bug me right now?” complained the Chairman. “Beata, take it.”
The Prime Minister picked up the phone. She turned pale.
“What’s wrong?” asked the Chairman. “Who’s calling?”
“Vlavlavla… Vlavladi…dimirovich… Putin.”
The Chairman, who was dozing in his parliamentary chair with his head resting on the lectern in front of him, screamed piercingly. Everybody opened their eyes, waking up to reality—but what kind? The old one, dear readers, still the good old one—still in the EU and NATO. Good night.
About the author:
Magdalena Tulli (b. 1955) is the author of seven nowels, of which Sny i kamienie (Dreams and Stones, 1995,) W czerwieni (In Red, 1995,) Tryby (Moving Parts, 2003,) and Skaza (Flaw, 2006) have been published in English by Archipelago Books. She was nominnated for the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and shortlisted five times for the Nike Prize, Poland’s most prestigious literary award . Tulli is also the translator of Proust and Calvino into Polish. She lives in Warsaw.