Transcript

453:

Nemeses
Transcript

Originally aired 12.16.2011

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/453

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Peter Coleman runs an outfit called the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, which means that he spends a lot of time thinking about disputes between people that seem unresolvable and what can be done in those situations. And he tells this story-- he wrote about this in a book, too-- about the abortion debate in Boston back in the 1990s. Boston is a very Catholic city, of course.

Peter Coleman

You know, inflammatory rhetoric, really on both sides. And then in 1994, there was a shooting that took place. John Salvi III went into two clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts. And he shot and killed two women. And he took a rifle and put it to the head of one woman and shot and killed her, and said, that's what you get. You should pray the rosary more. I think the pro-life movement was ashamed and infuriated by what had happened. I think the pro-choice movement was terrified and traumatized. And so the governor, the archdiocese, called for dialogue.

Ira Glass

Which is kind of a standard thing that people do after a tragedy like this. The idea is if we just talk to each other better, people wouldn't be getting killed. Let's have a dialogue. And in this case, the dialogue actually happened. Three leaders from the local pro-life movement agreed to meet with three leaders of the local pro-choice movement. And they agreed it all had to happen in secret because of just how sensitive the whole issue was, because how supporters on each side of the issue would see them meeting with people on the other side. They agreed to meet exactly four times.

Peter Coleman

So they brought these women together. And reportedly, the pro-life group had met in a Friendly's beforehand and prayed, because they really feared sitting down at the table with this other side. They really believed that just being near them could taint them, could affect them. Because in their mind at the time, they were murderers. And to be with them not only was dangerous, but also could affect their reputations within their own communities, and could put their life at risk, given what had just happened.

At first, the conversation was hard. Even though they agreed to some guidelines and how to have this conversation in a way that they felt would be constructive, it was hard to hold to those guidelines initially.

Ira Glass

And you write about that, that there was a lot of finger pointing back and forth. Everybody thought, we're not going to do any finger pointing. But in fact, they couldn't help themselves is what you write.

Peter Coleman

It's what they did. It's what they had been doing. They were used to doing it. They knew the talking points. And it was so hard to try to put those away.

Ira Glass

And because, basically, each side saw the other side as just--

Peter Coleman

Evil. As evil or insane. Absolutely.

Ira Glass

These are precisely the conflicts that Peter Coleman studies. They're the conflicts where whatever the original dispute happened to be about, everybody has moved past that long ago. And things have snowballed. And people started to organize their identities around the conflict. Coleman says that these happen in families. They happen in universities. They happen in politics, of course. In looking at all the international disputes since 1816, there are researchers who've calculated that 5% of those disputes were these enduring conflicts. They lasted, on average, 36 years. They accounted for half of all wars between nations, 3/4 of all civil wars.

Of course, the question is, what do we do about these conflicts? How do we resolve them? Well, Peter Coleman says that two things can happen. First, sometimes a big disruptive event can come along and shake everything up. Like the Arab Spring could conceivably end up nudging the dynamic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And he says, second, sometimes it's just long-term changes lead each side to be more open to getting along and less open to violence.

In Boston in the 1990s, after these abortion clinic murders, these women, over the course of their four meetings--

Peter Coleman

They start to get some sense of the other person-- of the other group-- that's different from what they came in with. They start to experience each other as women who are decent women. And ultimately, they end up speaking in secret for six years, and really come to know each other and come to deeply respect and care for each other, one another, across the divide, all six of these women.

Ira Glass

A decade later, when we checked with these women this past week, the three of them that we reached-- on both sides of the issue-- told us that the experience of these talks was life-changing for them. On NPR's All Things Considered back in 2003, one of them, Frances Hogan, told reporter Margot Adler about how she had been changed.

Frances Hogan

I could share a little anecdote-- two little anecdotes-- when, the day of the Salvi shootings, I was on one of the local television news channels with Nicki Nichols Gamble They had wanted a per--

Margot Adler

We should say that's another one of the--

Frances Hogan

Another participant in the dialogue. And we had been called there to kind of-- I guess, as representatives of the pro-life and pro-choice positions. However, before the show began, Nicki and I wound up in the same waiting room to go on television. And she was there with her husband. And I came in and sat down. And I never said a word to her. I never got up and gave her a hug. I never got up and said I'm sorry about what has happened. I said nothing. Because I was-- it was like, we were in our assigned roles, sort of. And I deeply regretted that as a human being. I felt that was a failure of my own.

Later, after we began this dialogue, but while it was still secret, I ran into Nicki at a State House hearing. I think it was a judiciary committee hearing. And there were a lot of people from both sides in the audience that day. And she walked by me and she tugged my sleeve, as if to say, you don't have to acknowledge that I'm here. But I'm just saying hi. So I turned around and did acknowledge her. Because I said, I'm not going to have that failing twice. And a couple of people had come up to me and said, you know Nicki Nichols Gamble? And I was able to say, actually, she's a very lovely person.

And it was shocking to some people, as it probably would have been to me before this all began. So I said, you know, we're never going to move the issue forward if we don't talk about it in a civilized way publicly.

