Archive for March 21st, 2009

A police state

Saturday, 21 March 2009


A still from a 1950 Polish newsreel. The announcer says, This is the Moscow Metro, the best and most modern in the whole world. Warsaw is to have 3 metro lines with a total length of 36 km open by 1965. Seven years later all construction work was stopped and the censors forbade newspaper and magazine editors to allow any mention of the Metro in their publications.

(Click to see the rest of the newsreel clip, Polish commentary)

It seems a lifetime ago that Poland was a police state. A policeman was someone who could beat you up with impunity and who would receive no official sanction if he shot you if you attempted to run away. An elite network called the nomenklatura controlled everything including the communist party. The party controlled what happened in the Polish Parliament and what could be printed in the newspapers. There was an opposition of sorts, but its activities were controlled too.

The culture was about control. A climate of fear and watching your back prevailed. Everything – that was not specifically permitted in some law or regulation – was forbidden. Information only flowed one way – from the top. Without an effective feedback channel – criticism could get you sacked or worse – projects over ran budgets and time-scales, bad decisions were followed by even worse corrective action. Corruption and nepotism were endemic.

Britain with its tolerance of eccentrics, friendly bobbies, brilliant BBC, London Times Manchester Guardian and ‘my word is my bond’ culture was a beacon of civilisation. How things have changed in less than half a century! I’m indebted to Railway Eye for drawing my attention to this story.

Edmund Tan, a retired accountant with a collection of 200 model trains, was told he needed permission to take pictures at Macclesfield station, Cheshire. Virgin Trains says the ban is because of “security concerns”, which includes fears about possible terrorist attacks.

Mr Tan was approached by a member of station staff, who insisted he switch off his video camera to. Footage shows the confrontation, and ends with him pleading: “But I’m a trainspotter.” He asked if he could have permission but was told no.


If you feel as strongly as I do about the incident do post a comment on Richard Branson’s blog. A brief e-mail to Lord Adonis would do no harm either.