Monday, July 30, 2012

Stalin, Kotwicki, horsemeat and Polish agriculture: an interesting discussion

Thanks to Mr. Dariusz Wielec, who has added to my recent “Konski Targ”’s article a worldwide circulation by announcing it at his excellent English blog – The Long Riders’ Guild and The Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation announced their interest in commemorating Mr. Tadeusz Kotwicki. I will let you know when the web page dedicated to him will appear.

Preparing an article in English, I had to explain how it has happened that Tadeusz Kotwicki – an avid sportsmen, raised in the countryside and a graduate of an Agricultural University – actually couldn’t ride horses before he has begun his first work at Nowa Wioska Stud farm?

This might look strange for younger Poles. There is so many riding schools – and other possibilities – that everybody may learn horse riding if he only want to! I imagine, that for a foreigner – it’s totally illogical!

A simple question required long and complicated answer – and an interesting discussion with Mr. CuChullaine O'Reilly arisen from it.

I think, that some parts of my initial explanation and later discussion might be of some interest for general public. Therefore, with the consent of Mr. O'Reilly I publish it here. Beginning with an introductory part of my English article concerning Mr. Tadeusz Kotwicki’s life and journeys (absent in Polish version you could have read in “Konski Targ”).

Tadeusz Kotwicki with Hloja in Kazakhstan

Poland was the only socialist country with agriculture remaining in majority private – with private ownership of land and private, individual farms living on their own. This „anomaly“ has had numerous causes, with the most important being the fact, that before the war, Polish agriculture was exceptionally fragmented, with huge majority of farmers ploughing small and medium pieces of land. Forcing all of them into Soviet style collective farms took so much time, that Stalin has died before this task was completed – and almost immediately after his death most of such farms were disbanded, theirs members definitely preferring to conduct business individually.

The socialist government nominated by Moscow never after has been strong and determined enough to renew this effort. However, all big estates, including some two dozens of horse breeding farms (a very small number for a country of a size of Poland!) and all enterprises proceeding agricultural products, trading on them or supplying agriculture – remained state owned. The export of foodstuff was for a long time the most important source of state revenues.

As the most important export commodity was grain – the government did what it could to limit domestic consumption of grain – and horses used by individual farms were his principal enemy, „eating his potential revenue“, as Władysław Gomułka, a leader of the Party at the time when Tadeusz Kotwicki was born, openly stated. Because socialist industry was unable to supply enough tractors and fuel for them – the government tried to limit the number of horses employed by farmers as their propeller power, using administrative means.

At the same time horse riding and keeping horses other than cold blood agricultural horse (as small in size and number and as little eating as possibly…) was perceived by the communist power as ideologically suspect remnants of the „feudal past“. There was a number of violent acts against horse riders, supported by the Party or at least – tolerated by the powers. It was practically forbidden to ride horse or to practice any kind of horse sport – outside of these about two dozens of horse breeding farms (producing offspring almost exclusively for the export), three racetracks and about two or three dozens of other institutions (including just a few sport clubs, with membership limited to the upper echelons of the Party and the Army).

Tadeusz Kotwicki with Kropka in Patagonia

My article caused Mr. O'Reilly to ask several questions, some of them I could answer at once:

CuChullain: Are you aware of how the Italian mafia came into Poland, after the communist regime fell from power, and bought up thousands of Polish horses, then transported them to Italy to be made into sausage?

Jacek: I know nothing about "Italian mafia" coming into Poland and transporting horses to Italy to made them into sausage. This information looks like a fake.

In fact, an export of horses for flesh from Poland to Italy has begun in mid-60's, when a communist power was quite strong still. At the beginning a state-owned company called "Animex" has had a monopoly for this kind of traffic. The collapse of communist power has changed only the scale and organization of this trade, making it a normal, free market activity. This caused a rapid, dramatic increase in number of horses exported abroad. But this WERE horses bred and kept for meat!

The only problem was, that with so dramatic increase in numbers of horses transported, the condition of this transport fell – which caused reaction of the public shocked with examples of mismanagement and pain.

New legislation and steady improvement in veterinary services in Poland reduced this problem to a minimum. In fact, past 10 years an export of horses from Poland decreases gradually - along with the size of horses population in Poland, which is smaller and smaller each year.

