Previous Page Return to main page Next Page

Chapter 13: Law and Order (ETD)


As in most countries, the public has access to courtrooms in Poland. Interest and attendance are seldom high, except for crimes of some notoriety. However, there is a late sitting this afternoon of what the British would call a Magistrate's Court, and we can go along together. The offences alleged are all minor and I do not wish you to focus on the details. Rather, pay attention to the details of the courtroom, to the formal elements of decoration, to the judge's dress, speech and general demeanour. It is not at all like Perry Mason, or other courtroom dramas you may have seen at home on television, but still, many small details contribute to giving 'the law' a uniquely authoritative aura. Make a list of these details in your journal this evening.

Neither Tom nor Ania found the courtroom experience very exciting. The cases were indeed minor, almost trivial. The only memorable moment came when a Roman Catholic priest stepped forward to testify to the good character of an old man who stood accused of insulting his equally elderly neighbour over their common garden fence. The priest, dressed in a plain black cassock, seemed to radiate authority in a way that the judge himself did not. Perhaps in an earlier age he would have mediated this dispute himself, in the privacy of his presbytery, and the machinery of the state need not have been invoked.

Ania and Tom met Maria and Wlodek in a small pizzeria. Maria recognised a group of student visitors who had looked into her office earlier in the day. She greeted them in English. They were from the Czech Republic and Croatia, Maria explained later. Provided one spoke slowly and clearly, Poles could understand these languages reasonably well. But somehow nobody did this any longer. Everyone preferred to communicate in English. She had even heard Slovenians speaking English to Serbs, though not so long ago they had shared a state, Yugoslavia, with Serbo-Croat as its dominant language. Now, as a consequence of the state's collapse, Serbian and Croat were developing as separate languages.

They were joined by Marek, he who had been sent off for his misdemeanours at the sports day. His main degree course was in law and he was enthusiastic about approaching it as a cultural process, especially in the context of the Balkans. 'It's obvious,' he said, 'that 'rule of law' as we know it doesn't stand a chance anywhere in that region. The ancient tribal hatreds are just too deep.'

'That's not quite the way our teachers put it,' said Tom.

Previous Page Return to main page Next Page