Ira Glass

OK, so they're are all getting along so well. They have this amazing dialogue, the kind of thing, really, that seems to never, ever, usually happen. Did it nudge any of their views about abortion? Well again, here's Peter Coleman.

Peter Coleman

To me, one of the more fascinating things about what happened is that, through these conversations, the relationships got thicker. The relationships got more nuanced and more caring. And they became more polarized on the issue of pro-life, pro-choice.

Ira Glass

So what does that mean, more polarized?

Peter Coleman

It means that they became more certain that their point of view on the issue was right and that the other point of view on the issue, from the other side, was wrong.

Ira Glass

One of the women, Madeline McComish, explained that this way. She said, having to dig deep to explain your reasoning and why you believe what it is that you believe in a group like this, it forces you to crystallize your own views. And so, of course, you end up even more convinced about your side. And as a result of this, Peter Coleman says, where they ended up was--

Peter Coleman

Even though they cared deeply about these women, they differed fundamentally on this issue.

Ira Glass

So is this a success or a failure?

Peter Coleman

Well, from where we sit, it's a complete success.

Ira Glass

How?

Peter Coleman

Because what did happen is that the rhetoric changed. The conversations that would happen publicly around abortion, around pro-life, pro-choice, lost a lot of the edge and the vitriol in the community that it had had prior to the shooting and prior to the dialogue process.

Ira Glass

Because these women were leaders in those movements on both sides and--

Peter Coleman

They consciously decided that part of what they had done is contribute to the conditions where an event like this could take place.

Ira Glass

Empathy has its limits. People are not going to agree. And the best that we can hope for is, we'll just try to see each other as well-meaning people that we respect, and keep things from getting to the point where we are trying to out and out destroy each other.

Well, today on our program, we have two stories which show just how difficult that is, how difficult it is to keep on the path of respect. In each of these stories, there is a pair of nemeses who get incredibly close to solving their problems, to actually getting along a little bit. And then not only do they backtrack, they backtrack royally. It is fascinating to see how far they go in the other direction and how they flip on a dime from one position to the other.

One of the two stories takes place in Eastern Europe. The other takes place in another land where the rivalries are ancient and heartfelt. I'm talking about suburban New Jersey.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Solidarity For Never.

Ira Glass

Act one, Solidarity For Never. Poland had one of those national events a few years ago that you would think would pull an entire country together. It was a tragedy. It was a plane accident in April 2010, where the Polish president, the first lady, the country's military leaders, dozens of officials and leading Polish writers and thinkers-- 96 six people-- all died when their plane crashed in Russia, killing everybody on board.

And from the outside, this was this horrifying thing to witness people go through, any country go through. But the more complicated thing was what happened inside Poland after the crash. Perhaps you've guessed where this is going. It did not pull the country together. It emphatically did not do that. Amy Drozdowska-McGuire is an American reporter who for the past several years has been living in Poland. She has that story.

Amy Drozdowska

To understand the incredibly odd things that happened after the crash, you have to understand that before the crash, Poland was a country divided. Split right in half. You started to hear people talk about Poland A and Poland B. Poland A is the wealthier half, less conservative and more educated, more urban and younger. All for being part of the European Union.

Poland B is the eastern part of the country. Deeply Catholic and conservative. Older and poorer. The one suspicious of the EU and the influence of godless Western Europe.

Poland A sees Poland B as backwards. Poland B feels like it's the real Poland. And who are these snotty city people in their skinny jeans looking down on them? The split between Poland A and B was also a political split. And the biggest wedge between the two halves was the late president, Lech Kaczynski. Half of the country, Poland A, passionately hated him.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

The potato, the midget. Napoleon, also, because of his height. Psychopath. Schizophrenic.

Amy Drozdowska

This is Dominik Taras. In this story, he's going to be the stand-in for Poland A. He's young, early twenties, born and raised in Warsaw. He's part of the Poland who couldn't stand Kaczynski, thought he was an international embarrassment. And so Poland A liked to embarrass him.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

Kazcka, or the duck. I mean, that's another name that we called him.

Amy Drozdowska

That last nickname's a play on Kaczynski's surname. Kazcka. A duck. Not a bird exactly befitting the figurehead of a nation that wants to be taken seriously. To Dominik and Poland A, Kaczynski was a blundering xenophobe, anti-EU, mired in the past and holding the country back from a future as part of the west.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Amy Drozdowska

Speaking for the other half of Poland, that's Poland B, here's Ewa Stankiewicz. She's a filmmaker and activist in her early forties. Tall but slight, with this definite weariness about her. She wears a necklace with a small delicate cross. And she didn't appreciate those Poland A types mocking and humiliating Kaczynski.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

They made fun of him as much as they could. They took his dignity away from him during his lifetime, but millions of Poles respected him. He was a statesman who was a great patriot.

Amy Drozdowska

For Poland B people like Ewa, Kaczynski was a hero. The defender of pure Polishness and national sovereignty in a time when EU integration was starting to threaten that. Kaczynski was their savior.

