I spent 1988-89 as a student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. In 1988, before the wall began to crack, Poland had felt as it had felt on previous visits – as if communism would never end. We lived our lives constantly engulfed in a spiritual gray sludge. Everything was slower, stupider, dimmer, meaner, than anywhere else I’d lived before, including impoverished nations in Africa and Asia. What kept you going were the flashes of heroism and defiance that could appear at any time, from any quarter.
In the mornings, when I walked to class, I would see patriotic graffiti. A favorite item was a stenciled profile of Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935). As a young man, Pilsudski had been an underground organizer when Poland was still colonized by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Poland was reborn as an independent nation in 1918. The Soviets invaded in 1920. Nikolai Bukharin promised communist takeovers beyond Warsaw, “Straight to London and Paris.” Red Army commander Mikhail Tukhachevsky cried, “To the West! Over the corpse of White Poland lies the road to worldwide conflagration.” “Stalin’s commissars called on Polish soldiers to change sides, saying that there was no sense in dying for capitalism,” writes Timothy Snyder. Instead, “The Polish population, including the peasantry and working class, surprised the Bolsheviks by its hostility.”
Greatly outnumbered, Pilsudski achieved “The Miracle on the Wisla.” Astoundingly, Poland, reborn as a nation after over a hundred years of colonial occupation, reeling from WW I, emerged the winner from the Polish-Soviet War.
Tukhachevsky, the defeated Russian commander, said, “There can be no doubt that if we had been victorious, the revolutionary fires would have reached the entire continent.” “In Lenin’s words, the Bolsheviks had ‘suffered an enormous defeat.’ Stalin had to take some of the blame.” Stalin wasn’t one for taking blame. Tukhachevsky was eventually tortured and murdered.
Pilsudski went on to be Poland’s chief of state. He is associated with a generously expansive view of Polish identity. While chauvinists, influenced by the same dark energies that informed the rise of Nazism in neighboring Germany, insisted that only Polish non-Jews could be real Poles, Pilsudski was famous for embracing citizens of many religious and linguistic backgrounds, as long as they loved Poland. One could be Jewish, Catholic, Muslim or Orthodox and be a good Pole, as long as one loved the country and upheld its laws and norms.
This history gives you an idea of what stenciled graffiti of Pilsudski meant in Poland in 1988, and why, when I saw it, as I walked to my morning classes, my heart was glad.
In the afternoon, as I walked home, a different sight greeted my eyes. The handsome, chiseled silhouette of the Marshall would be painted over with white paint. Similar white paint covered the word “Solidarnosc.” Solidarity was the labor union that had challenged Soviet rule. Other whitewashed graffiti included the letter P above, and attached to, the letter W, joined in the shape of an anchor. This stood for “Polska Walczaca” or “Fighting Poland.” Also painted over – images of gnomes and crows, both of which had symbolic significance to those resisting Soviet rule.
Again and again, every day, patriotic resisters would paint graffiti, and every day, employees of the state would whitewash that graffiti. I wondered about those anonymous workers. Their entire lives were dedicated to hunting down and erasing the very best in Polish society. They erased hope. They erased defiance. They erased truth. They erased creativity. They erased the nation’s history. They erased the nation’s pride.
Who were they? True believers, like Tukhachevsky, Trotsky, and Yezhov, all of whom would eventually be murdered by Stalin’s orders?
Or were they mere worker bees, soul-dead robots whose only concern was their next plate of potatoes? Were they “just following orders”?
In addition to graffiti, Poles developed a thousand little ways to resist. Once at a café a singer sang about Christmas before the war. She sang that there was a calendar hanging on the wall with a photo of Pilsudski on it. The audience gasped and broke into applause. She had dared to mention Pilsudski out loud in public. Back in 1970, forty-two protesters had been killed. Poles commemorated this in the 1980s by writing “1970” with the seven as a Christian cross.
As strangled as speech was in Poland, it was worse in Czechoslovakia. After Russian tanks crushed the 1968 Prague Spring, the Soviets allowed the Czechoslovaks more material goods, but clamped down on their ability to express themselves. Poles’ material lives were poorer than their neighbors to the south, but the Poles’ rebelliousness meant that Poles exercised relatively greater freedom of speech than Czechoslovaks. There was a joke in those days that attested to the human insistence on self-expression, no matter the bribes offered in exchange for silence, and no matter the threats to crush defiance. Two dogs meet at the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. They are trying to enter each other’s country. They are each astounded to see the other. “Why would you want to enter my country with all its problems?” they each ask the other.
