One of the economic advantages that Poland has over its East-Central European neighbors is its relative decentralization. Hungary is completely dependent on Budapest just as Bulgaria leans heavily on Sofia and the Czech Republic on Prague. Poland has a number of major cities, including Krakow and Gdansk. Moreover, decentralization was a chief aim during the transition period. In March 1990, Poland passed the Local Self-Government Act to shift economic and political responsibilities to localities. As a World Bank study of the reforms points out, successful decentralization served not only to mobilize more people at a local level in the tasks of reconstruction but it also reduced the fiscal burden of the central government.
Łowicz is a small city of around 26,000 people located about halfway between Warsaw and Lodz. It suffers from many of the economic problems that plague the rest of the country. Its population has dropped by more than 10 percent over the last two decades as young people in particular have left for Warsaw or for economic opportunity abroad. The area took a major economic hit during the economic upheavals of the 1990s. But a dairy cooperative survived and is now thriving. A second major firm, processing fruits and vegetables, also provides local jobs.
“There was a third firm here in the Communist era called Syntex that produced socks, but it collapsed in 1995,” the editor of the local newspaper, Wojciech Waligorski, told me in an interview in his office in August 2013. “It was rebuilt with foreign capital, and it went bankrupt again in 2008 or so, I don’t remember exactly. Instead of this one big factory, there are plenty of small sock-producing factories near Łowicz established by people who were working for this factory before. They have experience and money enough to establish their own enterprises. So there are at least 15 or 20 small producers near Łowicz and in Łowicz itself. So people can work there. A lot of them work also in very small private businesses. Some work in the public sector. A lot of them have their own trucks and work in international transport.”
As Waligorski points out, jobs are still the number one concern of people in the area. And he doesn’t think that the local government has done enough to attract capital to create jobs.
“Kutno, a town 40 kilometers to the west of Łowicz, was hit much harder than Łowicz in this transition period,” he explained. “In Kutno there were a lot of industries of different kinds that went bankrupt, and the level of unemployment there was well above 20% in a certain period. But the local government there was able to buy land in large quantities at that time so that later they were able to offer investors big pieces of land. And now they are starting to get new investments. There are some factories from Italy, from Japan, and so on that have moved there. In Łowicz, the case is different. The town doesn’t have a lot of land to offer. It’s really a small town. The borders should be enlarged to have more possibilities to attract investments.”
Still, he’s happy with the political impact of local self-government. The citizens in Łowicz have a relatively high turnout in the elections, and local government has changed hands on several occasions.
“Here in Łowicz itself, this self-government revolution in 1990 changed a lot,” Waligorski concluded. “This was a success overall in Poland. For me, a sign of whether democracy is healthy or ill is whether real change can happen. And in 1994, 1998, and 2006, we survived a real change. Completely different people took power here. That’s proof of a healthy democracy. And it happens on the local political stage. It’s not the case with national politics where Polish democracy is not as healthy as at the local level.”
When we first met 23 years ago, Waligorski worked for a newspaper devoted to sobriety. He updated me on the state of alcoholism in Poland. We also talked about the impact of former Communist officials, the role of religion in Łowicz, and what people expect from a local newspaper.
Did you grow up here in Łowicz?
No, I was born in Poznań. You know this town? It’s much bigger than Łowicz. I also studied at the technical university in Poznań. But during the Solidarity period in 1981, it was much easier than before to get a passport and to travel. So I hitchhiked a lot in Western Europe, and in France I met my future wife while hitchhiking. We were both in Taizé in France, this spiritual center for young people. We met there, and three years later we have married. Her parents lived in Łowicz, so I moved here.
When did you become a journalist?
I became a professional journalist in 1989, because three years before, in 1986, I started publishing articles in the Catholic press in Poland. But it was not a professional activity. It was just writing and from time to time my wife and I published something. She wrote inPrzegląd Katolicki (Catholic Perspective), which does not exist now and was published by the archbishop of Warsaw. And in 1989 I started working for the monthly Trzezwymi Badzcie (Be Sober). On May 11, 1990, we launched an independent local newspaper here in Łowiczcalled Nowy Łowiczanin. It was a continuation of a tradition of local journalism here in Łowicz because in 1911 there was a weekly established herecalled Łowiczanin, which means “resident of Łowicz.” It existed until 1933, if I remember correctly.