Following the crash, it was as if the whole division between Poland A and Poland B just disappeared. You'd hear it everywhere. On the street, on TV. Slogans like, Let's Be One. Time to Stand Together. And these were people from two Polands. People who just days earlier would have told you themselves, they kind of hated each other.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

I felt a unity between Poles. A unity within the grief and the pain. And that we were living through it together. I felt a closeness between people. And for the first time I felt-- I don't know how to call it-- but perhaps a feeling of patriotism.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

It really showed people how to be patriotic. It was almost-- everyone came together. I must admit, actually, it's the first time I've ever seen anything like this.

Amy Drozdowska

For Dominik, the memory that sticks out the most from this time was the day the country sounded the air raid sirens, signaling the whole nation to stop everything and remember Kaczynski and the other crash victims. Remember, this is for the man half the country hated. Including Dominik.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

It was absolutely everyone. Just everyone came to a standstill. I was actually riding my scooter at the time. So while all the cars around me-- while they were actually honking their horns in tune, or with the sirens at the same time-- I was there on my little scooter on the road. But I felt that I also had to honk my horn, even though it was a tiny scooter. So it really wasn't a match for the cars. But I thought I had to do it.

Amy Drozdowska

The grief that was reuniting Poland had a center, the presidential palace in Warsaw, sort of like the Polish White House. After the crash, people came there from all over the country, people from Poland A and Poland B. And they held vigil outside the gates for hours at a time. They brought flowers and candles and laid them on the sidewalk in front of the palace. Pretty soon, they completely filled the street.

A few days after the plane crash, the Polish scouts-- they're like the Polish Boy Scouts-- added their own tribute to the sea of flowers and candles, a cross. It was a simple structure, standing about 12 feet high, without color or any ornamentation, made by hand out of wood.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

Now in Polish culture, the cross has a history which is more than a thousand years old.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

Putting a cross there is actually quite a good idea. You have to remember that the cross in our culture is very close to the nation. It's close to our history.

Translator

The cross is our identity. It's our culture.

Translator

Everyone from around was, we're going there. And it was kind of a duty of every Pole to do that. I mean, this man was our president, no matter which way you look at it. So going there, putting your flowers or wreath down, lighting a candle, this is the way that it should have happened.

Amy Drozdowska

Pretty soon, this 12-foot wooden cross became the centerpiece of the entire nation's grief. You'd see the coverage of all the people there on that street, those huge crowds of mourners, and always in the center of the frame was the cross.

It didn't take too long, though-- just three days, in fact-- before all this unity started to crack. It was like the end of a long family holiday dinner, when tensions finally start to flare, and the same old arguments come out. Kaczynski's family had declared their wish that he be buried at Wawel Castle Cathedral in Krakow. And the church gave its consent. Wawel is kind of like the Polish Westminster, where the country's saints, kings, and national heroes are entombed.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

So with the Wawel, that's how it all started. The moment when they announced that they were going to bury the presidential couple at the Wawel Cathedral, that's when Poles just kind of split up. The [BLEEP] hit the fan. That's when it all started.

Amy Drozdowska

To get why this caused such a huge uproar, why Dominik and the rest of Poland A freaked out about this, I have to underline that the kind of people buried at Wawel are the stuff of legends, like kings who slay dragons, saints who performed miracles. So imagine the reaction when they announced that President Kaczynski and his wife Maria would be buried at Wawel. It was like Poland A woke up and remembered, wait a minute. We can't stand Kaczynski.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

It was a joke. I really couldn't believe it. We all thought it was a joke. I would have thought that Wawel, you know, a place which is holy for all Poles-- I mean, it's a symbol of Polish history-- It's holy. It's untouchable. I mean, we all thought that the Wawel's closed. I mean, there's no more room to put any more people inside there, down in the catacombs. Suddenly, there's room for Kaczynski. So Kaczynski being buried in the Wawel, it's like he was rewriting the history books. And it's just amazing to think that the decision of one man is able to ruin a thousand years of this heritage by deciding to bury Kaczynski there.

Amy Drozdowska

In the end, on April 23, 13 days after the crash, the late president and his wife were laid to rest at Wawel. So Poland A lost that first round. If the whole Wawel thing was a slap in the face of Poland A, the thing that set off Poland B was the election to replace Kaczynski.

In the election, Poland B's candidate was-- I'm not kidding you-- the late president's identical twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. If you were with Poland B, you could vote for not just your beloved president's political heir, not just his flesh and blood brother, but a guy who looked exactly like him. Even their own mother could never tell them apart.

Poland A's choice was Bronislaw Komorowski, the former parliamentary speaker, the guy who had taken over as acting head of state after the plane crash. The race was nail-bitingly close. But at the final count, Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland A's choice, won.

For Poland A, this was like the restart the country needed to start moving on and get back to business. But for Poland B, this was a huge blow. Not only was their hero dead. But now, they had lost the power too.

By the time of the election, for weeks on end, day and night, Poland B had been holding vigil at the cross. Even after the funeral was long over, even after the period of national mourning had officially ended, the crowds at the presidential palace never stopped. Week after week, the flowers and candles continued to fill the street and pile up around the wooden cross. And Ewa Stankiewicz was there from the start, nearly round the clock filming it all, talking with the people there.