The Polish dog says, “I want to taste meat.”
The Czechoslovak dog says, “I want to bark.”
I remember my Uncle John, during a visit to him in Czechoslovakia, suddenly jumping up from the kitchen table and shouting at me and my mother. We had been having what felt, to me, like an innocent conversation. I don’t even remember what we were conversing about. All I remember is the panic in my otherwise manly uncle’s voice. “Shut up! Shut up! Don’t you realize what you are doing?” He mentioned a villager who had said, in the tavern, “Slovak som aj slovak budem.” Rough translation, “I’m proud to be Slovak.” The man disappeared.
Mind: we weren’t in a public place. We were inside my uncle’s primitive kitchen, with a wood stove and a table. No refrigerator, no place to hide surveillance equipment, on a farmstead far from any listening ears. The rules were that ingrained. My uncle, who had lived under Nazis and Soviets, knew what you could and could not say if you wanted to survive.
The rules could be boiled down to: you are not allowed to remember your history. You are not allowed to feel pride. You are not allowed to criticize those who hurt you. You are not allowed to say anything – even something whimsical – that might risk misinterpretation. Yes, even whimsy was taboo. After the Nazis invaded, the Gestapo arrested puppeteer Josef Skupa, and they also arrested his puppets, Spejbl, and Hurvinek.
Another rule: there might the illusion of a court of appeal, but like Kafka’s Joseph K, you entered bureaucracies, never to emerge. “It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.” Joseph K is told, in his fruitless search for appeal after he is falsely accused of an unnamed crime. “A melancholy conclusion,” he replied. “It turns lying into a universal principle.”
Poles’ and Czechoslovaks’ struggles with free speech all struck me as so incredibly quaint. Even as I joined the riots, and chanted “Sowieci do domu!” I was hyper-aware of the American passport in my carefully secreted money belt. I just knew that America was so much better. We had the Founding Fathers, the first amendment, free speech, a free press. Eastern Europe was a dusty museum of threats I need never worry about once I got on that plane and re-entered my real life.
On Monday, July 8, 2019, I posted, on what I had previously, naively thought of as “my” Facebook page, a link to a Front Page Magazine article by bestselling author Bruce Bawer. Bawer, a PhD, had gotten my attention years ago with his Christian writing in favor of gay rights. For years mainstream publications, including the New York Times, recognized Bawer as a liberal in the best sense of that word. Bawer’s July 8 Front Page article addressed the state persecution of T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _, a British citizen journalist and human rights activist.
On Tuesday, July 9, Facebook sent me the following, “We removed one of your posts because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards. We created our standards to help make Facebook a safe place for people to connect with the world around them.” I was told I would not be allowed to post or respond to messages for seven days.
I asked why. I received another message. I was offered no explanation. This new message said, “We reviewed your post again and it doesn’t follow our Community Standards.” Kafka himself could not have said it better.
Did one of my Facebook friends inform on me? Possibly. I value diversity of thought and I do choose to have Facebook friends who are far left. A handful belong to what I can only call Team Anti-Western-Civilization. They, though white themselves, single out white people, Americans, Christians, and Jews, as uniquely evil, insisting that without whites to corrupt them, people of color and non-Western cultures are uniformly loving, wise, and peaceful.
A friend announced my banning. Immediately, two members of Team Anti-Western-Civ, both far-left British women, said, paraphrase, well, she asked for it, because she posted in support of T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _. Both posted links to mainstream British media “proving” that T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _ is evil. “Rosa L.” repeated twice, “I’m not the one who reported her.”
I can’t imagine celebrating the banning of a friend from Facebook. I also can’t imagine taking advantage of a friend’s banning to post, on her page, material that I know would offend her, and material to which she could not reply.
Rosa L. knows I have grown up among the Demographic that one dare not criticize on Facebook. She knows that I’ve had friends and loved ones from Demographic X all my life, and she knows I would never endorse anyone who posed a threat to Demographic X. Rosa knows that like Pilsudski, I believe that as long as people love a country and follow its laws and norms, they are good citizens, regardless of their religion or race. Rosa knows that I apply to Demographic X the exact same rhetorical standards that I apply to Americans, to Polish people, and to Catholics. When Catholics do something wrong, I, a Catholic, speak out, and I demand change. Yes, Rosa knows all this. Why did she say what she did? “Truth is that which serves the party.” Party needs trump the bonds of truth and friendship.
