Furious Fred: Homo Sovieticus

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?

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8 thoughts on “Furious Fred: Homo Sovieticus

  • March 22, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Dear Furious!

    I like your posts, but will sometimes disagree. I am Polish born and raised, operate a company in America and, yes, also do business in Poland. The foregoing forms my perspective.

    You speak of Homo Sovieticus, but you yourself may have some of his traits. Let me explain. I will deal with one item only. You wrote that the Polish court delayed your marriage because it went very slowly and inefficiently about validating your divorce documents from another country, and that it even wrote to your former wife in Polish.

    I do not know any able bodied American who would expect the American government to arrange such matters for him.

    The way I see it, you wanted to get married in Poland. This was your private matter, not a public matter. It was up to you to assemble all relevant papers, to have them authenticated and officially translated into Polish. And the official language of Poland is … Polish. So in what language was the Polish court to write to anyone? Was the Polish court required to pay for the translation into English?

    • March 27, 2014 at 11:35 am

      They could have send me a copy and ask me to translate it or contact my former wife, just a matter of thinking how to communicate.

    • March 27, 2014 at 11:44 am

      By the way: a bad example of a US homo sovieticus is J. Paul Bremer III, who created a huge mess in Iraq.

  • March 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Cloudy ways of governmental business is stupid, really. When I applied for Polish citizenship I was told that my ex husband (ex for 26 years) would be notified and his permission requested so that I could obtain this Polish citizenship insofar as his last name is on documents, and is still my last name. I protested this action and immediately withdrew my documents and my paid fees. To give other people the power over my rights is never an option. Is it necessary for Poland to bring parties not involved with a procedure into the life of another? Sounds like a political, historical throwback to me, for sure, no matter when the governmental worker was born.

  • March 23, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Oh the arrogance of the American charachter shines through in your comment. Obviously you have come across a fair number of people who have not been prepared to kiss you a** just because you’re an American. I guess you found out just how much many people don’t think the world revolves around you and your country and it has left a very bitter taste in your big Yankee mouth.

    • March 23, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      How do you know citizenship of a poster? Seen the passports? Citizenship should not be bashed as it is poor form and screams of ignorance for sure. Love and happiness to you.

      • March 23, 2014 at 9:15 pm

        “How do you know citizenship of a poster?”

        “Do the math.” <<<<<< Those 3 words make it glaringly obvious.

        • March 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm

          Phraseology does not citizenship make. Because you say it does not make it so.


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