My Arrest in Poland and the Ironies of Consequence

Jeff in 1973 standing near his apartment in Warsaw © Naomi Gruson Goldfarb

“At the time the circumstances of my arrest in Poland seemed trivial. I hardly thought about them afterward. But now, when I consider the fall of 1989, and the fall of communism, my little run in with the Polish authorities seems highly suggestive of how things were then and what has since come to be.”

With these words, I opened my book After the Fall: The Pursuit of Democracy in Central Europe. I used a description of my brief detention in Lublin at a student theater festival to reveal the struggle for a free public in Communist times. I used my memory of the event to open my exploration of the relationships between public and private, and how the relationships formed the bases for the pursuit of democracy of post communist Central Europe.

In today’s post, I return to my experience in 1974 (drawing from the report in my book) to further my dialogue with Dayan Dayan, as we explore together the relationship between “monstration” and power. I report here first my recollections of my “trivial day” and why what seemed so unimportant at the time was of practical significance in Poland back then. I close by highlighting what I take to be the theoretical significance of my little story.

The Arrest

Disorientation is what I remember about that April afternoon in Lublin, when the People’s Militia detained me for a couple of hours. I was attending a Festival of Youth Theaters. The bulk of the theater presentations in Lublin that week were not very interesting. Some of the best theater groups of the Polish youth movement were not represented in this relatively minor festival, and others of mediocre quality were in great number. Veteran theater critics, journalists, directors, and actors were generally dissatisfied, particularly with one performance I attended, billed as a “happening.” It took place in a gymnasium and involved little more than a rock soundtrack, a colorful slide show, and some student actors playing with an orange and yellow sheet. When it ended, a group of Polish . . .

Read more: My Arrest in Poland and the Ironies of Consequence