Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bieganski is Lithuanian on National Public Radio's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me."

The Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is not just about Poles. It is about all "Bohunks." Bohunk is an American coinage. It is said to be a combination of "Bohemian" and "Hungarian." It refers to Eastern European, Christian, peasant-descent immigrants and their descendents. Included are Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, and Yugoslavs.

Poles are singled out, as in the Polak joke, because Poles were a large, representational group in the c. 1880-1924 immigration, and because many notorious Nazi death camps, like Auschwitz, were in Nazi-occupied Poland. So, if you want to combine the image of the brutal, stupid peasant with absolute evil, Poland is the go-to location for the stereotyper.

But sometimes other groups are singled out. During the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the American press said things about Serbs it would not say about any other group. Serbs were the new Polaks. The New Yorker talked about driving a stake through the heart of evil Eastern Europeans. Newsweek talked about Serbs as having a "talent for hate and an aptitude for losing." NPR referred to Eastern Europeans' "stink" their "drunken ditties" their "deep seated and emotionally unassailable stupidity" and their "smoke darkened icons."

As "Bieganski" shows, the press followed utterly different rhetorical rules when discussing events in other parts of the world, during the genocide in Rwanda, for example. No one dared referred to Africans' "stink;" in fact journalists and politicians pre-empted stereotyping when discussing that tragedy.

On August 6, 2011, the NPR quiz show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" depicted Lithuanians as perfect Bieganskis. Lithuanians are nationalistic in a hostile, stupidly comic way. They are upset and confused that their country lacks tourism, and convinced of their country's appeal. They believe, foolishly, that Lithuania possesses "majestic Baltic shores."

In fact, though, Lithuanians are violent brutes: they have the highest murder rate in the European Union. And they are unworthy of notice, as NPR panelist Charie Pierce points out: "Lithuania's place in European history is roughly the same as its place on the European continent, namely, on the far north side of the stuff you've actually heard of."

One of this segment's many punch lines: a potential tourist responds to an appeal to visit Lithuania with the line, "I'm convinced. Book me on a one-way ticket to Vilnius." The very idea of travel to Eastern Europe is so repugnant that it is a punch line that someone would want to buy a ticket to go there.

Lithuania stinks. We know that, because panelist Amy Dickinson's punch line is "the unforgettable smell of Lithuania," after which, as the NPR transcript helpfully points out, the audience laughs.

What does Bohunk Lithuania smell like? Dickinson tells NPR listeners: "sausage, cigars and the raw smell of fear." Again, the audience laughs, as noted on the NPR transcript.

Lithuanians are fat; they eat primitive foods, and they are unappealingly Catholic. A "fat friar" from Lithuania "lived on bread and goat cheese. He also weighed approximately 280 pounds."

Mo Rocca knows that Lithuanians, like all Bieganskis, are comically, stupidly, nationalistic, involved in pointless quarrels with other, equally negligible nationalities, obsessed with their own image, and that they devote an inordinate amount of time in fumbling efforts to improve their image:

"The Lithuanian people have had it. They're sick and tired of the outlandish lies they believe Americans tell about them. 'The American people must understand,' says Cultural Minister Jon Mokus, 'that we're not just a bunch of basketball playing, folk dancing, potato dumpling eating yahoos.'

And to combat these scurrilous stereotypes, the government of Lithuania has completed work on Mithuania, a 1,000 acre theme park in Central Missouri, dedicated to righting wrongs about the Baltic country.

Visitors are greeted by giant walk-around puppets, dressed as famous Lithuanians like Charles Bronson and Monica Lewinsky. Rides include a cold beet soup flume ride. The most popular attraction at the park? The live show Latvia Shmatvia, a blistering song and dance takedown of neighboring Baltic Republic and bitter rival Latvia, in which Latvians are portrayed, in the words of Jon Mokus, 'as folk dancing, potato dumpling eating yahoos.'"

If you protest this, you are a Bieganski: stupidly convinced that sophisticated Americans like NPR panelists and NPR listeners actually tell, and laugh at, ugly jokes about you.


  1. Wow. This was a depressing read. It's okay to poke some fun at countries, but this is going way overboard. So many falsehoods and misrepresentations in the NPR show. Lithuanians are not bitter rivals with Latvians--we accept them as neighbors and were with them wholeheartedly during difficult times. Lithuanians love to dress fashionably; in fact, a more accurate stereotype would be that Lithuanian women are overly fashion and body conscious. So many thin, high-heeled fashionistas in Vilnius. Lithuania does have majestic shores. Thomas Mann had a villa in Neringa.

  2. NPR !?!?!!?!?

    Imagine my surprise !!


  3. This truly calls for an organized response. Dr. Goska, do you know if the Lit. Govt has said anything via its Embassy? This was on US Govt. Rafio.
    As Nemo related, what else from NPR? I have heard fragments of the program before. The word insufferable always pops into my head. The tone, the "banter", who listens to this stuff?

  4. Daiva, I don't find it depressing. I find it utterly familiar. This is exactly the Bieganski stereotype that I've been publishing about for c. 15 years. (My first published article on this topic appeared in 1996.)

    How do Bohunks respond?

    All too often, not with organized action that addresses this phenomenon root and branch. Rather I'm told, by leaders, that "Timothy Snyder's book 'Bloodlands' will stop all this."

    Or I'm told, "Now that white collar immigrants are coming from Eastern Europe, that will stop it all."

    Recently a Polish American leader responded to my offer to speak to her group: Not important. Too negative. Does not mention Chopin, Kosciuszko, or Marie Curie. You are of the old, peasant immigration. We are modern, white-collar people. This is not a problem for us. Shove off.

    Or I'm told, "It's no big deal. Just forget about it."