However, 90% of all horses bred in Poland (out of some 300 thousand population - which is tenfold less than in 1948 and two times less than around 1989) are bred for meat still.

Horses are used for agricultural work in Poland much more often than in any neighboring country - especially in small farms. However, their primary destination is to be sold "to an Italian". As horse grows in fat slower than other domestic animals, this business is naturally dying out as uneconomical for larger, specialized farms (small farms tend to keep horses because of the fact, that horse can be fed with variety of things available on the spot, and used for some minor works, thus reducing the necessity of buying specialized food and fuel) - and there is a good correlation between decreasing export of horses for flesh and decreasing number of small farms operating.

CuChullain: In your story you wrote that the communists did not encourage horse riding.

In your opinion, was this because horses allowed a person to ride freely across the countryside?

Did the communist regime in Poland pass any law or restriction specifically against horse travel?

Was it against the law to ride your own horse across Poland in those days?

Or was it merely a discouraging social practice, designed to keep the people out of the saddle and close to home?

Did Tadeusz realize that he was breaking this social taboo by becoming a horseman and a Long Rider?

Jacek: Well, that's complicated! I was doing my best to explain this in the introductory part of my article as I thought it will look strange to any Western reader to see that Tadeusz couldn't ride horses and begun to learn it as mature man. It looks like instead of explaining the problem, I made it even less understandable. OK then, let's try to go into details...

The very meaning of a word "law" in a communist system is different that you have used to. The communist power and ideology tries to control every aspect of human life. It means that the power - theoretically - doesn't need "a law" at all - cause it may rule using simple administrative decisions and/or means of mass mobilization. The decision may be different each time - as the power may do what it likes, and no rules constrain it. However it was so "pure" and "simple" only in China or other Asian communist countries. Even in Russia some law culture was inherited from tsarist times - and never was destroyed completely - and this is much more true if European countries occupied by the Soviets after WWII are concern.

In practice it led to a double standard. There was some "official/virtual reality" and "hidden true" behind it. (1) Officially there never was a law restricting horse breeding, keeping and riding by private persons in Poland (contrary to Russia, where private owning of a horse was officially forbidden in 1928). However, in practice in the years 1944 - 1953 huge majority of mounts was confiscated by the state. Only few brave and fanatical owners have managed to hide some of their horses among friendly peasants. All institutions connected with the horse breeding, training or racing if re-established after the war (as racetracks in Warsaw and Wroclaw) - were restricted to state-owned breeding farms and state officials. In this initial period, called "Stalinism", as it gradually eroded after Stalin's death, the communist power was driven by ideology. It was an attempt to construct "a new, communist man" and "a new, proletarian culture". Horse riding used to be connected and identified with noblemen's culture, history and tradition - and these were precisely the causes why communist power in a "Stalinism" period was fighting it.

Beginning with the year 1956 a new period in the history of the communist power begun. From this time on, the power was driven much more by an economy, than by an ideology. The Party under the new leadership of Wladislaw Gomulka was seeking an economical self-sufficiency and trade surplus. Therefore, it was fighting all kinds of "unnecessary luxuries" like: using lemons for the tea, using natural coffee instead of some Ersatz or... keeping and riding horses! It was no longer necessary to hide horses among peasants and there were few (I know about one in fact) private breeding farms with e.g. Arabian horses. But - they were fighted by administrative means. In the years 1956 - 1970 it was still illegal to use state owned stallions on private mares (the owner of this breeding farm used to bribe employees of the state owned breeding center to do it...) - and mares sold into private hands were excluded from the Stud Book and sometimes - sterilized in order to prevent them being bred.

After the year 1970 the communist power has eroded even further. Some of the Party "apparatchiks" begun to style themselves on noblemen: they were decorating theirs mansions with coat of arms, hunting and - riding horses become a popular form of recreation among upper echelons of the Party and theirs children. It wasn't restrived by law to this privileged few - but it was very difficult for an ordinary man with rural origins, like Tadeusz Kotwicki, to participate in such activities, as he simply wouldn't be admitted into e.g.  Wroclaw racetrack if he would try to learn riding there.

Talking to Mrs. Kotwicka I learned in fact, that what was driving Tadeusz into his rides was a kind of curiosity for the beauty of the world: arising from the fact, that huge majority of the Polish society was cut out of the outer world and kept by communist power in a kind of house arrest. This was his personal way of expressing his freedom.

