Some thought on the use of power in Poland

The contentious and confrontational form of government pursued by Mr.Kaczynski and his friends is as divisive and harmful to the fabric of Polish society as Brexit or the Chilcott Enquiry are to the British. The British have the saving grace that both Brexit and the Equiry were monumental exercises in democracy, even if the referendum was a catastrophic misjudgement, which it may well prove to have been. Such an exercise would be unthinkable in Poland for one reason: what is meant in Poland by the exercise of power.

I think it is worth reflecting on how Mr. Kaczynski seems to regard power. His use of it, not dissimilar from the way the Roman church exercises power in Poland or, indeed, the way many businesses are managed, is rooted in an arcane understanding of what power is and, thus, what it means to govern. His style seems to be more suited to the murderous conditions of a de Medici Florence than of a reasonably advanced democracy.

Clearly, he feels that he is working against the clock and that this justifies his use of coercive tactics in order to achieve his evangelical mission. However, leaders who resort to coercive force are invariably those who feel the most insecure in their hold on power. Of course, it is perfectly possible that he has no other concept of the use of power. Where would his example be found? However, this narrowness will, ultimately, lead to his downfall. Why so?

The way people in the developed world respond to power has dramatically altered. The strong man of Hollywood blockbusters is no longer valid. Society works best when it is bound together by a civil code of behaviour in which people feel empowered by the people in power. Empowerment and empathy are the real sources of power whether political, domestic or commercial. Mr. Kaczynski only has experience of the first.


A Glimpse of Sofia

Yesterday, whilst exploring the environs of Sofia, I found a rarely visited Russian nunnery which, despite the Party having built a now demolished club house by the gate to intimidate the nuns and disrupt the atmosphere, unlike most, narrowly survived eradication: a paradise  nestling hidden in a small streamed ravine on the fringes the city. The tiny, bright eyed, bearded, smok besmirched mother superior (they keep a cow and poultry) showed me around… she looked 80 but was probably 150 because she talked about the Revolution and the escape from Russia as if it were yesterday. There was much of the aristocrat about her.  She spoke in a beautiful unmannered English redolent of the governess.

The Patron of the nunnery is St.Seraphim, a Russian prince turned saint whose tomb is to be found in the crypt of the Russian church in the centre of Sofia where, earlier in the day, I had witnessed the baptism of a young woman who stood before the towering, bearded priest in solitary awe as her head, hands and feet were annointed. She was alone, unsupported by family or friends, though sure in the knowledge that the saint lay metres beneath her feet. If he is as good a friend to her as he has been to the nun, she will have cause to rejoice. For the nun told me a story. When she was a girl she had her identity card stolen by a pickpocket. Immediately, she went to church and prayed to her saint, St. Seraphim. She returned home fearful of telling her parents. The loss of a document during Communism was a serious matter. Two days later, her father, a judge, came to her room. He seemed extremely serious and she was afraid he knew something. He asked her if she had lost anything. Of course, she had, but before she had found the courage to answer he opened his hand revealing her identity card. “This is yours!” It had been lying on the pavement in front of the office where he worked. A coincidence? The nun attributed her good fortune to St. Seraphim.

The nunnery chapel is modest but there were huge votive candles on sale. I bought the longest and dedicated it to Shirley, a friend of mine who died in London last week. Her daughter in law in England was cheered to know that on a sunny hillside in a country Shirley possibly never even thought about, a light shone for her for a little while.

Grindr in the workplace?

Last night a friend told me about a visit he’d made to a reputable theatre in Warsaw. What happened was this. The lights dimmed. The author walked onto the empty stage, hardly a stage, more of a space in a room where the drama was to be acted out, and stopped. Right under the noses of the audience, in his face in the case of my friend who was sitting in the front row, the author took out his mobile phone then undid his flies, revealed his willy and began a photo shoot.

A neat way to begin a play entitled “Grindr” you might think, and quite amusing. Whether any maiden aunts swooned my friend did not report but, no doubt, some members in the audience had come for no less. Whilst no prude, I suppose my friend was glad not to have had his mum sitting beside him. He’d have felt the same in London, a city where the unusual is to be expected. Yes, sometimes the unexpected does happen in Warsaw, which means there must be a lot more going on under the radar than the present defenders of public morality are letting on.

Those of you who dont know what Grindr is can look up the details on the internet. Suffice it to say it is a dating app.

I’d not heard about Grindr until a few months ago when a young man from Krakow came to stay with me. The amount he was texting drew my attention. He explained. I said I thought random encounters were risky. He assured me that most of the men on Grindr were looking for hugs not sex. They are lonely. He showed me the profiles on his phone. Most of the mainly bearded young men didn’t look as if hugging was their priority, but….

“We all need hugging,” he assured me and, to prove the point, he hugged me. And, he had a point. The occasional hug is a great boost to the system.

Which is where Daniel Keltner’s recently published, “The Power Paradox” comes in.

I quote from the author’s description in The Guardian ,

“We can choose to express gratitude in so many ways – public recognition, expressing appreciation by email, by knowing eye contact, a deferential bow, and acknowledging what another person believes. My research has shown that even brief touches to a person’s arm can communicate gratitude – they trigger activation in the reward circuits of the recipient’s brain and soothe stress-related physiology.