What occurred on my Facebook page is now occurring in media worldwide. T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _ has been banned from Facebook, Twitter, and now YouTube. His opponents can now do exactly what Rosa did, the minute Rosa knew that I was banned from Facebook. They can publish any calumny they want, knowing that those who might disagree have been silenced.
Not all the censorship the Soviet empire exercised was as heavy-handed as whitewashing graffiti. Other forms of thought control were as sophisticated, seductive and as chilling as the invitations of an expert drug pusher. You would go to a party that you weren’t quite sure of. There would be people there. They would be much better dressed, and look much better fed, than average Poles. They had more practiced accents. They almost sounded like they were from Nebraska. Their speech was sprinkled with references to the trendiest expressions of American pop culture. They were so friendly to you. As if they’d finally met someone of worthy caliber that they’d been seeking for years. They would say things like, “All this silly nostalgia. Poland before communism was a feudal swamp. All this hand-kissing. You know Polish men only kiss women’s hands as a way to keep them down. How many peasants were beaten, killed, and imprisoned under Pilsudski? We all acknowledge that there should be some adjustments to the current system. But there’s no going back.”
These charming, attentive sophisticates were Soviet plants. They were also factually correct. Poland was feudal. Pilsudski’s rule did have a very dark side. But here’s the thing. When you operate under freedom of speech, and you say, “Pilsudski’s rule had a dark side,” anyone can respond. Together, you can hammer out a balanced history. When you say, “Pilsudski’s rule had a dark side” and anyone who offers a peep in addition to that statement is arrested, there is no balance, and there is no truth.
And that’s where we are with T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
I’ve researched T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _. If I found one shred of truth to Rosa’s allegations of racism and hatemongering, I would withdraw support. But here’s the thing – even if what Rosa said were true, that would still not excuse the shutting down of free speech about T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _, any more than we should shut down free speech about any racist or instigator.
Everyone’s perspective is limited. No one has a monopoly on truth. We run our ideas past others. Others disagree. We research and modify our assertions and beliefs in response to criticism. This is how science is done. This is how dissertations are written. This is how the Declaration of Independence and other groundbreaking historic documents came to be, and came to change history. When we are allowed to speak only what those in power want us to speak, we live our lives constantly engulfed in a spiritual grey sludge. Opponents of free speech are attaching lead weights to human society, to the human soul, to our search for truth.
Opponents of free speech always lose. Dogs want to bark. My ancestral people showed that even under Nazis and Soviets, dogs find a way to bark. If I regain access to Facebook, I will simply do what Poles who covered walls with graffiti of crows, gnomes, and anchors did. I will resort to code that will be understood, but that will fly under the censor’s radar.
How afraid is Mark Zuckerberg, and what, exactly, is he afraid of? How afraid are Rosa, the BBC, YouTube, Twitter? How afraid are the mainstream media outlets who declined to run a piece on this topic written by bestselling author, veteran feminist, and PhD scholar Phyllis Chesler? You suppress what you fear. Facebook and the rest are suppressing free speech about T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _. What about that speech frightens them so much? One can only guess.
Dr. Chesler wrote to me, “One of T _ _ _ _ R _ _ _ _ _ _ _’s judges [The Right Honorable Dame Victoria Sharp] is an aristocrat. She has punished a working class hero for having exposed the utter failure of the hard-hearted British police, media and judiciary to protect Britain’s very vulnerable citizens, namely, abused female children who were tricked, kidnapped, repeatedly raped, broken, and trafficked into lives of Hell by Muslim grooming gangs. The judges have put one man’s head on a pike in the hope that no others will follow in his footsteps. Britain is lost.”
Lost. A heavy word. A word I am familiar with from the first line of the Polish national anthem. “Poland is not yet lost while we remain alive.” Britain is lost only temporarily. As Sam Cooke sang, “A Change is Gonna Come.” That change can occur in a peaceful, civilized way that respects all human life, and all demographics. That peaceful change can occur only with the restoration of free speech. If free speech continues to be suppressed, change will come, but its arrival will not be pretty.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery