Monday, January 30, 2006

Roof falls in on Silesia

The Katowice roof collapse that killed 66 pigeon breeders and racers and injured 141, was the latest, though most dramatic, horror to have hit the region of Silesia in the last few years.

The region did not need any more bad news. Early his month the BBC was running the story of ex-miners robbing trains transporting coal for what is left of the Polish coal industry. Unemployment in some areas is 30%. Many jobless, particularly women, don’t even bother to register as unemployed, so the figure is actually even higher than that. Since the demise of communism the region has lost 250,000 jobs in an area of heavy industry designed for a bygone era. So unemployed miners are risking arrest and fines, robbing coal from the trains or digging for it with their bare hands in the old surface mines.

Things have changed for the once working class elite.

As in the UK, pigeon racing is popular among the industrial working class, particularly coal miners. One of the items on fair's schedule when the roof caved in on Saturday was the 56th meeting of the Polish Pigeon Racing Club. Many of the dead are from ex-mining communities for whom life is already pretty tough.

Polish mourning

Just a note of Poles’ attitude to this kind of tragedy with mass casualties. After the Madrid bombings two years ago a report by someone ‘linked’ to Al-Qaeda surfaced claiming that Poland would not be a target for bombs because, ‘There is political consensus on foreign policy, and the country has a very high tolerance for human casualties’. The idea that central Europeans have a high tolerance to mass death is a common stereotype and I guess they are referring to the millions who died in the Second World War.

It’s a load of bull, of course. Many in the West were impressed with this document, but what it proved to me was that these al-Qaeda types are a bunch of highly alienated cranks and fools. Poles take death very seriously indeed. They act more stoically and with more dignity than is now fashionable in somewhere like Britain, however, where the old silly stiff upper lip has been replaced by the equally ridiculous Princess Diana Syndrome – which means copious public emoting is seen as a jolly good thing.

During the days of national mourning ,which will end Wednesday, all cinemas and sporting events have been cancelled, and TV stations are running black graphics on their logos.


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