GB No. 3(14)/94


picture 1

The August 21,1994 (No. 34) issue of the weekly magazine Wprost (Straight) -- one of the most widely circulating and influential magazines in Poland -- called public attention to the still very bad environmental situation in Poland, which successive post-communist governments have tried to ignore. In order to grab readers, the magazine cover bore the title "Death in the air" and a picture of the Madonna with the Christ-Child wearing gas-masks on their faces, for protection against the poisoned air of the Polish cities. It was a likeness of the well-known painting of the Black Madonna from the Pauline convent on Jasna Góra (Bright Mountain) in Częstochowa. For Polish Catholics the painting is an object of great adoration. The use of this beloved image met with extraordinarily sharp protest from the prior of the convent, Father Szczepan Koœnik, who declared the depiction of the holy figures in gas-masks a profanation of a sacred symbol. In wake of his claim, the Wprost editorial office has received many letters -- some expressing approbation and solidarity with the editorial staff, some expressing indignation and condemnation. Here I am interested only in the latter because of the fact that two years ago a similar controversy was caused by Zielone Brygady (the Polish version of Green Brigades). The letters to the editor which have been published in Wprost Numbers 36 and 37 are often abusive invectives against the editorial staff members. Some of the letters threaten the editorial staff with physical violence and even with death.

The wide repercussions of this matter put on the order of the day the question of the admissibility of using sacred symbols for purposes of propaganda, even when in defense of the most basic and universally accepted values (such as human health and life).

I have already mentioned the similar controversy (though it was on a smaller scale, since ZB has an incomparably smaller readership than does Wprost ) faced by Zielone Brygady after publishing on the cover (Nos 38 - 39, August/September, 1992) a reproduction of the Mariusz Tokarski poster, which was entitled ironically by the creator "Brave New World" (referring to the title of the book by Aldous Huxley which was well known in the thirties). This poster shows a picture of the Christ from the Cisterian Convent in Mogiła near Kraków, crucified on a pole of high-voltage power lines which are situated directly beside a huge and dreary block of flats (such blocks of flats were built in all communist countries during the seventies and eighties, using a simple technology: big slabs). It is obvious that such high-voltage lines situated near peoples' homes is very dangerous. However, using a sacred symbol in this context sparked a protest and charge of profanation from the President of the Małopolska branch of the Polish Ecological Club, Mr Adam Markowski (ZB 40).

I tried to refute the charge of profanation by arguing that such sacred symbols as the cross and the likeness of Christ and the crucified in all Christian culture express suffering and death as well as the threat of suffering and death. So when the real threat of death or suffering appears, and it is we, after all, who are responsible for it -- in the case of environmental deterioration and pollution --, it is quite reasonable to use these very symbols of suffering and death. On graves there are crosses and likenesses of Christ: the cross marks the fact of death (for instance, the name of the deceased may appear on the cross). When somebody is tormented by some great suffering (such as an illness or lameness, or the suffering of someone close to him), it is said that he is "bearing his cross". My response (ZB 43) was accompanied by the reproduction of another pro-environmental poster of a crucified planet Earth, which symbolized the magnitude of the menaces and suffering which are coming to the Earth and its inhabitants because of the progressive deterioration of the ecosphere.

Both the controversial Wprost cover and the posters reproduced in Zielone Brygady point to a fact which is significant to this conflict, and that is that different artists who grew up in a Christian culture and who were faced with expressing death and suffering from environmental threats, quite independently came up with sacred Christian symbols of death and suffering. In using these symbols, the artists are trying to sound the alarm, to rouse the public and to increase awareness of environmental threats, within the circle of Christian culture as well as the general public. It seems to me that it is difficult to look for profanation or abuse of sacred symbolism here. picture 2

Next the question of the reasons for such a strong reaction from the Catholic community comes to mind. The explanation can be found by considering the Polish political and social situation. Poland is a predominantly Catholic country (over 90%), and during the communist period the Catholic Church was the only legal institution counted as a social force truly independent from communist authority. The Church became the opposition force against communism because of basic ideological differences, and that is the reason why the people on whom communism was imposed looked to the Church for moral support during the days of communism. In the last decade of communist rule, when the organized opposition (mainly SOLIDARITY) was at work -- though the State authority fought against it -- the Church supported the opposition and gave it many-sided help and shelter against prosecutions. Because of that fact, after the down-fall of communism the Church enjoyed tremendous social respect and great moral authority (the election of a Pole for the pope in 1978 increased it even more).

