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EU > Poland > Wroclaw

Papirologia w Polsce

Wroclaw, PL (View on map)

Twenty years after the fall of communism, Polish state employees still love the sound of stamps and the activity of putting them on anything that looks like paper. While ordinary people are trying to find the way in the capitalistic world, they still often face the old-style paper monster called `bureaucracy`.

Magda (28):

`The post office is the best preserved piece of communist in present-day Poland`
`Out of all authorities and institutions in Poland, the post office is probably the worst example when it comes to eradicating bureaucracy`, says Pawel (28). `The post office is a world in a world. It is a little communistic and monopolistic island, where the rights of the individual are almost non-existant. Most of the former state companies suffer from the same problems. PKP Polish Railways, public television, police, Telekom Polska: they are all struggling to keep up with the increased need for proper customer treatment.`

At the post office
`Before being able to get frustrated about bureaucracy in the post office, the first challenge is to even get the chance to talk to somebody`, says Agnieska (28), `many things can or have to be settled at the post office. The post office does not only serve as a post office, it also sells stuff, it is the place you go to for paying for their electricity bills, phone bills, TV bills, traffic fines. Old people come to fetch their monthly pension payments. Having a bank account is sufficient to avoid having to go to the post office for this type of services, but many old people in Poland don`t have bank accounts. As a result, they spend a lot of time queuing at the post office and increasing waiting times for the others.`

`Under the old system, it would be common to see five windows served by two employees. Every window had its own queue and if they happened to close when you finally got to the window, you had to start queuing all over again. Many post offices now have one single line to spread the waiting time. The last improvement is to have a machine at the entrance that allocates everybody a number. You can estimate how much waiting time you will have, and then go do some other stuff in the meantime. It`s best not to stay away for too long. Once your number has passed, it will be difficult to get served without taking a new number. Even in the lucky case that people behind you will allow you to pass, the lady behind the window may simply refuse to help you.`

Agnieska (28) estimates that a `no` at the post office is at least 50% negotiable. `The women working at the post office do not seem very convinced that they are there to serve you. It`s more as if you need to convince or seduce them to help you. I can`t help getting very angry every now and then, especially if I think I have tried all reasonable alternatives to get the post office lady to get me what I want. I sometimes end up shouting at them. These post office people can be so incredibly annoying and unwilling. Every one of them has their own systems and criteria and they all need another treatment to get them to do something. Sometimes it helps to get angry, sometimes it doesn`t. Sometimes, it`s better to play pathetic to get some sympathy. It all depends on who you are facing.`

Krzystof (24) only goed to the post office if he wants to withdraw large sums of money. He likes to use his waiting time at the post office to go for a beer. `Getting angry doesn`t help you. It will only help you get kicked out`, he says. Lukasz (26) thinks that government officials cannot be blamed because they only execute the tasks they have been given. Whenever I have to stand in line, I just listen to some music and wait for my turn.`

Magda (28, photo) says that dealing with the authorities requires determination and a certain degree of indifference. `Getting angry is usually not the best way to get what you want. Many officials get even more stubborn when they see you getting angry. I often ask to speak to their boss which sometimes makes them back off. In other cases, the manager will just repeat whatever his employee said first. The main problem is maybe not even so much the people, but the fact that so many rules in Poland are open to different interpretations. That makes it hard for the officials to carry out their jobs. They will not want to make any mistakes that they can be held accountable for, so they often end up being stricter than legislation prescribes. Also, there are so many contradicting rules in Poland, that following one means breaking the other one.`

Magda`s worst experiences with bureaucracy relate to importing a car from France and having to perform all sorts of tricks to get it approved. `Such procedure involves as many as five different institutions and the first one usually requires paper A before they will issue paper B while the second institution will only issue paper A if you already possess paper B. In the old days, a bit of money would help you out of such cycle, but bribing a state official is no longer recommendable. It will only give you more trouble.`

`Apart from the chicken-egg cycle with different the different types of paperwork, it is also quite common to get incomplete instructions. You first queue to get a certain document to fill out. They you queue again to hand it in. Then they tell you that you first need to pay money at desk X at floor Y. Then you queue at the cash register, and then another time at the window where you first received the form. You can only hope that no stamp or signature is missing this time, because going through the same cycle would take another part of the day. A lot of people take a shortcut from this. If you want to demolish some kind of property, you need to get a license if the height exceeds 8 metres. By direct consequence, most demolished property is reported as being 7,99 metres high. That`s the kind of creativity incited by bureaucracy. People will find their own ways to avoid the system.` Registration numbers
Magda continues by telling that everything in Poland has a number. `Individuals have a social-fiscal number, schools have numbers, campsites have numbers, companies have many different numbers. As many as there are numbers, there are forms and everything needs to be forever double-checked. Some operations require an ID, others a passport. Opening a bank account is impossible with a passport. The bank requires proof of the personal number, which is referenced on the ID card but not in the passport. For traveling outside Europe, it`s again only the passport that does the job. The types of pass photos required for each document is also different. For the ID you are not allowed to look at the camera when the photo is taken, while passport law prescribes a frontal photo with no smile.`

Magda is one out of many Poles who is registered as living in the place where her parents live. As long as she does not change that address, which requires a lot of queuing, she will need to return to her home village for almost every single administrative matter. `Getting a new passport would take me one month of time and about 1000 kilometers of traveling. I need to go to my village to make a request. They send it to the regional council who send it to Warsaw and then it goes all the way back again.`

Magda things that the current bureaucracy is a remainder of the old communist system, where everything needed to be recorded, checked, cross-checked and double-checked in order that nobody sabotaged the system. `Another example of the paper mill is the index: a small booklet with ID photo and personal details, held by each university student. It collects all the marks that a student obtained, handwritten by the school authorities, signed and stamped. After I went on a study exchange in France and was given a printed list of my marks, I had to go to my own university to get all of the marks copied into my index, which of course required some standing in line at the administration office. A student who loses his index is doomed. It would be an unimaginable disaster. I don`t know whether universities have centralized grade systems, but I do know that the importance of the index supersedes any such system.`

Krzystof (28) shows me his wallet and all the forms and cards he needs to get around. `I need five different kind of papers when I go fishing in the river next door. Then, I need to record the number of the river that I`m fishing in, the type of fish, quantity of fish, weight of the fish.. And of course, I need to pass the post office on the way to get one or the other form stamped and approved. Also, every Polish man between 18 and 30 has some army ID, which is to be shown when you apply for a credit with the bank or move houses. In any case, you are supposed to carry it with you at any time.`

`My wallet is so full of paperwork that there is hardly any place left for money`, Krzystof jokes. `If I ever lose my wallet, it will take me at least two months to recover all of the papers and it will cost me a hell lot of money. If you lose your ID for example, you are legally obliged to put an advertisement in the national press. All of this paperwork is rather killing, but I assume that we have also grown attached to it. There are so many opportunities for Poles to leave abroad. The fact that I still live here probably means that I have grown used to it and can`t be too much bothered anymore. It`s just a part of Polish life, and with the further expansion of on-line facilities, it`s getting better by the year anyway.`

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