Later, when the Solidarity movement prepared for the first free local elections in May 1990, it decided to publish a local newspaper. The Citizen’s Committee of Solidarity here in Łowicz asked my wife and I to help. It turned out that we were not just providing help. We ended up doing all the work! We started it like an underground publication — without capital, without any support. We used our own money and worked for the first several months for free. Finally when the Citizen’s Committee was dissolved after the conflicts at the end of 1990 over the presidential elections, the rights to the title were handed to us, and we could publish the newspaper as our own. And now it’s been more than 23 years!
So for a period of time you were doing both jobs.
Yes, it was possible because at the beginning Trzezwymi Badzcie was a monthly, and Nowy Łowiczanin was a biweekly. Since January 1, 1995, we established Nowy Łowiczanin as a weekly. And since the autumn of 1995 the size of the newspaper has been bigger. We started printing it at the big printers. For the first time they calculated that it was worth it for them to also print small newspapers like ours.
When you started Nowy Łowiczanin, there was no newspaper here at all?
None at all. There was one so-called local newspaper reminiscent of the Communist era called Wiadomosci Skierniewickie because the head of the województwo was the town of Skierniewice, 25 kilometers from here. Wiadomosci Skierniewickie covered news from all the small towns in this województwo – Skierniewice, Łowicz, Żyrardów, Brzeziny, Sochaczew — so it was not, in a proper sense, a local newspaper. It was really a regional paper.
How many people live here in Łowicz?
Officially 29,000 or so. But unofficially — we are just preparing an article on this, but we don’t yet have strong data — we’re probably about 26,000. Many people have flown away to Britain. Sometimes they come back. Officially, they are still inhabitants of Łowicz, but, practically, no. In our region or powiat we have about 83-84,000 people.
When you started Nowy Łowiczanin what was the size of Łowicz?
It was about 33,000 people. So it has lost at least 10% of the population.
That’s a lot.
It reflects the situation in Poland overall. Poland is diminishing in sheer numbers.
And the countryside is diminishing faster than the cities?
Here in our area, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a similar rate.
Your son was telling me that Łowicz is well located because it’s relatively near Warsaw and also near Łódź. He said that it’s a good place for people to settle.
Yes, that’s true. It’s possibility for people living here to find a job in Warsaw or in Łódź, though much more in Warsaw. But it’s really hard for people commuting each day. The railway connections are not bad, but it would be much better if they could find work here.
And what do people do here? What is the main source of employment?
There are two big factories that, happily, have survived all the transformations and are well established on the market. The first is the local dairy, which produces milk and milk products like cheese. It’s a cooperative. You know mleko Łowickie (Łowicz milk)? You can find it on the shelves along with maslo Łowickie (Łowicz butter) and so on. The brand itself is strong on the market. They have their main factory here in Łowiczbut also other smaller ones elsewhere in Poland. It’s the only big industrial enterprise with headquarters in Łowicz.
The second firm is a fruit and vegetables factory, but it belongs to the corporation Agros Nova with headquarters in Warsaw. They have three factories – in Łowicz, Tymienice near Łódź, and Włocławek. Because the headquarters are in Warsaw, all the earnings go to Warsaw. I really don’t like that. I can easily imagine having their headquarters here in Łowicz with all the connections to the airport and so on.
There was a third firm here in the Communist era called Syntex that produced socks, but it collapsed in 1995. It was rebuilt with foreign capital, and it went bankrupt again in 2008 or so, I don’t remember exactly. Instead of this one big factory, there are plenty of small sock-producing factories near Łowicz established by people who were working for this factory before. They have experience and money enough to establish their own enterprises. So there are at least 15 or 20 small producers near Łowicz and in Łowicz itself. So people can work there. A lot of them work also in very small private businesses. Some work in the public sector. A lot of them have their own trucks and work in international transport.
The dairy and the fruit/vegetable firm – are they Polish-owned or international?
They are Polish. It’s local, because it’s a cooperative. The farmers are the co-owners. Agros Nova is fortunately a diverse factory. I really don’t know who is now the main shareholder because it changes very fast.
Before I continue with questions about Łowicz, I want to just ask about alcoholism and how much you think the situation has changed since we talked in 1990. In Warsaw, compared to when I lived there in 1989, it didn’t seem to me as if there was as big a problem. But then I read in Gazeta Wyborcza that a huge number of people had been arrested for drunk driving. So I’m curious what you think the situation has been like?