This is from her footage, which she has released as two films, Solidarity 2010 and The Cross.

Female Speaker

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Amy Drozdowska

Ewa filmed men and women standing out in the rain at 3:00 AM to keep the vigil going. People with tears in their eyes, talking about their grief and loss.

Female Speaker

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Amy Drozdowska

And then, after just a few days, things started to shift. When you watch the interviews, you start to see this hint of something different in the faces of people. That shift from composed sadness to something closer to fear, and an edge that starts to underline their voices. There's this one word that starts coming up and keeps coming up. Zamach, assassination.

People start bringing up the idea that the plane crash was no accident. And the dark figure looming behind all this fear is Russia. They were behind all this. If anyone has reasons to not trust the Russians, Poland's got them. More than a century of war and brutal occupation by Russia. Communism and the unrelenting paranoia of living in a police state. Those kinds of reasons.

For Poland A, though, this is history. And they're all about looking forward. Whereas for Poland B, this is all very much alive. For them, Russia is still a threat.

This is actually a huge part of why Poland B loves the late president Kaczynski. He was a hardliner when it came to Russia. As a matter of fact, he wouldn't even speak with Russians, wouldn't be in the same room with them. He was Poland B's anti-Russian hero. And the new president, Poland A's Komorowski, was in league with the enemy.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

They saw him as a kind of Russian envoy, a spy, someone who isn't worthy of becoming president of Poland, who actually has no moral right to become president of Poland.

Amy Drozdowska

At one point, Poland B people actually started spreading this weird rumor. That Komorowski wasn't a real Pole. That actually, he was descended from a murdering Bolshevik grandfather who slit the throats of the real Komorowskis and usurped the family name. So the new president wasn't even Polish. He was secretly Russian.

And if that sounds nuts to you, that Russia would have killed the Polish president, here's how the facts lined up for the Poles. The plane crash happened in Russia. And even more than that, the plane full of all those Polish elite-- political leaders, financial heads, writers-- they were on their way to commemorate the massacre of another group of Polish elite in the Second World War. More than 20,000 murdered in the woods. And the whole thing covered up for decades.

Also, remember the trauma of their history with Russia is very recent. Moscow controlled Poland until 1989. So this idea that the Russians were at it again seemed entirely plausible to lots of people. Even a Poland A guy like Dominik told me, sure, he thinks the plane crash was just an unfortunate accident. But listen, a lot of crazy stuff went down during communism. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to think the Russians might be behind it.

Though Poland B didn't stop with a few reasonable suspicions. You started to hear elaborate conspiracy theories and secret plots to destroy the nation.

Like any group rallying around a cause, Poland B adopted a symbol, the cross. That simple wooden cross the Polish Boy Scouts put up had officially become the symbol of their country in crisis. All their grief, all their fear, went into those wooden beams. It was a bit like when the cross became the symbol of a free Poland during solidarity in the '80s. A symbol for the country's united fight against the communists. This time, though, the Poland B people by the cross felt abandoned, turned on by their own countrymen. While Poland A, everybody else, was starting to feel uncomfortable, impatient.

With Poland A and Poland B starting to go after each other again, things there in front of the cross were starting to get ugly. Violence started happening, at first in small ways. Drunk young people would stumble out of the nearby bars in the area and mock the Poland B people praying by the cross. They'd curse them out, or even physically attack them.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

There was an example of a young man who kicked a woman. I don't think she'd even been praying for a very long time, but a lot of passers by knelt down to pray as they passed. And I think she was one of those. There was another incident of a woman who was pushed. And she fell. And she nearly cracked open her head on the pavement. There were incidents of people putting out their cigarettes on the necks of people.

Amy Drozdowska

Dominik and Poland A, though, saw this violence differently. The way he saw it, it was the cross people who were out of control. They were embarrassing, hostile. And it was starting to seem like they were never going to leave.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

I didn't want to go there. I mean, the atmosphere was just too aggressive. I mean, you would go there, and you would immediately be accused of being a spy or being sent by Moscow to be there or something. There was even an anecdote going around at that time about the cross, that even if Jesus had come for the cross, they would have said, what are you doing here, you Jew? Get out of here.

Amy Drozdowska

You see, this is when Poland A started to feel like it was time, time for those hostile people to stop camping out in a public street day and night like they owned the place, to take down the giant cross standing in front of a secular government building.

The plan to take away the cross was careful, diplomatic. It would be done with the utmost respect. It would be taken to a place of honor, the nearby Church of St. Anne. The right people would be there to do the job-- Catholic priests, church leaders, and Polish Boy Scouts-- the very people who had put the cross there in the first place.

So with that plan in place, the day came to take down the cross. And on that day, all hell broke loose.

Truckloads of police were there. Thousands of protesters pushing against the barricades erected around the cross. They were chanting and holding signs that said, "If you're a Pole, then come with us," and "Komorowski, traitor of the state," and "It's our cross. It's our cross."

