Determined protesters. Police. Arrests. Tear gas. Moving people involuntarily off public property. Sounds like Occupy Wall Street, right?
These scenes actually represent circumstances under martial law in Poland, which was imposed 30 years ago, December 13, 1981. Sparking a wave of emigration to the West and to America, it was an emotional event for the more than nine million Polish American citizens currently residing in the United States today.
One American who witnessed the unrest and challenging circumstances Polish citizens faced under martial law was Billy Mays. In his book, On the Job Training: Berlin to Vladivostok, Mays tells the story of his harrowing journeys through Poland and the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain, then playing key roles during its transition to representative Democracy and capitalism.
Before the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, Mays was involved in another social movement few Americans witnessed in person. “We are witnessing the Arab Spring today, but back in the 1980’s we experienced the ‘Polish Spring,’” Mays said recently. “With Solidarity, the seeds of public dissent grew into full bloom until that movement was violently crushed. It set the stage, though, for the eventual fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. I saw the impact of Pope John Paul’s speech in Warsaw, Reagan Administration policies, Lech Walesa, and other factors – economic and political – that contributed to the uprising that lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Mays also describes the resiliency of the Polish people who, under dire economic circumstances, managed to survive dictatorial Communism by creating their own underground economy. Tactics included “Barter Bus Tours”, complex shopping queue sociology as lines formed waiting for rationed goods (Communist social networking), and an undercover network of traders that built more formal and lasting black market mechanisms in the region.
On the Job Training-Berlin to Vladivostok is the first in the four-volume “Rare Earth Series” documenting Billy Mays’ life in Central and Eastern Europe from 1983 to 2003. A University of Washington student turned unwitting spy through his work for Radio Free Europe, Mays’ adventures are described in a career that spans two decades from Soviet-Bloc martial law Poland through the Klondike-like era following the Soviet Union’s collapse. En route to becoming a European Director for several multinational firms – including FEDEX, R.R. Donnelley, and Black & Veatch – the author befriends Lech Walesa, the Kennedy family, the Bush family, Steven Spielberg and other world leaders. Mays becomes engaged in spy networks, is immersed in dangerous black market trade in rare earth metals, and has numerous brushes with death along the way while handling sensitive affairs for U.S. Government agencies.
Sometimes irreverent and shocking, this true-life story reveals a great deal about how the East was really won and sheds light into the dark and dangerous world that was the former Soviet-Bloc before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Billy Mays is a native of Kennewick, Washington who now resides in Washington D.C. with his wife.
Tuesday, December 13, marks the 30th year anniversary of martial law in Poland. For a country whose history is filled with tragedy, this is one of its most traumatic periods. The year 2011 also marks the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union. Billy Mays is available for interviews to discuss an American’s perspective on both of these events from the grassroots level.
On the Job Training – Berlin to Vladivostok is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle Editions.