I think the way of drinking has changed a lot. There are really fewer people drinking vodka, and there are many more people drinking beer now. I don’t know the figures. But when I see people meet just to talk to each other — when they meet somewhere outside on the seashore or the lake — they really drink a lot of beer. But it’s true that many, many people drink a lot. In our newspaper, we publish each week a list of cases of people — without names because it’s forbidden — riding bicycles or very often also cars, which were stopped and checked and held by the police because they were caught while driving under the influence of alcohol. So it’s really still a problem though maybe not as big a problem.
We had really a horrible example three or four weeks ago of an awful car accident near Łowicz. There were two bicyclists, a husband and wife, three or four weeks after their wedding. They were very young. It was Sunday or Saturday, and they were just going for a ride. And there was a car with five men inside. Only one of the men was sober. Four were drunk, one was sober, but the sober one was not the driver. They were driving so fast that they lost control of the car, and they smashed into these two. They survived, but with the injuries were awful, really awful. So, that’s a sign that alcoholism is still a big problem in Poland now. Not much has changed in my opinion, though I’m not a specialist now in this subject.
Is the monthly still being published?
Yes, it is. I was invited by Tadeusz Pulcyn who worked with me – he was an editor-in-chief – to write a small article for the hundredth issue of Trzezwymi Badzcie. Issue number 100 was published in July, and also I have written a small article for them just remembering the days when I worked for them. And this movement of Anonymous Alcoholics is strong in Poland now, so it means that it’s necessary.
What would you say are the major issues that people are interested in Łowicz? You told me that the size of your paper depends on the season and also on advertising. But I’m curious what articles have been most interesting to people, what has created controversy, and so on?
We are covering all kinds of stories concerning local life: local government, political quarrels in the local government, the local economy, social stories about interesting people living here, religious life, cultural life. We cover it all. Local sports. We have eight pages of sports, normally, so it’s quite a lot. What people like most is finding something really interesting in our local life. Of course, crime is a hit on the first page. A man stabbed his wife in January. She was very known and he was very known because they had a hairdresser’s salon. So of course people like things like this. That’s obvious everywhere in the world. But I cannot precisely say what makes our newspaper interesting. I think the key is that we cover everything, but only local things. We really do not write anything about what’s taking place in Warsaw or in Łódź or even in Skierniewice. The key to success is covering only local things.
Once we conducted a survey, but the results of the survey haven’t been confirmed. But we did confirm our suspicions that there are people who are looking in the newspaper for local sports, there are people who are looking for obituaries, there are people who are looking for local government affairs, there are people looking for stories about people living here, there are people looking for well-written big stories about the economy. So, really, there’s no one topic that is the most interesting. Everything here in Łowicz is interesting for them.
But the one constant for people living here is that they are really worried about joblessness. It’s not joblessness as such because the level of unemployment here is about 10% or even less. As a matter of fact, it’s lower because many people are working in the gray market. So it’s not a tragedy here. But people have this belief that the town isn’t developing as they would like it to be, that they are forced to look for work somewhere else – for example, in Warsaw. There are really a lot of people commuting to Warsaw to work. So, that’s the constant concern for people here: how to find a good job.
Are there possibilities of new factories or new investment coming to Łowicz? Is that something that the local government is actively trying to bring to Łowicz?
Yes, they are trying, but I do not think they are successful in this area. For example, Kutno, a town 40 kilometers to the west of Łowicz, was hit much harder than Łowicz in this transition period. In Kutno there were a lot of industries of different kinds that went bankrupt, and the level of unemployment there was well above 20% in a certain period. But the local government there was able to buy land in large quantities at that time so that later they were able to offer investors big pieces of land. And now they are starting to get new investments. There are some factories from Italy, from Japan, and so on that have moved there. In Łowicz, the case is different. The town doesn’t have a lot of land to offer. It’s really a small town. The borders should be enlarged to have more possibilities to attract investments.
Two weeks ago — I wasn’t here since I was in the mountains at the time — but my journalists wrote an article about it. The Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk came to Łowicz just to open officially not a factory but a branch office – the headquarters are in Warsaw — for exploration of shale gas. American capital is involved in this company. It’s called United Oil Field Services, and they have established their center here. It’s well organized with a lot of special equipment, with laboratories, electronic devices, and so on. But it’s only a branch office, a base for working everywhere in Poland. It’s something. Some people will get a job here. It’s a success for local government to attract this company here. But as a whole, I would say Łowicz is not coping very well with economic problems.
