About three years ago, my Polish lady and I decided to get married. We arranged all the necessary documents, or so we thought, and went to the marriage department of the municipality. All the documents were fine, except for the one confirming my divorce. For it to be accepted, a Polish court first had to validate the document with the authorities in my European home country. We submitted this to the Polish court. They sent a letter, in Polish, to my former wife, which of course she could not read. Not knowing what it was or what to do with it, she did nothing. It took the court two and a half years to validate the verdict of a court in another European country. Bravo for the effectiveness of the Polish court system. Once we were married, the municipality sent the certificate to my nation’s consulate. Instead of an international certificate, they sent a Polish one.
Once again, I was astonished by the stupidity of the robots of the civil administration. It seems to me that the old habits of the Communist past are still alive and well in these institutions. In 1982, the Russian writer and sociologist, Aleksander Zinovyev, took the term ‘Homo Sovieticus,’ first coined to describe the new, improved humanity that would emerge under Communism, and gave it a satirical slant by describing the kind of people that 70 years of the Soviet system had actually produced. He identified six characteristics of Homo Sovieticus, at least four of which appear to have survived the past 25 years:
Indifference to the results of his labour
Quality control is crucial for the effective and efficient functioning of both commercial organisations and public institutions. Everyone involved in producing goods and services should be critical of the process and report flaws and failures in the system. A lack of quality control often leads to huge disasters – oil platform explosions, Chernobyl, the collapse of the USSR. Indifference to the results of labour is a sure sign of failing quality control.
Lack of initiative and avoidance of individual responsibility
In academic literature about public administration you will often find the term ‘discretionary power’ (‘freies ermessen’ in German). It means that, within certain limits, a civil servant is allowed to stray from the strict rules for procedures. He is allowed to take responsibility. In Poland and Krakow, the reaction whenever a procedure or rule is not clear is: “We must phone Warsaw!” They do not take responsibility.
Indifference to common property
You only have to look to the dilapidated streets of Krakow outside the Old Town, not to mention the air pollution, to see indifference to common property in action.
Passive acceptance of everything the government imposes
Civil servants have a strong legal position – they cannot easily be fired, so who cares about their behaviour?
Polish civil administration has come from the East and is heading for the West. A quarter of a century has passed. The administration still needs an attitude change when it comes to taking responsibility for producing goods and services. Will we have to wait another generation?