Expressions of gratitude create strong, collaborative ties and pave the way for greater influence. Studies find that individuals who express gratitude to others as groups are forming have stronger ties within the group months later. Romantic partners who express gratitude to their partners in casual conversations were more than three times less likely to break up six months later.”

So, there you are. Touching and hugging seem to be very good ideas for any relationship or business. Draw your own conclusions.

A wake for a start-up?

There was a piece in the FT last week about a party in America for all those Start-Ups that have failed. A party, a wake, somewhere to “mourn,” to say goodbye, to audit, perhaps, a firmly “tongue in cheek” affair, which borrowed heavily from the Anglican Prayer Book during the opening ceremony.

I usually start from the end of a piece and work backwards. The FT is still well enough written that the final paragraph will give an idication of whether the whole article is worth reading. If not, you will have got the gist.

I read enough to realise the mourners were mainly tee-shirted, ripped-jeaned, hooded lads in the chadult stage of their lives, even if their biological age ought to indicate a different approach to dress. The final paragraph indicated that most of the revelers were now dreaming of finding a job in a corporation, having discovered that “being an entrepreneur”  was more effort than rewarding.

This got me thinking about a young man in Warsaw. I have known him for about 16 years. Now, in his early 30s his career has touched on a wide range of great ideas. Each time we meet to discuss the newest I cannot resist his enthusiam. I become involved, sometimes even “lending” him the money to see the idea through, until the next idea comes along to capture his interest. What happened to the last idea? I ask. Quickly dismissed as impractical, no wake for them, he enthralls me with the latest.

Will any of these ideas ever be monetised? Who is to say? Probably not, such is the way of “start-ups.”

The fashion, the need to become an entrepreneur at whatever cost to himself, his family and his friends, and cost there is, must be exhausting for him. Being an observer is exhausting enough. Why can’t he just get a job where he’ll be appreciated? But that is the problem. Would you want to work for a corporation? Not when you have thought of yourself as an entrepreneur. May be what he needs is a wake.

Is Mr. Kaczynski dancing to a Russian tune? Perish the thought.

Yesterday afternoon, by chance, I met an old neighbour of mine. He had little to report. I told him that I had just returned from a period of work in Bulgaria and Slovakia. He asked what people in those countries thought about what is happening in Poland. My neighbour, a mild mannered fellow and his less mild wife, had marched in the huge anti-government protest in Warsaw a few weeks ago. They marched peacefully and proudly for democracy.

I told him the truth, a truth which is obvious if you read any of the foreign press. Poland is not on the radar. In the eastern block, unsurprisingly, only Russia is: fairly negatively in Bulgaria, where the young people with whom I was working blamed Russian infiltration for the political stagnation and perceived corruption in their government and state. This has caused a general apathy in the electorate. One earnest young man is campaigning to have compulsory voting and the negative option introduced to the ballot paper so that voters can express their dissatisfaction actively rather than just opt out. His hope is that this will, eventually, reignite an interest in politics. Skeptical at first, he was persuasive.

In Slovakia I was working with a group of corporates which included Russians and Ukrainians. They expressed some surprise that an English man was living in Warsaw. Best avoided. Memories of Polish expansionism are longer in the countries that Poland once dominated than in Poland itself.

A young Serb in the group explained to me why Serbia’s mistrust of the West has forced it to turn towards Moscow. He blamed the collapse of Yugoslavia squarely on western greed and, with that, the responsibility for the subsequent civil war. This chimed with what participants had said to me while I was holding a “training the trainers” course for Proctor and Gamble in Kiev on the eve of the Maiden Square protests. Western greed. It looks different from here but, perhaps, they have a point.

Recently, I had lunch with a retired British ambassador to these parts. His view was that Mr. Putin’s strategy is to destabilise the west, not through war but tremors. The rise of the extreme right, the British referendum, even the present Polish government’s shenanigans all fit into that scheme.
I wonder if Mr. Kaczynski has thought of that?

My neighbour asked if this all meant that he should not have marched. Playing into Putin’s hands? I don’t know. I just stood on the sidelines and, not unmoved, watched them march by. I was glad someone was marching though, as a foreigner, I let myself off with the neat excuse of not involving myself in other people’s politics.

Developments in Al. Szucha

The continuing saga of the builders next to my flat has taken a new turn. One afternoon, work on the “I could be anywhere” office block that is fast replacing the demolished example of prime Soviet Socialist Realist housing, overseen by ERBUD, those masters of the “I’m alright, Jack” school of construction, ground to a halt. The thud of the hammer and the whir of the drill gave way to police sirens and ambulance horns. Clearly, irresponsible management had led to something serious, not just our sleepless nights and smashed bedroom windows. Sad to report, a builder had been crushed by a falling wall. Reports said that dead man was not Polish which seemed to make it less awful. To my mind, this put ERBUD and its band of contractors in an even worse light. Work stopped for a day or two.

The really good news to come out of all this is that someone somewhere in the city administration decided to do their duty, finally, and organised a police raid of the site. What did they find? Three drunken workers who were promptly arrested.

And the consequences? Needless to say the arrested workers were Ukrainian and needless to say work continues on the site. Needless to say ERBUD’s name still looks down from on high on the passer by and needless to say the rising building is still advertised as conforming to the highest US environmental standards.

I wonder how the dead man and his family, probably impoverished in distant Ukraine, would feel about this?