How do you evaluate the competence of local officials?
It’s not so bad. Many different parties have governed the city over the last 23 years. Some of the mayors and officials were okay. The scale and the kind of problems that we had to cope with were quite different at the beginning of the 1990s. It has changed a lot.
Now since 2006, there’s a mayor who has won two terms. He’s quite popular. He’s really listening to the will of the people and really trying to solve people’s problems. I appreciate his kind of engagement. But in terms of attracting outside investment, he does not have good competence or had good achievements. It could have been much better. It has to be much better. He’s popular and independent. During his first election in 2006, he was supported by both Law and Order Party (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO) voters. His citizen’s committee has a majority on the town council. I think he’s going to win a third term, though it’s not certain. He won his first term in a landslide with 75% of the votes. The second time was not much worse because it was close to 70%. That means something. We can say it’s a good transparent democracy in Poland now – at least on the local level. As journalists, we really haven’t found anything to object to.
Maybe we are weak as journalists, but so far we haven’t found clear signs of this. I think it exists. But we have not found any clear proof.
And how many people vote? Is it a lot of people?
It’s better than elsewhere in Poland on average. I’m not sure, but probably in the last elections the percentage of people voting was a little bit more than a half. For the local elections in Poland, that’s quite a lot. The average is about 40% or even less – 38%, 37%, 34%… it depends. But in Łowicz it was a little bit more than a half, so really, really good for Polish circumstances.
You said that you’re preparing an article now about the real size of Łowicz. It sounded like several thousand people have their residence here but actually don’t live here. And many of those live in other countries like the United Kingdom. Has that changed the culture here, having so many people go to other countries and sometimes coming back? Or has the culture in Łowicz remained pretty much the same over the last 25 years?
It has remained pretty much the same. The changes are taking place slowly. If people come back, and they rarely come back, they come back only for holidays. So it’s difficult to answer your question.
There hasn’t been a large enough group of people who have come back to stay?
No. At least not so far. Quite often I hear people say they’ll come back when they retire.
What about church? You mentioned you do cover the Church. I imagine the Church is an important institution here in Łowicz?
I wouldn’t say that the Church as an institution is important in Łowicz. Of course, it is in a certain way, because the headquarters of the diocese is here, so there’s a bishop here. People don’t like him because he’s not a spiritual leader. He’s more like a clerk. People dislike very much when he got some money from the European Union to renovate our cathedral. It was done, and it was well done, but he also used this money to build a bigger residence for himself. So people really dislike that.
The number of people attending Sunday masses is smaller now than 20 years ago, but it’s not a very significant difference. It’s not a disaster. There are still young people going to church, but fewer than before. And there are young people who really engage in religious life in certain communities, prayer groups and so on. The region of Łódź as a whole has one of the smallest percentages in Poland of people attending Sunday masses. It’s a rather secularized region. But here in Łowicz itself and its surroundings, the connections between tradition and religion are very strong. May, in Polish tradition, is a month devoted to Mary, and there’s a tradition of people gathering at the crosses in the villages just to sing prayers. It still exists, and you can see older ladies going there and some young girls as well singing. Sometimes it’s hard to say whether it’s really devotion or just a kind of tradition. It’s both, and I would say it’s a good tradition.
Do you think the people here in Łowicz in general are relatively conservative or not so conservative?
Not so. There’s no big difference between people here and anywhere else. Politically, in the recent parliamentary elections PiS and PO had almost the same number of votes. It was astonishingly equal. PO got only a few hundred more votes. But in the village areas, the Polish People’s Party (PSL) is the leading force so far. PiS is strong as well, but PSL is a really strong force here. It exhibits all the characteristics of the party that are well known all over the country, like nepotism. When they gain power then immediately there are changes in important positions.
I’m curious about the situation for poor people, those who have either lost their jobs and have not found other jobs or people who have jobs but earn very, very little money. Are there social service organizations in Łowicz that help them? What happens if you’re poor here in Łowicz?
The first option is to go on social security. Many people use it. It’s true that many people use it although they work “black.” I’m rather suspicious of social security. On one hand, there is unemployment; on the other hand there isn’t. There are many people who are gaining money from the social security, but if they have to go to the office and declare that they are ready to work, they are suddenly in a hurry because they have to sign and go back to the job they already have! So both things are true. People really are trying to get a good job and it’s really hard to do that. On the other hand, especially in the area of physical work, you can easily get money which is not taxed.
