Poland Is Watching

Searching the “Events in Iraq” section of the Gazeta Wyborcza’s Internet edition, I came upon this interesting commentary from Dawid Warszawski (“Freedom in the Zone”), apparently one out of a series of pieces he is writing under the collective name Prognoza pogody (“weather report”). “This is strange,” I thought. “What is this doing in the Iraq section?” After all, Polish premier Leszek Miller was recently in Baghdad – only to be stood up there by American civilian administrator Paul Bremer, who had rushed back to Washington for urgent consultations with top Bush administration officials instead. I wanted some Polish coverage of that.

But forget about Miller for a moment. Reading Warszawski’s piece all the way through does establish an Iraq connection, although its focus is clearly on the US. It is basically about how American society has changed, influenced by that War in Iraq, but really by September 11, 2001. And again, note that it is written by a national of one of America’s allies in that war, indeed of a country with long-standing affection and admiration for the US and all things American.

ACLU TO THE RESCUE

Warszawski starts out talking about one Brett Bursey. He is now due to appear before a court, facing a considerable fine, or even imprisonment, for appearing in October of last year at a public appearance by the president with a placard bearing a message that president might have found inconvenient: “No War For Oil.” This would be a boring, run-of-the-mill report, Warszawski writes, if the country in question were, say, Turkey, Mexico, Egypt, or even the Polish Republic. But it happened in the United States, specifically in Columbia, South Carolina, and the president in question was US President George W. Bush. In the estimation of Bush’s Secret Service escort, Bursey did not belong there, flashing his sign; if he simply had to be present, he belonged over in the designated “free speech zone,” well out of sight of where the President would appear. His refusal to remove himself there is the basis for his current prosecution by the American justice system.

Luckily for Bursey, his case attracted attention – of the American Civil Liberties Union (one would assume that), but also of thirteen Congressmen – and even a snappy slogan: “All of America is a Free Speech Zone.” It’s likely that he will avoid any sort of punishment in the end. But what, Warszawski posits, if he were not “Brett Bursey” but, say, “Brett Muhammed”? And what if he were not in fact a US citizen? Then deportation would certainly await him, Warszawski concludes, without trial but likely with months of imprisonment to endure beforehand. “Such is the fate today in the USA of those suspected of various terrorist connections or even sympathy. The press writes about this at great length, civil rights organizations sound the alarm. [But] the effect is paltry (mizerny).”

THE WAY WE WERE

It wasn’t so long ago, he concludes, that presidential bodyguards didn’t get too worked up about placards critical of the president, and the concept of a “free speech zone” would have seemed like something straight out of Orwell. What’s more, neither president nor opposition would have dared falsify facts about an enemy’s possession of this or that sort of weapons, if only because they would be aware that the truth about the matter would inevitably get out, sooner or later. Maybe today they think they can banish such unpleasant information to “free speech zones,” where no one will hear it.

The truth about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has emerged regardless, probably because what Warszawski calls the “catastrophical course of the post-war situation” there has prompted citizens to insist on accurate information. Ironically, then, it is the ever-growing casualty lists of Operation “Iraqi Freedom” which must be given credit for the continuing tenuous hold on freedom in their home countries. But even their sacrifice cannot justify the deceit and gagging of the opposition (klamstwo i knebel) attempted in their name.

Has this observation yet found its counterpart in any writing from the American press? Or does it take an unnaturally-short history of freedom from a repressive society (in Poland’s case, only fourteen years), so that that repression is still fresh within living memory, to produce such a point-of-view?

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