    Just forget about this show, and peer-reviewed scholarly books that peddle Holocaust revisionism, and films in museums that cover the Holocaust without ever mentioning the words "German" or "Nazi" or "Gestapo" but that only speak of evil "Christians" menacing Jews ...

    John Adams in "1776." Is anybody there? Does anybody care?

  5. Nemo, you are shocked, shocked, I see. Paging Renault.

    MB: I don't see any organized response. See my note, above, to Daiva.

    MB, you ask who listens to this stuff. I do. I listen to NPR on a daily basis. I read the NYT. I am on univesity campuses. This is in the air I breathe.

    It's in who gets hired, what gets put on syllabi and curricula, what young people believe, where and how money is spent.

    Which is why I took the time to compose and post this message even as, at this moment, I am a flood evacuee. I left my place with just the clothes on my back and a sleeping bag. They didn't give us any time. Or the water didn't give us any time.

    I'm here because this is important. It will change when enough concerned people recognize it as important.

    I still await that day.

  6. Thanks for staying on line under the circumstances Dr. Goska.
    I understand the NPR audience is small, but you well stated, it likely wields disproportionate power, so my levity was ill advised.
    August 6 show and no official response yet... I just wrote to NPR as I am sure many others have done.
    I also listen to some NPR on my car radio in Korea (its on Armed Forces Radio during the AM commute). Its unwavering Left/Liberal slant never ceases to amaze, so this Bieganski from oh-so politically correct NPR just goes to show how legitimized the stereotype is.
    It is frustrating.

  7. Such comments from NPR are very disturbing. I also listen to NPR often, though missed this program. Thanks for posting this information.

  8. I am surprised by my readers' surprise.

    This is Bieganski. This is standard operating procedure. This is how you are represented in manistream media, academia, popular culture.

    Of course NPR represents you this way.

    I wonder why readers express surprise.

  9. And ... Polish organizations and the organizstions representing other affected groups -- Lithuanians, etc -- have consistently declined to address this in any effective way.

  10. Dr. Goska, please feel free to explain the "paging Renault". I have no idea what that means. Sorry if I am ruining the punch line here. I don't mind well founded direct criticism. I was trying to be concise in my previous commentary.

    That kind of thing has been going on forever. You listen to NPR every day? I don't bother. I hear it occasionally passing over that band. Writing letters doesn't matter much to them really, whereas talking about them in public as you are doing has more traction. Perhaps you could find a way to go after their funding? Identify the sources of their funding, and whom does this serve?

    Again, informational picketing might be interesting. Maybe you could do it at one of their big fund raisers?

    I have been seeing this letter writing response for 25-30 years now. Totally ineffectual as far as I can tell.

    So vote with your ears and your wallet. First start with the easy stuff. Just stop feeding the beast. That takes no energy to do, and saves energy for you.

    Next time public TV wants some cash, shut your wallets. Don't listen to this stuff, it's just more microinequities eroding the soul.

    You can find something heatthier elsewhere to listen to. We all wait eagerly for Dr. Goska to publish in audiobook format, to replace having to listen to NPR, and for her to thus engage markets her present format does not get to.

    Don't contribute to institutions that breed the mentality that breed programming like that. that means colleges and universities.

    Seriously consider defunding scholarship programs to send Slavic students to re-education and thought reform institutions like colleges and universities. Instead, contribute to prizes for scholars who write peer-reviewed articles that attack Slavophobia in elite institutions.

    Note carefully who the perpetrators are, their social origins. Don't buy products related to institutions,persons,or groups that seem to breed mentalities like that.

    Shop at yard sales more, to diminish the dollars that flow to the elites.

    turn off the TV, turn off your cable -- they are only sources and accomplices of this kind of stuff that Dr. Goska and others are finding.

    Dr. Goska probably is more irritated by this stuff daily because as an academic, she is trying to exist in the belly of the beast, and still not become a Stepford academic. Compliments. A tough task.

    The eagle does not find nourishment on the dung heap.


  11. Nemo, I wasn't criticizing, I was trying to offer a small smile.

    Captain Louis Renault is a character in the classic film, "Casablanca." When he discovers that gambling is taking place at Rick's, he says he is "shocked, shocked." But he knew that they were gambling.

    You commented that you were shocked that NPR produced this material. But you weren't really shocked -- you know NPR produces material like this.

    If I was incorrect in assessing your tone, I apologize. I was trying to be upbeat in the face of negative forces.

  12. Dr. Goska, ah, I suppose not seeing much media does at times leave me unable to interpret comments based on it. Your were quiet correct in your assessment of my tone, and no offense taken here. Certain milieu cannot help but produce stuff like this, based on the people working there, and the people screened out - intentionally, or via hostile milieu and atmosphere -- from working there.


  13. I apologize for errors from mobile device writing..
    Strong applause for Nemo's straightforward ideas and plans for action. Picketing would be good if some local news coverage could be arranged, especially in large markets like Chicago and New York where Polonia numbers are large and may smooth access to local news. Dr. Goska, can your "Liberal Armor" (genuine support for gay rights, etc.) get you into any news outlets? It has much broader credibility and the Lib. imprimatur is something many in Polonia lack.
    In fact the very basis of many Bieganski actions seems to be traditional left liberal politics, as in the Lithuania attack where "tradational values" seemed to be one of the touchstone issues for Liberal wrath that was vented in s Bieganski. Like Biskupski, again we
    get back to a political basis for Bieganski actions that makes a unified
    response problematic in the pluralistic Bohunk commumity. Voting with wallets is good approach but I am more and more enamored with the picketing idea..

  14. I actually believe in letter writing campaigns as I've seen them work here in Australia. I don't mean just individuals to the offending institution or person concerned. There has to be weight there, say ten or twelve people at least. However, in addition, what about sending a second letter of complaint on the same issue, to your political representative?


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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