Nevertheless, today's Polish community is strongly secular and bent on deriving the pattern of life style from the most developed Western countries with their consumer societies. Taking advantage of its influence on the community (achieved thanks to the struggle with communism), the Church is now trying to force the community to adopt the Church's patterns based on religious doctrine. It is attempting to use the power of the state (particularly with regard to the prohibition of abortion and media censorship according to Church morality). This causes strong tensions between advocates of a neutral state outlook and of the modernization of society and the Church and its advocates who try to force the community to accept religious values and traditional patterns of life (mainly relating to family and sexuality). It was these very tensions which contributed considerably to the electoral triumph of the Left in September, 1993, indicating a distinct erosion of Church influence on the Polish community.

The circumstances here presented (although greatly simplified) explain the nervousness which the Church circles demonstrated in their reactions to the use of sacred symbols in environmental propaganda. The Polish media speak about the "besieged fortress" syndrome characteristic of today's Polish Church and its circles: it is induced to look for an enemy and discerns in almost every gesture an act of enmity or an insult. An important factor contributing to the conflict with Wprost could also be the fact that the magazine promotes openly tolerant Western ideas and manifests critical judgements towards the Church.

Andrzej Delorme

Wprost - cover
Madonna from Wprost and the original Madonna (center - right).

Letters to the Editor Received by Wprost
in Response to the "Death in the Air" Issue

"We knew that you were a staff member of a communist weekly magazine, but we didn't expect you would commit such a shameful deed. Even communists didn't behave like that, and you are a worse human being than they were."


"How dare you affront my religious feelings? How dare you spit at the history of Poland? Who are you? A Pole?"


"You insolent Bolshevik, do not desecrate what is held sacred in our country, because you will meet with a justifiable penalty. You Soviet pig! You are not afraid of God and not ashamed of people. The time of disaster shall come to you. Then you'll be calling for the help of the Holiest Immaculate Virgin, whose visage you have made look so cruelly ugly."


"I congratulate you on your covers. They are all fascinating, and the last one with the Holy Virgin is ... splendid. I found it extremely moving, in, of course, a positive sense. I thought this could be a symbol of the struggle for clean air, water, and ecology ... I don't pray to pictures, but I am sensitive to symbols of any kind and -- as I mentioned -- just this cover opened my eyes to the threat to our life....You have used the effigy of the Holy Virgin who is to support us in preserving the nature that is given to us, and having only one child, she gave us an example that we should not overdo with child-bearing, because we don't have much space for it."

ANNA S., Warsaw

"One must have so much ill-will or doggedness to interpret the Wprost cover (nr 34) in such an entangled way as did the prior of Jasna Góra. I have deep hope that this hysterical reaction is not a symptom of a serious intellectual crisis which is outlined in the circle of the eminent church representatives in the III RP. Still, on this cover, the Holy Virgin is protecting her Child (Jesus Christ) and herself against the 'fumes of the technical civilization in Poland'."


"Do I feel offended by the cover with the Holy Virgin on it? Well, the only feeling of mine is affection!!! I've understood what the words 'under Your defence...' [ed. note: this is the beginning of the prayer to the Holy Virgin] mean today. I think that understanding this cover depends on what one keeps in one's heart. I am also a mother. I only bear you a grudge for the fact that the already forgotten 'professional Catholics' have resurfaced. They should kiss your hands."

MARIA K., Poznań


"I feel indignant about the caricature published in Wprost. Such an affront to the Queen of Poland cut me to the quick. There are things one shouldn't scoff at. I'm waiting for apologies from the editorial staff."