In Peru with Kropka
In Peru, on papaya tree

CuChullain: Yes, the Italian mafia was indeed involved in the European horsemeat business. After the collapse of the Soviet Union companies with mafia connections rushed into former communist countries, buying up as many horses as possible. These animals were transported back to Italy, often times suffering a lot during the brutal transport.

All of this was documented and exposed by the Welsh Long Rider, author and researcher, Jeremy James. After his work was published, Jeremy was taken to a private meeting with a mafia leader. Jeremy was told that unless he stopped publishing such damaging information, he was to be murdered. The mafia boss threatened to kill Jeremy and have his body dumped into a vat at the horsemeat sausage factory.

But as a result of Jeremy's investigation, European horse welfare organizations began to monitor the welfare of the horses being transported.

Yet countless thousands of horses ended up in sausage. This included the last known survivors of the endangered Croatian Marsh Horse.


The Guild has published research material, which shows how the English/American view of eating horsemeat is linked to a forgotten religious war. In the 8th century the Roman Catholic Pope issued a special religious edict against the horse-eating pagan Vikings. Though the Italians have been eating horsemeat for centuries, this religious edict made its way to England, and eventually America, where it is still the basis for this culinary antagonism.

Regarding the communist opposition to private ownership of horses. I must say that even though you mentioned this in passing, it has given me a great deal of to think about.

Did Stalin realize that horses meant geographic liberty and escape?

Other dictators had seen the dangers presented by a highly mobile mounted population.

That is why after the English General Oliver Cromwell conquered Ireland in the 17th century, he made it illegal for an Irishman to own a horse valued at more than 5 pounds.

This killed two equestrian birds with one stone. It not only denied the Irish the military advantages of the cavalry they had previously held dear. It also made the vast majority of them into pedestrians, as those few who could afford a horse were only allowed to ride worthless nags.

In Honduras
In Texas with Mocna

Jacek: I don't think that Stalin has had any so practical ideas you have mentioned. In 1928 when he has issued his decree, a horse was no longer an important vehicle or a valuable war asset (although a Soviet army has used mounted cavalry next 25 years - and some mounted units exist within Russian Armed Forces until now: as border guards or mountain rescue teams).

By the same decree he has confiscated all other animals larger than chicken - it was a part of a violent and brutal deprivation of all rural population out of their property, known as "collectivization". It caused in general about 30% drop in agricultural output, and the population of horses has vanished in about 50% (much more than any other animals). However, it was important for Stalin for ideological reasons (it seems that, although quite practical in many details, he has believed in socialism at large - so, he has expected that some day collective or state owned farms would be more economic than private ones - which turned out to be false...). Besides, depriving peasants out of their property and very often, out of their freedom by putting them into GULAG camps, he could freely use means accumulated this way for rapid, military driven industrialization, which he has needed, expecting the war.

The question of "a horse" as a political problem could arise in some particular places, where it played an important role in pre-socialist tradition, thus being a possible symbol and mean of resistance. This was the case of all Cossacks, who were treated with outmost cruelty, and of nomadic nations of Central Asia, some of whom were decimated. In Turkmenistan, an armed resistance against communist rule prolonged until 1938 (some 20 years). The last pre-war census (of 1937) showed that population of Turkmen, a nation with a very high fertility rate, is actually smaller than it used to be in 1913 – which means, that all this time more Turkmen were killed or escaped abroad (with their excellent horses of course), than was born. Kazakhs, who had no border to escape, were treated even harsher...

The reason why a horse was so important an enemy for Polish communists exists in world of symbols and in an imagination, not in reality.

A horse was connected with nobility. And a noble class used to be very numerous (up to 10% of the whole population) in Poland - and very fierce in defending their "way of life", naturally impossible to imagine without a mount. Polish noble class organized - and lost – a series of anti-Russian uprisings in XVIII and XIX centuries, when its Old Commonwealth was at first dominated, and finally - partitioned by foreign powers. There was little common sense in all these histories - but a lot of bravery, thus naturally giving birth to a powerful myth.

In XX century this myth was no longer a true - but it doesn't matter, as a myth doesn't need to be true in order to be believed!