Have you done any story in Nowy Łowyczanin on this issue?
In recent years, no. We have done several stories, but in recent years no.
Can you give me any examples of articles that you’ve published that have led to change here in Łowicz, either at a state level or with local government?
Our biggest “political” effort was in 1997. We published an article informing people that the mayor falsified his signature. Well, the signature was real, but he signed a document informing an American foundation that a certain man, his colleague, was employed in the town office, which was not true. That document enabled this man to go to the States and participate in a training there. We finally lost the case in the court because some sentences used by our journalists had some small errors. But the mayor himself was forced to resign.
Did the mayor bring you to court?
Yes, it was a civil case because some words used in this article were, let’s say, exaggerated. Really, it was a complicated case because we fought it all the way to the highest court, and finally we have lost in the highest court. It lasted for three years or so.
Did you have to pay anything?
Yes, I had to.
But he had to resign?
But he had to resign.
So it was a lose-lose situation. You lost some money, and he lost his office.
But he didn’t lose his money. He went into private business later. But his engagement in political life was finished. Well, not quite. He’s now again active. I appreciate this man as a political figure. He’s really clever. He was a straightforward thinker. And we exaggerated a little bit in the way we have described the situation. But the fact was that he confirmed something that was not true. Now he’s active in this think tank called Centrum Adama Smitha. Ireneusz Jabłoński, that’s his name. Maybe you should talk to him. He’s not a stupid man.
I’ve talked to a lot of people about lustracja and its effect at the national level. Does it have any impact here locally?
Yes, of course. There are still many Communist activists active in political life now. For example, two of the members of the majority coalition in the powiat council are well-known Communist apparatchiks. One is the head of the council. He’s a rather open-minded guy but as a matter of fact, he’s well grounded in his milieu. So their influence is big. It’s too bad that this lustration hasn’t effectively taken place in Poland.
Here in Łowicz itself, this self-government revolution in 1990 changed a lot. This was a success overall in Poland. For me, a sign of whether democracy is healthy or ill is whether real change can happen. And in 1994, 1998, and 2006, we survived a real change. Completely different people took power here. That’s proof of a healthy democracy. And it happens on the local political stage. It’s not the case with national politics where Polish democracy is not as healthy as at the local level. At the national level, there were only two short periods – 1991-2 with Olszewski and 2005-7 with Kaczynski – when a real change has taken place. All the other periods, it was not a real change. You live in America where there’s really a big difference between Democrats and Republicans, where every election brings a chance for a real change. But that’s not the case in Poland.
When you think back to the economic reforms of 1990-92, the Balcerowicz Plan and the changes that took place then, do you think that anything should have been done differently from the point of view of towns like Łowicz? Or do you think the economic reforms were basically the best that could have been done for everybody?
There are always things that could have been done better. That’s normal. You always make some mistakes. But the scale of the mistakes compared to the scale of the change that had to be done was not so big. The general direction was correct. But in many places, it could have been done better.
For example, I do not support the point of view that the local Party chiefs, the local apparatchiks, were the best prepared to manage the economy and the factories in this transition period. They were, in their way of thinking, not accustomed to independent thinking, to really taking care of what they were responsible for. They always waited for orders from above. Many more companies could have been saved if homeless people would have been given this responsibility! My point of view is closest to that of Rafał Ziemkiewicz. It would be nice for you to meet him. He is probably the first in Poland to describe our elite as “colonial.” They were appointed from above, and later they had a chance just to get money for themselves. They did not take care of the factories left in their hands. They didn’t have a patriotic view that these were “our businesses.” For them, these were just businesses given to them. So the general direction of Mr. Balcerowicz’s reforms was good, but the professional resources were not sufficient.
In the economy personal honesty is really important. The economy is not only about making money. There have to be moral standards. The people who got economic power in 1990 were lacking this moral strength.
The sense of responsibility.
Yes, the sense of responsibility.
When you think back to your own personal worldview in 1990, how much has changed over the last 23 years?
A lot has changed, really. I remember talking to my wife in 1986 or so, and we said that we would never try to run our own business. Never, never: because it was necessary to pay bribes and so on. We wanted to have a lot of time for ourselves. We wanted less money but more time for ourselves. Later we were asked to help launch a newspaper, and after that we took on this work alone. Once we started, we could imagine doing this business. And now we advise our children to choose the kind of education that enables them to have their own private business activity. So, it’s another world. Our personal attitude towards economic activity has changed completely.
