Poland, Crime, European Standards and Vulnerability of Elderly People

This month I planned to post a second part of the article about Chernobyl and its Polish Connection. But the article will have to wait until the next month since I cannot clear my mind after what happened to my father… again and again and again. See the article about the Chernobyl entitled Chernobyl's Polish Connection from Historical Perspective which was posted in November 2006 edition of Polish-American Journal.

My father is a retired history professor. He lives in a small, at least for American standards, apartment in Krakow in a nine-store townhouse. This is the same apartment where our all family lived - me, my parents and my two brothers. The apartment consists of just two rooms, kitchen, bathroom, balcony and the hall. It is hard to imagine that we lived there - five of us. I remember that my brother had the beds which had to be folded up during the day. Every piece of space was properly managed, since the space was so limited. We have extra storage in the walls and even in the ceilings.

When we were living there through the 60-es, 70-es and 80-es, nobody robbed us. Allegedly the biggest danger were some wandering gipsy. It was said, that they come to the house and they steal things if not watched, but this never happened to us. I still remember a nice gipsy woman changing the cloths of her beautiful baby in our apartment while my mother was preparing some food for them. My mother never refused food to anybody. I still remember peasant women walking from apartment to apartment selling fresh eggs or other food products. Sometimes they carried big sacks on their back, hard to imagine for today standards, even in Poland.

The robberies and a petty crime became worse with the loosening of the political system. Freedom brought problems. Yes, there is some truth is the phrase that the dictatorship keeps people in check, at least in regard to a crime. This is also what we saw in Iraq after abolishing Saddam's regime. Some things are better but many things are worse, with the crime and robbery becoming the biggest problem.

How efficient Polish police is, let me tell you my story. In the late 80-es I participated in the conference in Zakopane - a Polish Tatra mountains tourist capital. We were just gathering for the main banquet, in the evening in the ballroom, when suddenly people were disappearing. I did not know why and went to investigate. The half of all the rooms in one floor were robbed (one whole side), not the one site, happily. Therefore I was not the first to know! The thieves somehow knew that people would be gone for the banquet, they used this chance, climbed through the balconies interconnecting all the rooms and stole significant amount of money, mainly in foreign currency since many guests were foreigners. Since the conference was organized by the Jagiellonian University and the Institute of Nuclear Physics, the organizers repaid at least parts of the costs to the guests.

One of the German professors who got reimbursed gave me some money to buy him a nice Polish souvenir and send back to Germany. I went to Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) in Krakow's market square. Sukiennice is known for its souvenirs. I stood next to one of the booths, waiting for my turn to ask the salesperson for something. The clerk removed the showcase cover to obtain a product for somebody, all of us have to move away. It caused a bit of the confusion and …I lost my purse. I realized it soon when I had to pay for another souvenir in another booth. I went to the police stand which was next to the Cloth Hall and… the policeman (in that time our police was still called "milicja" - a communistic equivalent) did turn me away. He was not authorized to write any report and he sent me to another police post which was at least 30 minutes away on feet. I could not take any transportation since I did not have any money. Eventually I reached this other police office, explain what happened to me I walked home.

At the front of the house a suspicious looking person was waiting for me with a big smile telling that he found my purse. I was very glad that at least the purse was found. There were of course no any money in the purse but at least my documents, ID etc. Ther is a common practice that if somebody find your purse you give him a money award. I rushed home to get some money from my parents to pay to this guy, although I had some doubts about him. I thought, If I would not repay anything, the next time they rob somebody, they would not even bother to return the documents. Then I called the police telling them how the guy looked like etc, I did not notice that the policeman was not really very eager to listen to me, he did not really ask any extra questions. After a couple of weeks I received a letter from the police: "The investigation is terminated" (sledztwo jest umorzone).

I wrote a letter to the German professor what happened to me. He commented that he was robbed not only once but twice! Of course I bought him ' something eventually, to preserve the honor, but I felt uneasy about this whole situation.

My father situation is even more difficult. It seems that he does not even need to leave his house in order to encounter dishonest people. During the last one two year he was robbed at least three-four times. One time a group of young women came claiming that they are students with the assignment to carry the interviews with elderly and retired people about their health problems and health issues. My father let them in, probably glad that somebody would talk to him and listen to him. During the interview one of the girls felt dizzy. There was some confusion, she has to take water and medicines. They left and the most of the money which my father had at home was gone. Another time women came with the bread from the church's deacon. They left bread ...but they took money. The last time another lady came to check on window's insulation. She left together with some money and also with a silver sugar bowl - a beautiful family souvenir with my grandmother initials on it. I bet this beautiful sugar bowl has much more value for my family than it would ever had for any potential client.

These dishonest people, mainly women, use the naivete of the older people, especially the single elderly people, who wait for some attention, but not for the price they pay! It is very sad. My father had some trust in the police. He went to the police post twice and two reports were written. It seems that this was just a waste of time like in my case since he received two letters home with the same information: "investigation terminated". Now, my father does not bother to even call the police, since he does not believe that they are effective.

I was talking to the journalist from Krakow's local newspaper "Dziennik Polski". The journalist told me that these types of crimes are extremely common in Poland now. He mentioned some other ways of preying for elderly - promise to help receiving cheaper medicines, giving them "free" money but expect to receive more etc. According to him, the Krakow's police claim that 40% of the investigations are solved positively. I wonder, how this statistics is made up. Robbery is not the only crime that is a real problem in Poland now, the car thief is also on the rise. Two close family members lost their cars during the last three years and no any suspect was ever found.

It is hard for me to imagine that only my family has such a bad luck. Poland is a relatively safe country if we refer to the violent crimes like a homicide or aggravated assault. Still, should we not to expect the police to solve some common crimes also, especially if they become so widely spread? Should we not strive for better norm for human life and dignity, especially since we are a part of European Union?

What do you think? Please, join us for the discussion in the forum

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
August 2006

Check all the articles in Baba Jaga Column

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here

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  • Poland in European Union
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    Polish Civilization: Essays and Studies (Hardcover) by Mieczyslaw Giergielewicz and Ludwik Krzyzanowski
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