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Larpy Argos

It is not a joke

polish jokes in larp community

Whole comic can be found here. By the way, great thanks to Scandinavia and the World, for removing thiev's mask from Brother Poland's face :)

Kamil Bartczak

This article is intended as a part of the recent discourse about “Polish jokes” in international larp community.  The reaction of Polish larpers to a joke related to Germany invading Poland, posted at College of Wizardry group, was very emotional and intense - to the point where it can be called outrage. Emotional statements were not well understood, responses naming the reaction the lack of distance, or trolling, heated the atmosphere even more than the original reason. Personally, I think the mutual understanding was not reached here. On one end, huge part of international scene doesn’t seem to understand reaction of Poles. On the other - the Polish community was really unified on the issue. Obviously there are different opinions among Polish larpers as well, but agreement in common position between larpers known to have extremely different worldviews is rather unusual.

I cannot speak for anybody else than myself. However, I am strongly convinced that there are a couple things understanding of which would really help the larp community. So, I am going to try to explain how Polish jokes, told by foreigners, tend to be perceived in my local community. Hope it will help.


It’s personal, for pretty much everybody here

It is for sure personal for me. In my family I have one person who was killed in Auschwitz, while two were sent to a forced labour camp. One was prisoner of war, other became Righteous Among the Nations. But what is important to understand here is that these experiences are not exceptional for a Polish person. One of each six Poles were killed during II WW. If you were growing up in my country chance that nobody in your family who you personally knew was severely traumatized during the war, are really low. This experience affected the lives of our families and relations in them.


Long story short

Most of European countries severely suffered from II WW, and this may be one of reasons why reaction of Polish larpers wasn’t well understood. What was war for Poland, and what it caused, might require some explanation. I need to say that writing such things is far from reasons from which I engage in larping, and I would really like to not do it. However, current problem of our community cannot be addressed without this, so, here we go.

Poland lost 6 million people out of 35, which is the highest relative death toll from all the countries involved. Poles were subjected to Holocaust. Though many died in the result of military actions, most lost their lives in organized genocide. Country was left in ruins. In the result  of Uprising, Warsaw lost more lives, than Hiroshima and Nagasaki after being hit with nuclear bombs, combined. After surrendering, it was demolished to the ground by the week long artillery barrage.

Imagine that at one moment each person in your country threw a d6, on which “1” means, that she died, to get a scale. And imagine scars which such a dramatic event would leave on the survivors.

After the war, Poland was,  alongside with other East European countries, traded for peace by western Allies to Soviet Union. This happened after Poles numerously fought with the Axis on almost every front of war. Regardless of the fact that Polish authorities committed our troops to most demanding operations (Market Garden, Monte Cassino), and initiated catastrophical Warsaw Uprising. This was done with a hope that upcoming Allies decision can be affected, if Poles will sacrifice enough for a common cause.

Communist terror which followed WW2, continued the genocide of Polish intelligence, in order to create society of obedient workers - the same goal which the Nazis tried to achieve during the war. Country became literally a prison, as leaving it was prohibited for everyone except from a small number of privileged citizens.

After stalinist period of 1950’s oppression became less horrendous, though still severe. In the 1980’s there was a period of martial law, the war of communist authorities with Solidarity movement. These are events, in which our parents often took part as adults.

From Polish perspective, there is no way to draw a line between the effects of the war and events which followed it. From first German attack in 1939, to the stalinist terror of 1950’s, there is a string of oppression and trauma, and each link in this chain is connected to others. Poles did not just get back to their homes, to try to carry on with their lives, when the war ended.


How it affects the present, where are we now?

All the repercussions of WW2 are difficult to determine, as they affect pretty much everything. Culture suffered from loss of educated people and  the communist indoctrination. Science was crippled, though before the war Polish mathematicians had significantly contributed to a development of modern mathematics. Horrendous effort to rebuild destroyed cities, drainage by Soviet Union and communist rule resulted in poor economical development. For a first time in history, our country became monocultural.

There are two more elements in Polish collective memory about WWII, which may not be obvious for other European larpers.

WW2 for Poles overshadows  history, which came before it. There is something which we may call emotional horizon. Point in time from which events result in emotional impact, while events behind it are just historical facts to be learned, or not, from some book. Obviously it is blurred and differs from person to person, but for most Poles it is a start of WW2. Not many Polish larpers have interest in formative political trends in pre-war Poland. There was another war, in 1920, when Poland after being invaded and losing half its territory, defeated and pushed back Soviet Union. This stopped Red Army from joining with communist movements in unstable at the time Germany, and probably conquering most of Europe; turning point of this war is considered to be among most important battles in history. We even won it, but its just a fact from a book, which is not popularly known. The same goes with invading Lithuania and betraying Ukraine, which resulted in today’s difficult relations with our neighbors. World War 2 erased all these things from Polish emotional memory.

Memory, which Is personal for everybody in a group, becomes the source of collective identity.