At one point, a woman tied herself to the cross with rope and started shouting that the cross is a symbol of the 96 people who died in the catastrophe, that we won't let it be taken away. When the priests and scouts showed up, people started screaming at them. They chanted, defend the cross. And shouted at them, calling them "Judas, Judas" and "Gestapo." Keep in mind, these were the conservative, older, very Catholic people of Poland B shouting Judas at priests who were there to move a cross, calling them Nazis.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

The key thing for me, which really got me angry, was the fact that they were offending scouts and priests. I mean, these are people for the public good. So why are these people being shouted at and slandered? Only someone without a soul or a mind could do something like this. You'd have to be, really, kind of an animal to be throwing such slanderous comments at these people who are only doing good for other people in the world.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

The scouts were totally disorientated. They had tears in their eyes. And the people started calling out to them and to the priests not to do it, not to take the cross away. And they asked the priests to start praying with them. And the people started praying. And the priests joined them in prayer.

Amy Drozdowska

Some people started pushing through the police barriers put up for the occasion. And police tried to push them back. Then the police brought out the pepper spray and things got even more nuts.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

You could see these granddads going at fisticuffs with the other people. You've got grandmothers, elderly women, beating people with their walking sticks, almost. They broke through the barriers and they were rallying people to come and defend the cross. You know, come with us.

Amy Drozdowska

Things got so out of control that, in the end, the government officials in charge of the operation had to call the whole thing off. The cross stayed put. It's not what happened that day they tried to take the cross that really surprised me, that shocked me into seeing a meanness within the country that I didn't think existed, was possible, that really brought out the very worst in people. It was what happened after. When Dominik Taras, pulling for Poland A, threw a party, a huge Facebook-led event attended by thousands. Those Poland A people who said to Poland B, if you're going to pull a protest like that, fine. Then we're going to protest your protest.

It was the exact opposite of all this angry unyielding earnestness. They dressed up as sumo wrestlers, put on Star Wars costumes, and danced there in the streets in front of the cross defenders. They tossed around a beach ball. They did the wave. They blew bubbles and sang children's nursery rhymes. They waved around signs like, "Take down the presidential palace. It's getting in the way of the cross."

But then it changed. It stopped being so light-hearted. It felt more like one group mocking another's most sincere beliefs, their deepest fears. Like when I saw a bunch of Poland A people parading around a cross made out of beer cans and another person dressed up as a bishop in robes made out of toilet paper. And then the duck came out.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

I mean, that was like, a cuddly toy in the shape of a duck, right? A nice allusion to the surname of the Kaczynski brothers.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

Kaczka, which means duck in Polish. And this duck was tossed around like a football. And ripped apart.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

It was quite emotional, I would say. This duck was being kind of tossed around. And then suddenly someone grabbed it and ripped off a leg here and ripped off a leg there. And by the end of it, the whole thing was in shreds and all the filling was up in the air. Like all the feathers from the inside-- this kind of guts-- were floating around in the air.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

People were shouting, one more, one more. Which meant that they were calling for the death of the second Kaczynski, his brother.

Amy Drozdowska

Well, that's her interpretation of one more. Dominik saw it another way.

Dominik Taras

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

Give us one more. Give us one more. And then, someone just threw another one in there.

Ewa Stankiewicz

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Translator

It felt terrible to wish death onto someone. It's not something I'd wish on my worst enemy.

Amy Drozdowska

Let me just say here, I'm of Polish descent. I've lived in Poland off and on for a few years now. And this is where I felt like, I didn't know this country anymore. For me, Poland's a tough love kind of place. Grandmothers yelling at you to dress your kid more warmly. Hard on itself. But deeply sincere. Decent.

Where the local version of the TV show Big Brother never really took off because Poles thought it was mean in a way that made them uncomfortable. Their version of So You Think You Can Dance is You Can Dance. It's like, in the end, they want to watch each other succeed. Not tear each other down.

And I always thought this Poland A, Poland B thing was an anomaly. Something they'd all get over. Post-communist growing pains. But it's just started to occur to me that maybe this is what post-communist means. This is democracy. They traded a common enemy and a common cause for a system that pits them against their fellow citizens and turns their own countrymen into their worst enemies.

That whole thing about coming together after a tragedy, that tragedy brings people closer together, that it brings out their best? It can work the other way too. It can bring out the worst and drive people apart. Especially when it's your own country, your family. Your family, your own countrymen, they're the ones who have the real power to destroy you.

Komorowski kept trying to come up with ideas to take down the cross, Offered compromises, all of which were shot down. At one point, he tried a plaque, one that honored Lech Kaczynski and all the victims of the plane crash. They put it right on the outside front wall of the presidential palace. The plaque itself even had a good-sized cross on it. Defenders of the cross were not impressed. A 71-year-old man threw a jar of his own feces at it.

In the end, the cross simply disappeared. In the wee hours of a Thursday morning in late September, guards quietly and unceremoniously came to the cross, took it down, and carried it inside the palace, before anybody realized what was happening, before anyone could stop them. A non-event. It's now finally at the Church of St. Anne, as originally planned.

The two sides have continued in small ways to keep up the fight. Right where the cross stood at the palace, a group meets to pray every night at 9:00 PM. Ewa Stankiewicz is often with them. People are constantly leaving crosses. The authorities take them away, but people just bring more. Dominik told me there's even one on wheels that they pull around, bring out, hide, bring it out again. To this empty space in front of a government building that people are still trying to fill.

Ira Glass

Amy Drozdowska-McGuire in Warsaw.

Act Two. A Tale of Two Jerseys.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Nemeses, stories of seemingly intractable long-term conflicts. We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, A Tale of Two Jerseys.

Chris Gethard was a freshman at Rutgers when this story took place, the story in which he discovered a nemesis he did not feel anything for at all, until suddenly he did feel something for, fiercely and fully. Rutgers is the state school of New Jersey. And Chris says that when he was there, back in 1998, it was, he says, kind of a low point for the university and for him.

He says that they had started all kinds of construction projects to rebuild the campus, but, he says, they hadn't gotten very far. And buildings seemed to be just falling apart. He says his classes were terrible. It was hundreds of unmotivated kids in massive seminars. He was miserable. He takes it from here.

Chris Gethard

Rutgers during my stay was both overcrowded and filthy. I lived in this tiny dorm room with this Estonian nationalist known as the Russian bear. And the view from our dorm was the Raritan River, which doesn't move. It's just like a streak of liquid malaria.

The main reason I went there was because they didn't make me write an essay. And it just blew. It just was the worst. So I did what anybody who was a college freshman in 1998 would have done. I sat on the internet all day. Specifically, on the instant messenger program, where my name was Framsky.

And I really liked having that outlet because I could ignore and not deal with real-life outside my dorm room. And I could also control what people saw of me. I was doing anything and everything to avoid dealing with the reality of my actual existence. IM was my lifeline. Framsky was all I had.

I was on Instant Messenger so much I would even IM with the kid who lived directly across the hall from me, a ridiculously tall half-Asian kid named Andy. And he was the same way. I still remember, we would instant message each other about how we didn't have any friends. I still, to this day, am like, why weren't he and I better friends?

One day I'm online and get this message from this guy. His name is Rob. He went to Princeton. He was a friend of some friends. I didn't really know him that well. But he sends me this message. It says, "Chris, watch out." And before I can ask why, over 30 messages from people I don't know pop up on my screen. And all those people start flagging me, reporting me to the program as if I've done something wrong. And suddenly, I was kicked off the system.

Because if you used Instant Messenger back in the day, you'll remember, there weren't any rules. There was nothing written down that was like, you can't say or do the following. The way it worked was, if you were being a jerk, the person you were being a jerk to could warn you. And if that happened enough times, the system assumed you actually were being a jerk. And it booted you.

I was cut off immediately. And I was filled with rage. I know it's stupid, but that was my breaking point. I was just like, I'm done. I just can't.

So I called up that dude, Rob, and was like, "What was that?"

And he goes, "It's this kid. He lives on my floor here at Princeton. He's been doing that to people the past few days. He calls it IM-bombing. He thinks it's really funny."

And I'm like, "IM-bombing? What the hell?"

And Rob says, "Yeah. He got your name off my computer. I didn't realize it until it was too late. Sorry. I tried to give you a heads up."

And I go, "What's this kid's name?"

And Rob says, "He's a nice guy. His name is Amir."

I asked him, like, "A-M-I-R?"

"Yeah," he said.

"So his name is Amir, right?"

"Yeah," Rob said. "But he pronounces it Am-er."

And I was like, "Tell me more about him."

And Rob says, "I don't know. He's nice, man. He's from Toronto."

"From Toronto?" I said. He's [BLEEP] dead.

Not because I have anything against Canada, but I couldn't let someone from Canada come to Jersey, which is mine, and mess with me. I couldn't do that. I couldn't allow that. The fact that this guy went to Princeton, every Rutgers kid, every Jersey kid, he's going to hate him just a little bit. He went to Princeton. I mean, we're natural enemies.

"Rob, what's the name of your dorm?" I asked.

Then, I took action. I threw open my door and saw Andy sitting with his door open across the hall. Andy was as depressed and crazy as I was. Plus he had a car.

"Andy," I said, "want drive to Princeton and beat up some Princeton kid?"

"Yup," he answered, instantaneously and with surprisingly little emotion in his voice. He didn't even look surprised. It was as if he'd been waiting all night for somebody to walk by and offer a midnight beating of a Princeton student.

We called our other friend, Jeff, who came running over. The three of us dressed in black from head to toe. Black puffy jackets, black pants, black wool hats. We jumped in Andy's car. And we were off.

"Whoa," I said, when we pulled up at Princeton's gates.

"Yeah," Andy said. "It's beautiful."

Princeton was the complete opposite of Rutgers.

"It's so clean," Jeff said. We were shocked that a school could be so grime-free. Princeton was clearly not the type of place where you got in without writing an essay.

"We probably shouldn't have dressed in all black," Andy said.

He was right. Rocking wannabe paramilitary gear was not the best choice if we wanted to go unnoticed. Then we realized Amir's dorm was at the opposite end of campus. We sprinted, scared of being swept up like the state school trash we were.

