GB No. 12, winter 1994
STRUGGLES WITH THE CHURCH PART II
During Caesar Nero's reign, lions devoured Christians. Now the situation seems to have reversed.
In December, 1992, Dean Father Tadeusz Brandys, declared war on animals. Murat, a lion who was the symbol of the Braniewo Zoological Garden, died the next month. The reason for his death was allegedly old age, but people say that he just could not face the anxiety stemming from the threat of liquidation of the zoo and its inhabitants. He left two bereaved widows: Sarah, and another anaemic lioness, wondrously kept alive by Ryszard Su3kowski, the veterinary surgeon who manages the zoo. He could find another partner for them, but why bother? It is impossible to make any plans for the future. All the creatures great and small are waiting for the verdict.
Braniewo has 18,000 inhabitants. Its zoological garden is small, too. It covers two hectares of a slope and a former moat. Before the war there was a parish garden there, and soon after the war it turned into a rather seedy place where couples would go to indulge in the simple pleasures of life under the cover of the nearby bushes. When the zoological garden was established there in 1961, hundreds of people helped to clean up the area without expecting any payment. The garden became an integral part of the town. Every summer it is visited by 25,000 people. Teachers organize biology lessons there. Unfortunately, however, it is situated in the vicinity of a church.
There is no end to ecclesiastical revindications in Braniewo. St.Catherine's congregation has regained a plot of land with a building situated on it -- the former seat of the Polish National Insurance (PZU) and the National Savings Bank (PKO) -- as well as an ancient tower which has been the seat of the Polish Scouts' Association (ZHP). The Polish National Insurance and the bank have had to get out, while the scouts have been allowed to stay there for the time being. On the request of the curia the Church has gotten back the famous Braniewo grammar school (Liceum Hosianum) and the Potocki mansion, which used to house a library. Father Brandys has demanded on behalf of St.Catherine's parish the Entrance Tower of the former bishop's palace and as many as four plots of land, the zoological garden included.
This is quite of lot of real estate when you think of it in the context of a small town, so Father Brandys was invited to a meeting of the economic committee of the Town Council. He arrived there and said, "If you give me back the lands around the church and the remains of the residuary part around the bishop's palace, I can give up the zoological garden."
The council, overjoyed at such benevolence, quickly agreed to the suggestions made by the priest. However, the situation did not remain peaceful for long, because Father Brandys changed his policy. He did not condescend to talk to the manager of the ZOO, but started at the top by writing a letter to the Property Committee of the Denominations Department of the Bureau of the Cabinet. An excerpt from the document is worth quoting: We must admit that on the one hand the zoological garden contributes towards the development of tourism in the city. On the other hand, however, it is a reason for the increased number of rodents (rats and mice), which have done a lot of damage to the parish church itself many times. What is more, they disturb the religious atmosphere. I respect the managers of the zoological garden and the animals gathered there, but I cannot see the possibility for a religious place to exist side by side with an object that shatters the image of a house of prayer. If this area were to be revindicated, the parish would assist the town in returning it to its former state (the parish garden), which as a park would contribute to the welfare of the town's inhabitants. A part of the area adjoining St. Catherine's Church would serve religious purposes; in other words,. we might erect rosary chapels or Stations of the Cross there.
Chapels in the houses of raccoons and the Way of the Cross in a pavilion taken from monkeys! A veritable Polish Zoo! [editor's note: "The Polish Zoo" is a satirical TV programme in which contemporary politicians are portrayed as various animals].
In January Father Brandys honoured a meeting of the Town Council with his visit. He expected that the members of the Council would readily agree to his suggestions. It turned out that the zoological garden had been a thorn in his side for a long time. It is difficult to imagine more troublesome neighbours: the lions roar, the monkeys masturbate in front of innocent children. To make matters worse, the whole menagerie stinks horribly, which hinders the faithful from enjoying the scent of incense.
After Father Brandys had concluded his speech, an agitated discussion started. S3awomir Tabero, a member of the Council, bravely said that he could not see the possibility of giving the area of the zoological garden to the Church. He was supported by Julian Bien, who suggested that an informal interview should be carried out among electors. Ryszard Socha touched upon the economic aspect of the problem: the maintenance of the zoological garden costs 30 million zl. per month, and a botanical garden would not necessarily be cheaper. "Man should be judged on the basis of his attitude towards animals," concluded Mr. Socha. W3adys3aw Radzis, disgusted by the discussion, suggested that the zoological garden should be closed immediately, because Father Brandys was an important person in the town. Voting was temporarily postponed. Doctor Su3kowski of the zoological garden wants to be prepared for the worst, so he has offered to transfer his 200 animals to all the zoological gardens possible. He has deduced from the answers he has received that few of the animals can be saved. The most valuable animal is a Przewalski's wild horse, an animal included in the red book of disappearing species. He has already found prospective owners for it. The Gdansk-Oliwa Zoological Garden has offered to take three donkeys, three llamas, one grey mangaba, and some birds.
There is no hope for lions, bears, yaks, buffaloes, and the rest of the zoological lower class. There are already many of them in the other Polish zoological gardens.
Friends and strangers approach Doctor Su3kowski in the street to inquire about the future of the zoological garden. There are a few people who would suggest hiring a sniper and thus quickly getting rid of the problem. The League for the Preservation of Nature defends the garden, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals threatens to inform the television about the case and make it into an affair as yet unseen in Braniewo.
The whole affair is dutifully reported in the local press. There is a part of a dramatic series entitled "Is the Braniewo Zoological Garden going to survive?" in nearly every issue of the Ilustrowany Kurier Terenowy, also called IKAT. "Incidentally, we can imagine the future property of the Church in Braniewo: Hosianum, the area around the cathedral, the cathedral itself as well as the parish priest's house, the tower, the scouts' tower, the building of the National Savings Bank, the area of the current zoological garden, and the palace which currently houses the library. It will be a wonderful piece of property if you put a fence around it. But who will use it?" asks IKAT. It is a rhetorical question. Father Brandys condemns the local press as being constantly in pursuit of the sensational, and during his sermons he agitatedly encourages people to support his idea of the Park For the Cult of God.
When incidentally introduced into a casual conversation on the street, the word "zoo" produces a very emotional reaction.
"They want to take our only source of entertainment away from us. Where will I take the kids on Sunday?"
"They will make a bloody province of Braniewo." "Rodents are just an excuse. There are towns which do not have zoological gardens, and yet there are rats in them!" "Every former supporter of the previous system is now toadying Father most eagerly."
"If the zoo is closed, it will become a seedy place again. People will not pay any attention to chapels unless Father puts a high fence around the area, but then it will be useless to the town."
They speak about it in the Braniewo town hall unwillingly and hesitatingly. "It is difficult for me to take any definite attitude towards the problem of the zoological garden," says Tadeusz Kopacz, the mayor of the town. "The task of the town municipal government is to put all the decisions of the council into action, and the council has not yet made any decision. We do not need any controversy about the zoo. Unfortunately, it has already appeared."
"Not all the councillors are crazy," says a hopeful Ryszard Sułko. He tells a story of an eight year old girl to whom it occurred to write the following letter:
"Mr Sułkowski, I kindly ask you not to kill the animals from our zoo. Please, let them free in the woods and let them live there."
translation from NIE Nr. 10 11/3/93