Poland's 'Daughters of Capitalism' Sign of Post-Communist 'Moral Decadence'

Dan Bilefsky's Tuesday "Warsaw Journal," "Dark Film on Teenagers Echoes From Mall to Church," used a Polish movie to heap blame on capitalism and the Catholic Church "20 years after the fall of Communism."

Bilefsky is most notorious at Times Watch for his seething hostility toward Vaclav Klaus, the free-market, pro-Israel president of Austria, creepily relaying the contents of a secret police file from the former Communist state of Czechoslovakia to insult Klaus for his "now famous arrogance."

In one of many ideologically loaded sentences in his Tuesday story from Warsaw, Bilefsky claimed the movie "Mall Girls," which was actually released months ago, has provoked "a national debate about moral decadence in this conservative, predominantly Catholic country, 20 years after the fall of Communism." So were things better under a repressive Soviet-installed regime? Bilefsky doesn't say.

They loiter at the mall for hours, young teenage girls selling their bodies in return for designer jeans, Nokia cellphones, even a pair of socks.

Katarzyna Roslaniec, a young filmmaker, first spotted a cluster of mall girls three years ago, decked out in thigh-high latex boots. She followed them and chatted them up over cigarettes. Over the next six months, the teens told her about their sex lives, about the men they called "sponsors," about their lust for expensive labels, their absent parents, their premature pregnancies, their broken dreams.

Ms. Roslaniec, 29, scribbled their secrets in her notepad, memorizing the way they peppered their speech with words like "frajer" - "loser" in English. She gossiped with them on Grono.net, the Polish equivalent of Facebook. Soon, she said, she had a network of dozens of mall girls.

The result is the darkly devastating fictional film, "Galerianki," or Mall Girls, which premiered in Poland in the autumn and has provoked a national debate about moral decadence in this conservative, predominantly Catholic country, 20 years after the fall of Communism.

It is difficult to quantify how many real mall girls there are since they do not identify themselves as sex workers and call their clients "boyfriends" or "benefactors" to maintain the illusion that they are not prostitutes. But Polish social workers say the phenomenon is growing, a side-effect of the collision of Western consumer culture with Eastern Europe's post-Communist economy.

The film that started the discussion tells the story of four teenage girls who turn tricks in the restrooms of shopping malls to support their clothing addiction. It has attained such cult status that parents across the country say they are confiscating DVDs of the film for fear it provides a lurid instruction manual.

The revelation that Catholic girls, some from middle-class families, are prostituting themselves for a Chanel scarf or an expensive sushi dinner is causing many here to question whether materialism is polluting the nation's soul.


Ms. Roslaniec called mall girls the daughters of capitalism. "Parents have lost themselves in the race after a new washing machine or car and are rarely home," she said. "A 14-year-old girl needs a system of values that can't be shaped without the guidance of parents. The result is that these girls live in a world where there are no feelings, just cold calculation."

Capitalism takes the brunt of the blame, but the "anti-abortion, anti-gay" Catholic Church doesn't get off easy either:

Adam Bogoryja-Zakrzewski, who made a documentary about mall girls, said the phenomenon had laid bare the extent to which the powerful Polish Catholic church - anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-contraception - was out of touch with many members of the younger generation, for whom sex, alcohol and consumerism held more appeal. "The shopping mall has become the new cathedral in Poland," he said.