When you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed in Poland from 1989 until today, how would you evaluate everything on a scale of one to ten, with one being most dissatisfied and ten being most satisfied?
I would say, seven. Why not ten? Because I’m really concerned about two things that shouldn’t have taken place. One is the weakness of Polish economy. I see that the Polish economy is integrated in the European Union but as a supplier, not as the leading force it could have been. We could have been the number three or number four in the European Union, and we are number 15. Okay, I appreciate the international cooperation and so on, but we are basically only a supplier for Germany. Of course, you can earn quite a big amount of money being a supplier, but why only a supplier? Why not try to be a South Korea? The labor costs should have been much lower, and we could really have flourished. We are in a certain way dependent on the subsidies from the EU.
The second reason is the moral atmosphere — all the attacks on the family. Poland was never a country with a lot of homophobia. Even before the Second World War, homosexuality was not punished in Poland. It was okay. It was a private thing. But to give the same rights to homosexuals as to the families, I think that undermines society as a whole. The family is something really important. The fruit of this policy will be very bad. You cannot destroy the family without consequences. So only seven.
The same period of time, the same scale, but your own personal life?
Looking into the near future, the next two or three years, how do you evaluate the prospects for Poland on a scale of one to ten with one being most pessimistic and ten being most optimistic?
Five. I don’t know, really. Much depends on the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Let’s say the PO forms a ruling coalition. That will be bad because it will mean no change. Of course, as you know in Japan, they had practically no change from 1945 until 1980 or something. So, this is an exception because Japan is something extraordinary. But how about Mexico where the revolutionary party (PRI) was in power for many decades? You would not say, in the United States, that Mexico is a good democracy. I fear the same outcome for Poland. The possibility for real change is important. So if the outcome of the elections will be the same, it will be bad.
Łowicz, August 14, 2013
The estimates are enormous. 2-3 million Poles are alcoholics with another 3-5 million having drinking problems. 20 million Poles are therefore affected, either having a drinking problem or being closely involved with someone who does. Easily half the population therefore has experience with the problem. 80 percent of the sufferers are men. There is little or no education on the problem in schools. The only notable decline in the problem came in 1980-81, when sales of alcohol declined 30 percent and there was a conscious effort on the part of Solidarity to keep alcohol and strikes separate. A state organization has worked on the problem but the state has always been too involved financially (the state budget depends on alcohol sales) to fight the problem seriously. In 1982-83, a movement called “Sobriety” emerged, with patriotic-religious roots and tied closely to the Solidarity movement. In 1984, Catholic bishops called for August to be alcohol-free and, according to the Church at least, it was a success. The state organization criticized the move for being ineffectual. This state organization still exists with a Solidarity supporter as chairman but it doesn’t have very much money. In the 1989 elections, Solidarity included the alcohol problem on its platform as a critical issue to be dealt with but so far, other national economic problems have overshadowed this problem.
I received this information from Wojciech Waligorski, co-editor of Trzezwymi Badzcie… (“Be Sober…”), a monthly devoted to religious and social concerns. The magazine, a highly polished and well-layed out periodical, reflects the views of the Church in articles on family, theology, abortion and, of course, alcoholism. I accompanied Waligorski to Zakroczym, a small town several dozen kilometers outside of Warsaw, where the Capuchins run a center for sobriety. That weekend, the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous were conducting a retreat and I had a chance to meet with several of the organizers.
Alcoholics Anonymous began in Poland in 1957 but didn’t truly get going until 1974. From 1974 to 1989, it has grown from one chapter in Poznan (the Polish Akron, as it is called by AA aficionados) to 316 groups all around Poland. Recently, Alanon and Alateen have also started chapters. Poland is now 18th in the world in number of AA chapters. In 1985, the voluntary retreats began in Zakroczym and have brought together people from all over Poland, of all different professional and religious background. My hosts stressed that the purpose of the group was to prevent alcoholism not to spread religion (a highly suspect claim, considering the governing tenets of AA, the prayers offered before every meal, the times set aside for meditation and prayer, the location of the retreats in a Capuchin monastery and so on).
They are trying to contact other groups in Eastern Europe. There is, for instance, a chapter forming in Moscow. They don’t work with any of the other governmental or political groups dealing with alcoholism. For Polish AA, it is the task of the individual to decide to cure him or herself and AA will remain an independent institution to facilitate such a process.