Life in Poland

That’s So Polish: Super Critical Self-criticism

Well, we were not flooded, thank goodness. I mean, our part of the City was not flooded, but inhabitants of one district of the City were not so fortunate. In other parts of Poland, the damage was much, much worse.

But that’s not the impression you’d get if you asked some City citizens from the street…

“a tragedy”

“a catastrophe”

“heads should roll”

Why? Because one district of the City was flooded a little bit? A district of new blocks of flats built after the flood of ‘97?

Whose heads should roll? Maybe the people who gave building permission for those blocks of flats in the first place, certainly not the officials (and local people) trying to prevent them from being flooded.

We were a little bit afraid that the City would be flooded. A few days before the flood water actual hit us, we were warned by the TV and newspapers that it probably wouldn’t be as bad as in ‘97, but to be prepared just in case. On the Thursday before the flood waters hit, there was a false alarm that the City officials were going to shut off the water (and perhaps the electricity) in preparation for the flood wave. I immediately turned on the local radio where I heard an announcement by City officials that it was absolutely not true, that there were no plans and no need to shut off the water. That didn’t stop me from stocking up on water and other essentials (such as diapers, lollipops, and coloring books) just in case. In addition, there was a report of when the flood wave would hit and that some parts of the City may be flooded. The mayor of the City ensured us that we were all safe and that no one in the City would be flooded. It was his mistake, but he was going on the information he had at the time.

And then the flood wave hit the City. Our City is built along the river in the flood plain, what can we do? The levees did their jobs all except in one area. Even the sand bag embankments didn’t hold up.

On the way to the Village a day after the flood wave hit, I was able to see that the flooded streets were blocked off, protected by police officers and fire fighters who were directing traffic and giving information. There was a huge traffic jam on one of the main bridges as drivers slowed and even stopped to gawk at the high river waters. Along the way at the smaller bridges, sand bags were ready with volunteers and officers awaiting the signal. Everything seemed to be under control.

Now that the flood waters have receded, the financial and political bill must be tallied. While awful for those whose homes and businesses were flooded, the physical damage is not that great (I’m talking about my City). It shouldn’t cost exorbitant amounts to clean up. More costly will be building more levees to protect more areas of the City in the future…if only the działkowicze will give up their precious garden allotments for the good of the rest of us. Politically costly was the risk the mayor took in guaranteeing the City’s safety. Many citizens (even those who remained high and dry) cannot come to terms with his infallibility.

As to other places in Poland that were flooded, I do not know if heads should roll. I’d like to think the emergency effort was a success. Floods will happen, but the goal is to first minimize human loss and then if possible financial loss. I did see a crying lady interviewed live on TVN 24, getting out of a boat that had just saved her from the roof of her flooded home. I must admit I shed a tear right along with her as she lamented the loss of her whole life’s wealth, her family photos, her family pet. Then the report showed 2 previous visits to this lady’s home. One 4 days earlier on foot by the firefighters who had tried to evacuate her. Another visit 2 days prior by boat when the water had pushed the lady to the second floor of her home. She wouldn’t budge. Whose head should roll that this lady almost lost her life along with her home?

The best tallying of the flood’s bill, I heard on the local radio. It was the height of Polish self-criticism. Because in case you didn’t know, Polish folks are super self-critical. The journalists discussed everything that had gone wrong in this flood, every misstep of the officials, every forecasted misstep in the clean-up effort. The general atmosphere was that we (Poland) can’t do anything right. Sure, their were some mistakes made, but in my opinion there was a lot of “done right” in this flood.

The most unbelievable part of the radio broadcast was when one journalist used the response to Hurricane Katrina in the US as an example of “done right”. I’m not saying that nothing was done right in the response to Hurricane Katrina, but so much was “done wrong” that the mistakes kind of cloud over the rest. And what did I say, American citizen, when I got to know about the tragic errors in the Katrina effort? Did I blame my country and say that we (America) cannot do anything right? No, of course not. I said that George Bush cannot do anything right, not the whole country. My super critical self-criticism only extends to me, not the whole nation, but that’s just me. (See PS1)

I do not know exactly where Polish folks self-criticism stems from. Perhaps from living among other countries, always comparing how we (I mean you or I guess they) measure up. Perhaps it has something to do with Poland, always the nervous neighbor, being forced to host a few invading nations in the past. Perhaps it is connected to the communist era? Maybe it is a little bit of each of these all rolled into one. I’m open to any of your theories.

One good thing to come out of the flood is that Lizzie has discovered (to her extreme delight) that firefighters have duties other than just putting out fires and saving kittens from trees. She got to know that firefighters can evacuate people from flooded homes by boat or even by helicopter and can help build sand bag levees to protect against the approaching flood waters. So now instead of our everyday game “pali się w piwnicy”(the basement is burning), we now play “wielka woda idzie” (the flood is coming), build a pillow levee and evacuate Rosie from the bedroom. So fun!

PS1:  Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005. 1836 people died. The criticism of the response was that there was a serious lack of communication between officials, agencies, and citizens. It was often unclear who was in charge. This led to evacuation orders coming too late without sufficient transport or shelter provided. These delays in response continued even after the hurricane hit and only fueled the criticism. With no, one entity being responsible (or to blame) for the inadequate response, most fingers pointed to the easiest and clearest target, President George W. Bush.

PS2: My hometown has a kick-ass levee built by the Army Corps of Engineers when I was a teen. It was controversial and expensive. Controversial because in my historic hometown after most industry moved south or abroad, the river view was the one thing that we had left. Expensive, well, because it is expensive. It is expensive to design, build and maintain a levee. It is expensive to remove people from their homes and compensate them for the loss of their property. It is expensive to get the citizens behind the plan especially those ones a little ways down river who will not benefit at all and probably will get flooded even more.

But the plan passed, and the levee was built. Those people who lived along the river lost their view but gained security in knowing that their homes (and the whole downtown) would not be flooded. The whole city gained a fantastic meeting place as the levee was built with a running/walking/biking path on top complete with park benches, lighting and an amphitheatre with a floating stage out on the river for concerts and shows. My parents lost a rental property and a river lot where my father kept his boat. But he had no choice (eminent domain), and he was compensated more or less fairly.

From the time of the last flood and until the levee was built, no building projects in my hometown could be built on the ground level. All projects had to be raised. That makes for some pretty interesting buildings, homes and shopping centers in my hometown especially now that the levee has been built. As for my father’s rental house, it was said that his house (along with the whole street of homes) would be destroyed. You can imagine my surprise one day as I waited to exit my university’s parking lot only to see my father’s house travel past me on the back of large truck. The city didn’t destroy the homes, just picked them up and moved them to higher ground.

Hope you are able to stay high and dry!

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  • Reply
    May 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    I thought for sure someone would call me out on my 2 opposing posts – Super Critical Self-criticism and Poland's Better at Everything. How's that possible?No takers?

  • Reply
    May 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    That \”Super Critical Self-criticism\” is about 'them' – government, nation, neighbour etc. But every of us (I mean a person who's speaking) is the smartest, always right – as you said: \”Best at Everything\”:)Well sometimes 'they' are better too – when it is about success or achievement the whole world admire…

  • Reply
    May 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Miss – Astute observation with the \”us\” and the \”them\”. You hit the nail on the head.

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