It was enough to link in an imagination of communist leaders any mounted rider with "a nobleman warrior" - a person whom they hated and feared the most (which is only natural, as they in no way could fight a figure existing in imagination only...). This hate and fear diminished greatly with the course of time - and, as I've mentioned before, the same communist leaders in due time begun to style themselves as "nobles" (which had some genealogical grounds in some cases - and had no one in most...), as their imagination captured and arrested by long time ago vanished past, couldn't find other paragon for "a ruling class" in Poland. However, this was definitely too late to save our equestrian tradition which, as a result of an initial period of communist rule in Poland - was broken and has to be re-build from the beginning now.

In fact, until mid-XIX century horse breeding used to be "a nobleman's business" all over the Central and Eastern Europe - as peasants instead of horses, normally used cows as their propeller power. Thus, except for nomadic nations of Russia, Cossacks and noblemen - there was no tradition of traveling by horse. Polish (and Russian) peasants begun to breed their draft horses in the second half of XIX century, when they have adopted English technology of agriculture works. At this moment, railways begun to spread - reducing the necessity of horse travel. A danger of unwanted freedom of movements in rural areas arising from the fact, that farmers have horses is purely American concept - no European communist could treat it seriously, as our peasants never had a custom of traveling by horse in their history (with some exceptions of course: e.g. Baltic countries peasantry used to keep and breed horses most of the time, as well some mountains nations did)...

The taboo of eating horseflesh is a result of Charlemagne prolonged struggle against pagan Saxons. Saxons (as Aryans in India - or as Slavonic tribe on an island Rugia at the Baltic Sea) used to keep "sacred horses" as their oracle - and were eating horseflesh during some ceremonies. Therefore, this taboo is very strong in Germany - and, as Poland was for a long time importing cultural patterns from Germany (including e.g. a Christmas tree and many others...), also in Poland there is no market for horsemeat. Which is a sort of problem, as practically no local company produces food from horse flesh – and this is one of the reasons why horses HAVE TO be transported so long (the other is, in fact, that Italians eat not only sausages, but a lot of fresh horse meat as well...).

However, even if making sausages is a mafia business in Italy, Polish farmers selling much more horses in 1990, than they did a year before, were driven by a very simple reason: Italians gave them much more money than state-owned company "Animex" used to! So, the idea of "a plot" is not necessary to explain this fact...

Back home: leading a herd of Hloja's offspring on Hutor
Back home: leading a Saint Hubert's run

CuChullain: Thanks for sharing your observations regarding Stalin's political and agricultural policies.

We are very aware of how he brutally suppressed various equestrian cultures, including the Turcoman, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Cossacks.

I agree with you, when you say that Stalin's primary objective was his desire to implement a restructuring of the Soviet Union's agricultural policy, so that this part of society could provide additional support to the dictator's military ambitions.

While we have not located any evidence indicating Stalin's direct desire to deprive private citizens from owning horses, I believe evidence will eventually be found to confirm my suspicion.

As a person who obsessed with loyalty, and was all too ready to kill anyone who opposed him, I do not believe that this ruthless tyrant would have been comfortable with the idea of citizens retaining the right to mount a horse and escape political persecution.

Evidence of this policy of communist aggression against equestrian freedom can be found in one of the books published by the Long Riders' Guild Press.

Entitled, "Russian Hussar," it is the true story of how a Russian Imperial cavalry officer, Vladimir Littauer, fought the Bolsheviks, escaped from Russia, then immigrated to the United States, where he began that country's first riding academy.

Regarding the question of why Americans and English do not eat horsemeat, yes I am well aware of the religious use of horses in pagan religious ceremonies, burials, etc. I spent several years researching this issue.

I then provided my research material to the Long Riders' Guild Academic Foundation. Based upon my work, an equestrian journalist wrote an exposé entitled, "Vatican versus the Vikings."

It describes how the American cultural taboo against eating horsemeat is based on a forgotten edict issued by Pope Gregory III in the year 732.  When the Catholic Church found itself locked in religious combat with the Pagan Vikings, who ate horsemeat during their religious ceremonies, the Vatican created a prohibition, which not only affected Christian history but is unwittingly still being obeyed by Americans today.
(1) To be precise, we should distinguish three levels of “communist reality”. The first is, what the Party said. The second – what it really did (which could be something quite to the contrary what it said…). The last one – what was the real outcome of implemented policies (which all too often was quite unexpected and undesired by the acting power…).

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