International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 63, No. 2, Spring, 1987, pp. 324-325.

The Private Poland. By Janine Wedel. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1986: 230 pages. £12.95.

Norman Reddaway

Janine Wedel looks at Polish life as though through the lens of a camera. … Dr Wedel's picture of post-Solidarity life is instantly recognizable by anyone who has lived in Poland. She observes that most people work for the centralized state and its plan for most of the working day, and then transfer their energies to private enterprise tasks. The treadmill of the main part of the day is transformed into the fiddler's paradise of the later part. In Poland, as in Italy after the war, 'combinare' has become a way of life, and endless combinazioni make life agreeable.

Dr Wedel builds up a convincing picture of how ordinary Poles manage their affairs in the post-Solidarity period. She does not dig deeply into root causes, or the constraints imposed on Poland by the 1945 settlement. She contents herself with providing lively descriptions of the techniques of 'zalatwic' (facilitation) by which Poles make life easier.

She describes how the legitimate private sector depends on the illegitimate black market; how those who have dollars become a privileged elite; how boutique owners and flower-growers become rich; how the family and not the church is the essential unit for mutual aid; how the bureaucracy is regarded as rude and unhelpful; how it can be circumvented by private arrangements; how important for the Poles are the church, their history, their Western connections and independent news sources such as the grapevine, foreign radios and foreign visitors.

Having her picture of how ordinary Poles live, she cannot see much prospect of radical change in the foreseeable future. … Dr Wedel's book is [an easy reading], …and at the end [she] come[s] to the conclusion that the present modus vivendi in Poland is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Short of a major upset in the Soviet bloc, [she is] probably right, though in as special a country as Poland a miracle is always possible.

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