Luckily for us, it was as if the Princeton-ites couldn't even see us. No one blinked. We had the same effect on them as Columbus's ships did on the Indians. None. They couldn't even fathom that we existed in their reality. We made our way to the dorm and found we needed a magnetic swipe card to enter.

That surprised us. At Rutgers, anybody could just walk into any dorm at any time. We responded in the only way we could think of. We tried to kick the door down. It wouldn't give. Luckily for us, though, a young gentleman in a pair of khakis and loafers saw us in our frustration and walked up to us.

"Need to get inside?" he asked, smiling.

He looked like an average turn of the 21st century preppy type, but his tone of voice was like Potsie or Dennis the Menace, something from a more innocent time. Clearly this Princeton student hadn't been crushed by the harsh realities of life like we had. He swiped us right in.

When we had left for Princeton, we planned on scaring Amir good. We didn't really think we were going to do any serious damage to him. But what we saw in the lobby of that immaculate, pristinely maintained dorm, changed a lot of things for us that night and, sadly, a lot of things for Amir.

Gathered in the middle of the dorm were a group of about 15 kids. Every single one of them was wearing sweaters or turtlenecks or both. They were standing around the dorm's grand piano. Grand piano. And they were singing Christmas carols. To drive from the banks of the muddy Raritan, from the 400-person classes, from the bug-infested living areas, from the knowledge that every day for the next four years was going to be a lackluster one to this, to Christmas carols, to the blind, unbothered, let's get together and belt out a good "Silent Night" world of Princeton pushed a button inside all three of us.

Andy, Jeff, and I all froze, our seething resentment mixing with our collective self-loathing into a dangerously combustible mixture. This wasn't just cheesy. This wasn't just white bread in a way that would never survive at Rutgers. This was a call to war.

We were three kids who existed in a place where we found it hard to feel good about anything. We were three kids who woke up every day a little ticked off about how things were going. Most of all, we were three kids who spent so much time uncertain and angry, that we were scared about whether we were going to turn out OK. And there's no way you sit around singing Christmas carols unless you feel fine about the world. You have to be happy to sing a carol.

I mean, sure. We were spoiled college kids, too. But this? This was taking things to an entirely different level. This was a fantasy world where there were very few problems. And inexplicably, it was sitting right in the middle of our state. Suddenly, without saying a word, all three of us knew. We were going to do our damnedest to destroy this.

We made our way towards Rob and Amir's floor, heading up the stairwell where we were again thwarted by the presence of a heavy door sealed shut with a magnetic lock. We banged on the door. And as each second ticked by, I realized what a bad idea it was to have come here.

This is a bad idea, I thought to myself, that I am about to do. I mean, we were definitely going overboard. We were definitely worked up. And it really wasn't fair to direct it all at one unsuspecting kid. Just as we were coming to our senses, someone opened the door.

The kid was pudgy. His large eyes blinked behind his glasses.

"Can I help you with something?" he asked.

"We're friends of Rob's," I mumbled, rocking back and forth on my feet.

He looked back at me, confused.

"From Rutgers. We called him. He told us we should wait for him until he gets back."

He eyed me up and down. "Well, you can wait with me, I guess," he said, obviously bothered that he'd have to babysit us.

He motioned for us to follow him down the hallway. And then, over his shoulder, he signed his own death warrant with three innocuous words.

"My name's Amir."

To Amir, Framsky was just a made-up name on the computer screen of some dude he lived down the hall from. He didn't know Framsky went to Rutgers. He didn't know how unhappy Framsky was with the way things were going for him. He was not aware of Framsky's habit of overreacting to small things, of making them out to be symbolic of how his entire life was going. Most importantly, he had no idea Framsky was the skinny weirdo dressed in black staring furiously at the back of his head right at that moment.

Amir almost seemed tragic to me then. Completely oblivious to the level of fear to which he was going to be introduced that night. I started to feel bad. It was like standing on a hill watching an unsuspecting car about to get blindsided by a speeding truck. With those feelings rising, I knew that if I was going to bail, if I was going to forgive him and walk away, it would have to happen now. I followed him into his dorm. Without turning around, he said, there's some people drinking down the hall. I guess you can come.

When we got to the room in question, there were about 10 kids spread out with their backs to us, all laughing and drinking. Amir announced us.

"Guys, these are Rob's friends from Rutgers."

Without even turning around to look at us, one of the girls said, "Oh, I thought something smelled funny in here all of a sudden."

She said it quickly. So quickly that it almost seemed planned. Even more quickly than Andy had answered, yeah, he wanted to beat up a Princeton kid. But while I had admired that kind of quickness in Andy, I was aghast when I encountered it in that dorm room.

Who behaves that way? Were they sitting around all night waiting for some poor Rutgers kid to walk through the door just so they could get that killer dig out? These damn smart kids just knew how to think fast and articulate their thoughts. Before the insult, the entire night could have taken a turn right there. We could have sat and drank with those kids all night, burying our stereotypes of each other and uniting in the common bonding of being young and drunk. Instead, we were insulted the second we walked into the room.

