Saturday, 27 August 2005

Poverty in Poland and the right to steal

The following news report illustrates well the case I wish to make - that people have the right to steal economic goods and the right to loot cultural property when they have no alternative means to access their human right to physical health.

On the 25th of August 2005, BBC News 24 ran a story called "dirt poor Poles steal to survive" on "the World Today", which began by pointing out that, after the fall of Communism, half of the people working in the coal mines of Silesia in Poland were made unemployed. The 200,000 employed are poor, but the 200,000 unemployed are even poorer. As the BBC observed, "the new reality is brutal - [there's] no other work and only a minimal safety net".

Some of the people the BBC interviewed live on "£2 a day - just enough for bread, dripping and buckwheat", but as Wojciech Kosc noted in Transitions Online, 5 million Poles live on just 2 euros a day and another 7.7 million on E2.50 (and it's worth remembering that the E14-17.50 these people earn every week has to pay for everything - food, clothing, rent, etc.).

As is the case with all averages, even these appalling conditions disguise greater misery: as one person told the BBC, "I've sold all I have to buy food - now instead of mining coal I steal it for a living"; there are "thousands... here, whom poverty's driven to extremes".

I admire the people who steal the coal; as the BBC itself points out, "by cutting this thin piece of wire [and so spilling the coal], train robbers ensure a living for a population of scavengers struggling to survive".

If I were in their position, I'd be saying exactly what they say and doing exactly what they do: "I sell some and I keep some - I have to support my wife and child"; "I used to work in the mine but they closed it - the state has turned me into a thief - it doesn't let me earn an honest wage so I have the right to take what I need to feed my family".

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