The Church, which mobilizes its faithful to charitable activities less efficiently than Jerzy Owsiak or Janina Ochojska, and which tolerates common alcoholic practices much more than capitalist employers, is trying to create an impression of the ultimate threat from mysterious powers of conspiracy, which should be utterly repulsed [Editor's note: Jerzy Owsiak organizes benefit concerts for children's hospitals, and Janina Ochojska, president of Equilibre, is involved in humanitarian aid mainly in the former Yugoslavia]. An appeal to the faithful to undertake mass pro-ecological activities would undoubtedly prove abortive. It is much easier to call out among believers the feeling that the real foe is the one who reaches for the nation's sacred symbols. The more so as nobody invites the faithful to a discussion -- they are just to send postcards and letters with protests.

The polemics about the "Madonna with gas-mask" divided readers along traditional lines. Followers of the presented iconography pointed to examples of the use of religious symbols in order to reach artistic, publicist, or business aims in European countries with an older Christian tradition than ours. Rarely objective voices of protest contained all possible sorts of conjectures about the powers that make use of the editorial staff and imputations about the authors' degeneracy of mind and character. The main issue for the magazine -- environmental threats in Poland -- was passed over in almost complete silence. . . .

The Jasna Góra effigy of Mary is considered a quintessence of Polishness, a symbol that is precious or at least not neutral to any Pole.

A picture of Mary the Mother taking part in her children's suffering is decidedly nearer to us than an effigy of a haughty queen presiding over anonymous people. Environmental collapse threatening the bases of our nation's existence seems to justify such an inclusion of Mary the Mother into the fundamental problems her children struggle with.

It should be taken into account that the domestic production of devotional articles popular in Poland as well as the use of sacred icons for articles of everyday use decidedly debases the sense of sanctity of religious symbols. This is a process that has been ongoing for many decades with the consent and even approval of the clergy. Neither the church hierarchy nor any certificated Mary-ologist protested against the printing of an effigy of the Holy Virgin on postage stamps that most of the Catholic clients first moisten with saliva and later, after they are cancelled, unceremoniously throw into waste-paper baskets. A similar lot is met by (for instance) key chains with pictures of the Holy Virgin sunk into plexiglass (most often the Częstochowa Black Madonna), or little Jesus carried by St. Christopher. The effigy of the Holy Virgin is commonly mounted onto souvenir thermometers and barometers and even appears on the back of pocket-mirrors. Stall-keepers selling devotional articles by the wall of the Jasna Góra Sanctuary in Częstochowa, just as at countless church fairs and Calvarias all over Poland, make profits from selling helium balloons with a picture of the Pope on them. The balloons are later carried around by children on the Basilica premises, with no word of protest. Anyway, this is just one of many uses of the Pope's image, which is put on all possible sorts of everyday articles from pens to satchel stickers. Examples of such degradation are numerous, particularly when one considers that the overwhelming majority of these junky products produce even more ugliness. Even a superficial inspection of waste left by pilgrims at the surroundings of Jasna Góra showed that there are so called holy pictures, church song-books, hundreds of little crosses with ribbons, and a simply limitless assortment of devotional articles with religious images lying about. So far none of the confession press has been interested in this problem, nor have any of the private idolaters of Mary nor any other part of the church hierarchy.

However, making money on the effigy of Mary would seem to be a minor offence in the face of trials to appropriate Her authority for activities that are contrary to the Gospel.

Till now the church hierarchy hasn't shown any regret for the open abuse of the name of God's Mother (also Jewish) during the anti-Semitic campaign led by the pre-war "Knight of the Immaculate". During last year's Parliamentary election campaign, the Toruń broadcasting station of the name of the Holy Virgin was the only station in Poland to spread the opinions of listeners wanting to "hang the capitalists", or radical [GB editor's note: probably anti-Semitic] statements of the "Młodzież Wszechpolska" activists.

Also questionable are declarations which claim that Mary has cherished Poland with a "special care". Recognizing the Mother of every human being as a queen of the faithful of one country, the interests of which this sovereign queen should customarily protect from "strangers", suggests -- in defiance of an elementary reading of the Gospel -- that Mary treats other nations with less solicitude.

The third tradition that Wprost referred to is the practice of using religious symbols deeply placed in European culture to express distinctly social problems, a practice commonly accepted in the Western media. For example, the German weekly Stern, to illustrate the disintegration of the German family, used a Jean Mey picture presenting the adoration of the Child in the stable with baby Jesus lying on a television set. Of course, the intention of the authors was not to profane, but to signal in this way the collapse of traditional values. And this is how the illustration was read. Another time the Stern editorial staff, writing about Jesus Christ, published on the cover an effigy of Jesus stretched across a question mark. And Newsweek, publishing materials concerning the Balkan war, presented the likeness of Christ nailed to an emblem with the colors of the Croatian flag.

Were there any voices of disgust raised because of that? And if not - then why?

Piotr Gabryel
Wiesław Kot
Marek Zieleniewski

Wprost No. 35
translated by Ewa Kijowska

Editor's Note: The Catholic radio station Radio Maria had called for individuals to write letters to the editor of Wprost expressing their indignation and to file claims against the magazine, and it looked like there might be a class action lawsuit. However, the prosecutor rejected the claims, so unless the plaintiffs appeal, there will be no lawsuit.


The most dangerous period is between 5:00 and 9:00 in the morning. At that time, it's best to stay inside with the windows closed, advises Marek Wojtylak from the Department of Monitoring and Environmental Research at the Institute of Meteorology and Water Management in Katowice. Nitric oxides pollution starts at 6:00 AM, and half an hour later carbon oxides appear. At 7:00, smoke-stacks start smoking, and an hour later sulphur dioxide is recorded at the measuring stations.

The situation changes after 10 o'clock. This improvement is only temporary, however. In Warsaw, during the afternoon hours of highest traffic intensity (2:00 - 4:00 PM), a distinct increase in pollution is again observed. At that time at the inner-city crossroads, the highest concentration of components of petrol combustion are seen. The concentration of carbon oxides exceeds its norm by 271%, while benzene surpasses its norm by 125%. Recent monitoring research shows that bigger Polish cities all suffer from so-called photochemical smog (called also Los Angeles smog), according to the increase in toxic concentrations of those substances in the air during rush-hours in the morning and the afternoon. Seventy percent of the air pollution in Warsaw comes from exhaust-pipes.

In the latest studies of SMG/KRC Poland, more than 80% of the respondents questioned about environmental threats were of the opinion that air pollution is the biggest threat to human health (only about 50% pointed to water pollution while about 25% mentioned soil pollution). More than 94% of those surveyed answered yes to the question, "Should the public be given up-to-date, objective and reliable information about the levels of environmental pollution?". Less than 2% disagreed.

Meanwhile, attempts to install electronic bulletin boards informing the inhabitants of the biggest cities about the level of air-pollution have met with protests from the side of local administrations and environmental services. Displaying the current level of air pollution would force them to (for instance) set limits on car traffic or dismiss entire factory divisions which contribute the most to the high emissions of toxic compounds.

In Krakow, in spite of the fact that an automatic monitoring system has been monitoring the city air since 1991, the information it recorded was not open to the public. Trial installations of an information panel were blocked by the conservator of monuments and others who stated that the panel would disfigure the city. Only recently have Kraków and Szczecin (just like Vienna, Prague, Bratislava, and London) initiated systems for informing the public about current levels of air pollution. However, to announce an alert (a smog alarm), the system lacks the appropriate corrections to the law for environmental protection and development. In contrast, in Prague and in industrial centers of the Northern Czech Republic adjoining Poland, smog alarms were announced several times over the past year. Studies completed at the same time in Silesia revealed a clear dependence between the amount of deaths and even temporary increases in the concentrations of air-pollutants. Average infant birth weights in Silesia

One of the top civil administrators at the environmental department maintains that if smog alarms were announced on the basis of Western criteria, factories particularly hazardous to the environment would have to go bankrupt, Poland would lose its reputation as a "healthy food" producer, and its inhabitants would have to cope with huge inconveniences (car traffic limitations, recommendations to stay home, etc.). Meanwhile, escaping from smog into a hermetically sealed house can only be a short term solution.

The newest, as-yet-unpublished report of the Highest Control Chamber (NIK) states that nowadays only 10% of 1600 factories possess installations for reducing air-pollution. The previously existing filters and the ones installed in the last few years are characterized as filters of very low efficiency (hardly from 56% to 72%). The ability to reduce dust pollution gets lower. From data from GUS (the Main Statistics Department), it appears that every year we emit into the atmosphere 1.6 million tons of dust, 1 million tons of nitric dioxide, and 360 million tons of carbon dioxide, adding to the buildup of greenhouse gases. These data place Poland among the inglorious leaders of the European countries.

The NIK report affirms the torpidity of environmental services subject to voivodes: 30% of the 71 big production plants has not made a decision about the admissible level of pollutants emitted to the atmosphere (this includes the nitric plants in Wrocław, the "Turów" Power Plant, and the "Erg" Plastic Works, all from the list of the "80 biggest polluters"). Because of this they cannot be punished for their inordinate polluting of the environment.

It also appeared that only 3 among 23 environmental protection departments have at their disposal complete and up-to-date information about businesses and industries located in their area which emit pollutants into the atmosphere. Generally, the lists were not complete, and the Voivodeship Department in ŁódĽ did not keep any register of polluters at all.

The NIK inspectors univocally state that it is more profitable for companies to pollute the environment instead of protecting it. The charges for emitting pollutants to the air are out-right symbolic (they amount to around 0.5% of the material costs). Fines which are too low cannot in any way provide an economic incentive to embark upon activities designed to limit the emission of the harmful substances. NIK states that there is no voivodeship in which all polluters would pay charges for polluting the air.

The management of the SA Nitric Plants in Tarnów does not take into consideration at all undertaking any initiatives directed toward environmental protection in the plans for the company's development. From an earlier program of limiting the dust and gas emissions to the atmosphere, particular points were canceled or their realization was postponed. Companies preferred to "pay for the air" the minimum quota, and, moreover, to postpone the payment instead of spending billions/milliards for the preventive investments. On the other hand, those firms which took the assertions of the department and the authorities about the "serious approach to environmental protection" to heart and decided on pro-environmental investments -- as in the famous case of the "Jaworzno III" power plant -- lost out. They are not competitive enough, and their managements struggle with massed criticism from the side of trade unions.

Recently the amount of orders for installations to protect the environment has seen an alarming decrease at the producers. "Konwent" SA in Końskie, in face of the lower demand, diminished the production of filter-dust cleaners, and "Rawent" SA from Skierniewice -- so far the biggest manufacturer of parts for electrolytic filters -- has been forced to produce, among other things, covers for hatchways.

Foresters warn that if there is no efficient limitation of emissions to the atmosphere, then in 25-30 years at the very latest, the last concentrations of conifers in Poland will disappear (today only 8% of the treestands can be considered healthy). Seeds of grains contain multiple transgressions of admissible concentrations of heavy metals, fluorine, formaldehyde, and pitchy substances. Prof. Mieczysław Chorąży from the Silesian Medical Academy states that in the area of the Katowice voivodeship "the dust pollution possesses high mutagenic activity and damages genetic material". The degree of pollution above densely populated areas with regard to 300 particularly dangerous compounds is 120 times the admissible norms.

Eryk Mistewicz
Wprost No. 34, August 21, 1994
translated by Ewa Kijowska


Reliable information about the environmental situation in Poland has again become an article as scarce as clean water, fresh air, and uncontaminated food. Prof. Waldemar Michna, a representative from the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL), again -- as when he was the minister of environmental protection in the 80's -- is trying to persuade us that talking about the polluted environment, soil, and food is like shooting suicidal goals for our country and our agriculture.

The permanent control of food products, ie. the continuous monitoring of farm products for heavy metals and pesticides, which doctors and environmentalists have been unsuccessfully demanding, doesn't have -- according to the peasants' lobby -- any reason to exist: Prof. Michna recently stated that "Partial studies of food done once every two years are enough to prove its good quality." During one symposium he asserted that the monitoring of Polish food is needed mostly because of the trade interests of the Polish farm producers.

"The quality of the air we have is also not the worst," states the department for environmental protection. Even in Upper Silesia [editor's note: Upper Silesia is the center of Poland's heavy industry and raw materials mining]. To prove it, the Voivodeship Sanitary-Epidemiological Station in Katowice (Sanepid) reached for the arsenal of methods used in the past. Sanepid "revised" and "improved" the indicator of the 15 most harmful compounds (the W-15 indicator), assuming for Silesia a level of the highest admissible concentrations (NDS, the so-called alarm norm): for carbon monoxide, the level was 18 times higher, and for the particularly dangerous, carcinogenic benzopyrene the level was 10 times higher than for the rest of the country.