At this point, it wasn't just me who was angry. Andy and Jeff were mad as well. They had entered that night as my backup on a silly adventure. Now, they had witnessed college kids singing Christmas carols around their grand piano on a Friday night and had been insulted outright by a very smart, likely very rich, girl.

Still, my feelings towards Amir were becoming confused. I was angry about what he had done to me. But in a way, I also pitied him. He had initially represented big bad Princeton in our minds. But I knew it wasn't right to take it all out on one guy. At the end of the day, I knew nothing about him. For all I know, he could have been the me of Princeton, the token sad kid.

Amir took us back into the hallway. We went down to the other end of the hall and followed him into his room. It was huge. At least three times the size of the space I shared with the Russian bear.

"Why don't you guys have a seat on the floor?" he said. I watched as he sat in an expensive-looking leather office chair.

There were about six open chairs in his room, not to mention a small couch. But we had been invited to sit on the floor. I now knew everything I needed to know about Amir. He was nothing like me. He was the type of person who thinks it's OK to tell a stranger to sit on the floor.

"Actually, Amir," I said, "I'm going to sit wherever I want."

His head dropped. He slowly turned around. He suddenly had the body language of someone who realized he was in some pretty deep [BLEEP], the type of deep [BLEEP] where you invite a stranger over, disrespect them before your peers, ridicule them in private, and then realize you know nothing about him.

"I'm sorry," he squinted at me. "I never got your name."

I paused and locked eyes with him. I took a deep breath.

"My name? My name's Framsky."

All color drained from his pudgy face. And everything about him suddenly screamed, I want to be back in Toronto right now. He tried to regain his composure.

"And your friends?" he asked. "What are their names?"

He sounded like he thought this was a game. But I wasn't playing a game. I was lonely. I was socially depraved. I was depressed and scared about my life. I snapped.

"Their name is Framsky, too, mother[BLEEP]." I leaned in close to him. "Don't you ever [BLEEP] with me again."

I don't even remember what I said next. All I know is I was lashing out. And it was working. He was terrified.

"You have to go," Amir said. "You have to go right now."

I ignored him. "Don't you ever [BLEEP] with me. You have no idea what it's like out there. You have no idea who I am."

From the look in his eyes, I knew he was realizing that I was right. He didn't have any idea what it was like out there. He had as much of an idea of what my New Jersey was as I did his.

And that's when I spread out my arms, leaned in as close as I could get to his face, and said the toughest thing I've ever said in my life.

"I am in your house, Amir." I grinned. "I'm in your [BLEEP] house, and there's nothing you can do about it."

He looked at me and the first tear trickled down his cheek. I couldn't believe it. Only at a place like Princeton could a guy who looks like me be the bully instead of the bullied.

"You have to go right now," he said, taking a step towards me.

"I am in your house," I repeated.

"Go, leave," he said, trying desperately to control his fear. He took one more step, and he pushed me.

That was a mistake. I spun around.

"Framsky," I said, making eye contact with Jeff. "Lock the door."

"We need to leave," Jeff answered. I looked at him. He was no longer angry. He was scared. Of me.

Back at Rutgers, Andy and Jeff hung out in my room for the rest of the night. We assumed the police were going to arrive at any moment and that our gathering in one place was a polite way to make their job easier. I don't know what I was more scared of, my impending arrest or the behavior I'd seen in myself that night. I'd always been an angry kid, but, for the first time, I'd seen that anger lash outwards. I had almost brutalized a stranger. Worst of all, I wasn't sure which I felt worse about, almost doing it or not doing it.

To our amazement, the police never called. I'd like to say that seeing this side of myself changed me. But over the next four years, I had another half dozen incidents like it, including three other guys who, in my head, became the enemy of everything I stood for and the night I initiated a high speed chase with a New Jersey state trooper. But finally, I got myself together. I just looked up Amir on Facebook and realized things worked out for us exactly the way they are supposed to for a kid from Rutgers and a guy from Princeton.

He's a banker in Europe. And if the girl in his profile photo is his girlfriend, he has a hot girlfriend. I live in an apartment with a roommate in Queens, arguably the fourth coolest borough in New York City. And I'm still telling the story, about the 12-hour window when I was tough back in 1998.

Ira Glass

Chris Gethard. That story is the title story of his new book, A Bad Idea I'm About To Do, which comes out in just a couple weeks, in January.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Robyn Semien and myself with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Jonathan Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Brian Reed, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Seth Lind is our production manager. Emily Condon is our office manager. Production help from Miki Meek. Scouting help from Elna Baker. Music help from Damien Graef from Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, where you can listen to any of our shows for absolutely free and find links to our mobile apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad-- the iPhone and iPad apps, by the way, you can actually gift to a friend by clicking the little down arrow next to the app in the iTunes store. The web address, thisamericanlife.org.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our show by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia. He has such weird nicknames for our WBEZ colleague, Peter Sagal--

Translator

The potato, the midget, Napoleon, also, because of his height. Psychopath, schizophrenic.

Ira Glass

I don't know what he's talking about. I like Peter. I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

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