Political Jokes in Poland versus Polish Jokes in America

Every country has its own sense of humor. Everyone knows how unique English humor is, for example. During forty years of Communism, Poles developed their own jokes, which were mainly related to the political situation. Thanks to these jokes Poles were able to release their tension, stress and a feeling of frustration with the Communistic system. Jokes were one of the few things that remained as a tool to fight the regime.

Almost all Poles were against the Communistic system, so it was easy to find a good ground to tell the jokes since the audience was practically everywhere. Poles were much more open with their criticism of the Communism than in any other country of the Eastern Communistic Block, especially after the fall of the Stalinism. The political thaw in Poland started almost immediately after the famous Khrushchev speech denouncing Stalin in 1956. The speech actually caused Bierut, our first Communist Secretary, to have a heart attack and die! Although the Communistic government at different times wanted to restrict freedom of speech later on, the restrictions were never so bad as during the Stalinist epoch.

My uncle was imprisoned for telling a political joke in the wrong place at the wrong time in the early 50'es during Stalin's times. He told the joke in a streetcar; somebody told the authorities. He was put in jail for a couple of months. Later he was very proud of it since it made him a political prisoner!

Here is my uncle's joke which caused his incarceration:

Question: How much does Bierut (the first Communistic Secretary in Poland) do for Poland? Answer: Don't know? Just look through his new, transparent, glassy potty. This is how much he does for Poland!

The political jokes were with us all the time until the fall of the Communistic system in 1989. Of course they could never appear in any official mass media such as newspapers, books, radio or TV, but they were very popular in so the called, second, unofficial circulation - among friends, in any social situation, on the streets, or through Radio Free Europe. But I did not hear about anybody who suffered any consequences for telling jokes as my uncle dd through the time I was growing up in Poland, and I am of the a generation born in the 60's.

In the early 80's, the most popular were the so called "policemen jokes". The jokes usually made fun of the stupidity of the policemen. Policemen in that time were considered a tool of the government, so stupid policemen meant stupid government.

The typical joke was like this:

Question: How many policemen are needed to change a light bulb on the ceiling? Answer: Five. Four to turn the table and the fifth to stand on the table and hold the bulb

These jokes were very funny for us and very popular all through 80's. After I came to the US I saw a book with Polish and other ethnic jokes. This book was published in 70's, before the time of political correctness. I had known about the existence of Polish jokes, but I had no idea what a typical joke was like. I took the book and as I looked through Polish, Irish, and Jewish jokes, I was stunned! The so-called "Polish jokes" were exactly like the policemen jokes we had laughed at in Poland! The word "a policeman" was just replaced by "a Pole". Did we laugh at ourselves through all these years? Hard to give a simple and straightforward answer...

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
October 2007

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

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