A Polish Masterpiece
The Polish masterpiece on Netflix, 1983, shows a dystopian Poland that never left the Warsaw Pact, is still a communist one-party dictatorship, and never benefited from the success of the Solidarity freedom movement. Without giving away too many spoilers, the series showcases an alternative history in which Poland, though no longer directly controlled by Soviet Moscow remains a totalitarian communist state bent on controlling its people rather than the beautiful present-day reality in which the Polish people control the Polish state.
Despite remaining a totalitarian communist dictatorship imprisoning people for printing any of the many banned books and arranging murders of political convenience for those deemed dangerous to the narrow interests of the ruling communist elite, the Polish leadership of 1983 still is anxious about Moscow. In the show, Poland’s communist leadership has total power and works to keep it that way by keeping Moscow distracted, attempting to engage with America diplomatically and economically, and by using new technology to secretly monitor an ever-growing percentage of the population.
The plot follows an officer in the milicja (literally translated to militia, but formerly used in much of eastern Europe to mean the police) who is upset about his demotion from homicide to book ban enforcement. He is a good man who disagrees with the system but views it as unchangeable and tries to use the little authority he has to shield people from the harsher consequences of the laws he disagrees with but nonetheless enforces. Other main characters include an orphan educated with the children of the communist rulers who have used him as a national symbol, as well as justifiably bitter anti-communist freedom fighters who murder their enemies whenever possible with no hesitation whatsoever.
In 1983, the institutional elements of communist dictatorships are on full display. A state apparatus under permanent national emergency measures originally sold to the people as “temporary”, rivalry between the state secret police and the civilian police (as well as the military), the near total erasure of the lives and history of dissidents, the editing of news reports to represent the communist official party line, and the state manipulation of the market to line the pockets of the ruling elite are pervasive. Yet the greatest crime both in the show and in real life communist countries was and is the casual murder, for mere convenience, of those who might get in the way of the communist elite.
From character development to historical framing, suspense and plot build up to displaying how government central planning corrupts everything and destroys the human spirit, 1983 is an amazing show that can be appreciated by any and all who watch it. Polish Americans should gather around their children, non-Polish friends, and neighbors to view what might have been had the Solidarity anti-communist movement been unsuccessful. 1983, is a stark reminder of the road fortunately not taken by Poland but that remains the current present-day fate of many trapped in communist and socialist dictatorships today.
By Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein