The Polish soccer team lost its World Cup semifinal to Italy yesterday. It has a playoff match Saturday for third place and then packs its bags for home. But at least 47 Polish fans who accompanied the team to the world soccer finals in a 100-strong group will be staying in Spain.
It is a small political sideshow to the sports extravaganza. For one woman, now staying in Madrid, it has been an emotional Rubicon.
The planning for her defection started just as soon as martial law was declared in Poland in December.
By May she knew she had a ticket to Spain to watch soccer. Her husband had the contacts in the travel agency that was organizing the package tour. It cost 100,000 zlotys (about $12,000 at the official rate of exchange) for the roundtrip flight, two weeks at a hotel and tickets for Poland's three first-phase matches. When "Barbara" (not her real name) went to Warsaw airport to catch her flight, she went alone. "If my husband and [three] children had gone to see me off, I'd have broken down and been spotted," she said.
The decision that she would be the one to try to get out of Poland had been reached after an agonizing family discussion in which it was determined that someone in the family must go. Since the martial-law edict put her husband's job under military jurisdiction, they knew that he would never be given permission to go to the World Cup. It was up to her. She is counting on being able to win official permission for her family to join her after a few years.
Under the tight restrictions set up for going on the tour, only three people were selected from each town. All needed recommendations from the local Communist Party official, an endorsement from a sports organization and the green light from the police. After a thorough check they were allowed to go, providing spouses and children remained at home.
The recommendations, endorsements and green lights were extremely important to Polish officials. This was the first large group of Poles officially allowed out since the imposition of martial law. They were not, however, insurmountable barriers. Bribes of liquor, a pair of boots, above all money got the permits. "One boy in our group paid 80,000 zlotys to the police for a passport. He is a student and was about to do his military service," Barbara said.
The 100,000 zlotys she paid represented 10 months of her husband's salary "and he is well paid by Polish standards." She got the sum together by borrowing from his parents and selling a Polish-made Fiat her husband had bought in 1978. "Don't let them bring you back to Poland" were her husband's last words before she left for the airport.
Aboard the flight to Spain and in the group's hotel at the northwestern beach resort of Puentedeume the only people to talk out loud on the package tour were two middle-aged men "who kept talking about knocking sense into all the Solidarity people, about Solidarity being madmen."
Barbara feigned a headache one afternoon when Poland was playing. She took a taxi to the nearest railroad station, at Vigo, and took the train to Madrid. Here she asked her way to the police station that dealt with foreigners and applied for asylum.
She has already met Australian immigration officials and applied to go to Melbourne. In time her family might be reunited there "as far as possible from the Soviet Union." Spain she does not like. "It is too close and there is a Communist Party here, something I cannot understand."
At the police station in Madrid she was referred to the refugee department of the Spanish Red Cross who gave her $110 and arranged for a local nuns' charity organization to provide a meal a day.
On a tip from a Polish sailor who had jumped ship in Spain's Canary Islands, Barbara waited by the police station in expectation that others in the tour group would eventually turn up.
"I knew that on the package it was not going to be 99 policemen and myself," said Barbara. As the week went by 46 others from her group appeared to seek asylum.
They started exchanging experiences. "Before none of us trusted each other; nobody knew who was who." She learned that after she disappeared, the director of the tour began claiming that martial law was about to be lifted in Poland--"He even said Solidarity leader Lech Walesa had been freed." Some half-believed him and traveled with the group to Barcelona where they were to meet a second group of Poles arriving for the phase-two soccer matches.
In Barcelona the new arrivals "said nothing had changed" and more in the original group chose to defect.
Most have gathered in Madrid. They are sharing apartments to reduce expenses while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the next hurdle after the police, the Spanish Red Cross and the initial embassy contacts, reviews their cases.
"Some had it better planned than I," said Barbara. "More than one had friends who had driven across from Germany to Spain to pick them up."
There were several other tour groups of Poles who came for the World Cup and reports that many more have defected. Spanish and Polish officials, however, have refused to give any information about them.
Barbara, as she awaits Australia's decision, looks back on her life in Poland and talks of the frustration, of dissent amidst repression ("We've had enough of beatings,"), of her husband ("He will lose his job") and of her children ("They will go to state care if my husband is imprisoned and will be brought up as communists").
In the sweltering heat of Spain she recalls that last winter her eldest boy went to school wearing her snow boots: "We had the money to buy them, but there were just no boots."
Of World Cup football and Poland's unexpected success she cares nothing. "I came to get out of Poland, not to watch soccer. My husband is the football fan."