Here I need to mention that I am speaking from a personal perspective, and following view will probably be shared by less people than general concept of article. No matter how much Poles would not want to have their idea of  a shared society based solely on shared martyrology, its difficult. Though cultural and political efforts are being done, it is hard to purposely not think about something. The shape of memory, the way history should be treated in present, is subject of heated political disputes here. There is little in this discourse, which is commonly agreed. But there is one thing, which proves to cross the divisions – the ability to understand how painful the memory can be for other Pole. Seeing fellow larpers being told to get over their reaction to WW2 joke and not make a deal from it – will touch deeply. No matter if, hypothetically, such larpers deserved to be kicked out for trolling a month earlier.

In short words, WW2 is painful, still emotionally perceived part of history for Poles. Not much we can do about it, though we are generally trying. However, after you went through this part of article, there is second thing.


We a trying not to think about it.

The reality is, there is a class border between Eastern and Western Europeans. International  blockbuster larps are not being organized in French or Germany, and its not because general admiration for Polish government or quality of our roads. It’s because this country is cheap.  It is possible here to provide to Western middle class larpers affordable luxury. If you want to have fulltime working staff on your larp here – you can hire Poles for a fraction of minimal pay in your country.

With that said, we generally don’t have much hard feelings about it. There are two ways of looking at this. If we would like to understand the reason – well, it is all that was written above. Our current exclusion and economical asymmetry is a strict consequence of German invasion in 1939.

But we can just look at the state in which things are, and understand, that it is not a fault of anybody from today’s generation, of Germans, Russians, or any other nation.  For my generation, this is the state that was given to us, and I believe we should try to do our best with options we have. Need to say, this part of Polish stereotype I personally do like. I think that this is also a view that most of Western larpers have. As for my opinion, there is a little discussion that future of our country is in Europe. Our culture was shaped here. Fact that Polish participation in European culture was in last decades limited, is currently being fixed. Also with larps, and I am pretty excited about where it will lead us.

But there is dark place, which we are sometimes visiting. The unwelcomed pain of how are families remembered the harm, connected with reflections that no matter how we would like to fully torn the cultural and economical barrier, we are still not there. And really easy way to put us in this place, is to expect us to laugh about how hilariously Poland was crushed during the war.

Also, it can be noticed, that this shared feelings are creating the situation, where discourse can be kidnaped by radical right wing minority.

The view of the Polish larp scene on the international blockbusters was polarized for a really long time. Some reacted emotionally to the problem of a limited ability to participate in these larps, as well as lack of integration between larp cultures which are using the same venues. To the point where term “closed holiday resorts” were used. I strongly opposed this views, and spent some time and effort argumenting against them. I really believe that the international larp cooperation is a value itself, besides the fact how beneficial it is for local larp scenes. I am writing this article with heavy heart, as I would not want that any foreign larper would feel any less invited to play in Poland. But embedding acceptance for Polish jokes in the larp culture is something which cannot be defended. I really hope that the fact what emotions it is causing among Polish larpers will be internationally internalized. If you will share such jokes in larp community, some of its participants will suffer.

In the context of a context

Insult can be funny. Obviously it can. And when it is accepted and appreciated, it cease to become insult. Crossing personal barriers is related with bonding. Two persons, getting more familiar with each other, create a context, in which something which would otherwise be not accepted, becomes a shared joke. It is possible to create a context, in which sharing information about one’s close relatives you supposedly have intimate relation with, tainted with some domination elements, is perfectly fine. Without such private context however, telling somebody that you fucked his father, would be a sign of personal hostility.

I hope, dear reader, that you have people, with who you are so close, that trading lighter or heavier insults and allusions became a shared joy.

Open discussion on the Internet is never a such context however. I think it pretty self-explanatory, as “public” is literally opposite to “private”. What’s more important, general community of any particular larp, with newcomers, people which are not familiar with each other is also far, far away from private relation. This is why reaction “well, it should not be on the Facebook, but we are telling Polish jokes at our larps all the time, and it is fine” is disturbing. Expecting from each participant to accept that Polish jokes will be shared in the larp community is offensive and excluding.

It is really, really simple. You cannot publicly say jokes about how Poland was invaded and razed. Unless harming Polish participants is your deliberate intention.


The disappointment

One more aspect of the situation is the fact, that Nordic larp scene had a reputation of generally empathic and caring about feelings of others. This view was probably distorted by the fact, that this larp culture was observed through the lecture of publications and ongoing discourse, which is actually more the postulate of how culture can be shaped, than description of how it actually is. Being told to get over the fact, or statements that such jokes should not cause concern, was for many a big disappointment.

On the other hand, whole discourse was very emotional, and at moments - less than civilized. I think that big lesson to be learned for Polish side is that being defensive rarely helps. I had an impression that many reactions were written with the assumption that the discussion culture is depriving the right to feel harmed and express this feelings, or other disputants are purposely trying to harm Poles. Cultural and lingual barriers are for sure not helping. In fact, this is the situation where respectful explanation how the Polish jokes were perceived, with providing the knowledge about background would to much more good.


We have what we need to deal with a problem

Polish jokes are something, that we cannot just get over. I really believe however, that with knowledge how are they perceived by part of Polish larpers, and mutual trust in others’ good will, we can handle the matter with respect. Larp society is divided by many lines separating privileged and underprivileged sub-groups. We have, or at least we are seeking, the ways of integrating the community despite these divisions. With the basic understanding of the problem and goodwill, we can avoid exclusion of relatively numerous group of larpers.


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