The effect of the manipulation was not difficult to predict: officially, the quality of the air above Katowice doesn't stray excessively from the quality of the air in the area of Suwałki [editor's note: Suwałki is located in the northeast corner of Poland, in the so-called "Green Lungs of Poland"]. In a report for the Silesian Parliament, Sanepid defended itself: "It has been admitted that the norms in effect since November, 1990, are considerably heightened with no scientific basis, and have a decisive influence (much greater than do other substances) on the value of the concise pollution indicator W-15".

When Prof. Mieczysław Chorąży from the Silesian Medical Academy showed evidence of genetic changes in inhabitants of Upper Silesia, Andrzej So¶nierz, the Health Section manager at the Voivodeship Department in Katowice, firmly "resisted it", declaring to journalists: "Spreading data about chromosomal changes gets us nowhere. This is not even information, because it still hasn't been investigated what these changes can cause, if they are harmful to the organism. After all, all evolution took place thanks to changes in the genetic code".

Doctors from the Regional Medical Chamber in Katowice are alarmed that a human embryo is already polluted with heavy metals in a mother's womb. A new-born child in a Katowice delivery ward breathes air in which more than 700 carcinogenic compounds have been found (compare that to 17 in the air of Oslo) and average yearly concentrations of carbon monoxide and benzopyrene very often exceed the norm's indicator settled by WHO by 13000%. Doctors warn that one- to three-year-old children (10-15 kg body mass) receive in their food as much as 7500% more lead than the norm allows. Three hundred neoplasm cases out of 100,000 people places Upper Silesia at the inglorious, black forefront of European regions.
the Bankowa steelworks
in the center of D±browa Górnicza

At a time when a report of the Silesian Medical Academy has designated Upper Silesia as a "potential area of a global catastrophe, where the survival of future generations becomes a problem", the atmospheric conditions according to Sanepid's statistics are improving. In regard to this "improvement", there is no longer the slightest need to spend money on so-called green schools (studies in regions with a clean environment) for the children most at risk. Wojciech Beblo, the director of the Environmental Department at the Voivodeship Office, in a letter signed the 6th of January, 1994, states among other things that the "effectiveness of such a prophylaxis consisting of trips lasting three weeks with children outside their residence place is doubtful, because such a trip takes place at around the 550th week of a child's life, lasts 3 weeks, and afterwards another 440 weeks elapse till the day the child comes of age".

Because "clean air" and "the end of environmental threats" had already been decreed, a sum of 121 billion złotys meant for saving the Silesian children could have been delivered to the Silesian Library.

Water quality is also "improving". To show this, two manipulations are becoming more and more common. First, statisticians qualify the level of water pollution considering its yearly average flow (during the winter time, when there's more water, the concentration of toxins is much smaller; but that doesn't change the fact that during the summer, water that "in keeping with the yearly average norms" is unusable). The second method of distorting reality in designating the quality of drinkable water involves limiting oneself to the so called Polish Norm that takes only 44 parameters into consideration (WHO considers more than 100). For routine research there is a lack of equipment which can detect microtraces of the toxic substances most dangerous to human beings.

The Department of Environmental Protection suggests that the quality of water and air is improving, and that the present authorities deserve most of the credit. In the meantime, nothing is as good for the environment as economic recession and reduced industrial activity -- it's the same for emissions of toxic substances. Reliable materials about the environmental situation in Poland are now coming out from the Library of Environmental Monitoring at the National Inspection of Environmental Protection, but their range is minimal. The general inspector of environmental protection has demanded (to no effect) that the minister of agriculture initiate food monitoring and that the minister of health initiate the monitoring of health changes. He cannot find any support either from the government or from the anemic environmental organizations.

When in the few past weeks Minister Stanisław Żelichowski repeated several times that you can say that the state of the environment has improved by more than 40%, journalists asked about the source of that optimism. It turned out that the data which served in the writing of the minister's speech had already landed in the waste-paper basket.

Eryk Mistewicz
Wprost No. 34, August 21, 1994
translated by Ewa Kijowska

GB No. 3(14)/94 | Contents