President Ronald Reagan Centennial and Poland – A reflection on 21 years.

Maybe it is the cold weather here in Warsaw and the fact I was walking from a modern warm coffee shop in Centrum to the area of the US Embassy to view yet another statue of former US President Ronald Reagan unveiled on November 22nd (I was at unveiling of another in Budapest in June). As I walked I started to think back 20+ years to a time when Poland was still behind a wall (of Iron) and the idea of sitting in a coffee shop reading western papers while drinking coffee from Costa Rica was maybe a very distant dream for Poles. Weather and smell are two things that remind me of time and places. The first time I remember being really cold (being from California) was when I arrived in W. Germany (FRG) as a young US Army PFC in November 1987 to begin my Germany assignment. Ronald Reagan was a president embattled both with Iran-Contra and engaging Gorbachev in summits while the mujahedeen in Afghanistan were shooting down Soviet helicopters with American missiles. Books like Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy along with movies like Red Dawn were popular. My memories of Poland from that time are of Solidarity constantly in the news. I know Pres. Reagan gave a famous Christmas speech in 1981 but I don’t remember it amongst all the other TV news of that period.

In 1987 the Iron Curtain was strong and the idea of anything different was hard to contemplate. As soldiers, we trained for WARSAW PACT tanks coming through the Fulda Gap and to survive NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) warfare. From my perspective listening in on the Soviets and her allies every day was an electronic war of cat and mouse, looking from light into darkness. Then suddenly it was over. I remember seeing trains coming through German train stations at the end of 1989 and/or early 1990 full of cheering Germans (west and east)… the wall was down…. the Iron Curtain that divided nations and peoples was no more.

Even so, the idea of me someday visiting Poland or other Eastern Block countries was still very much an unattainable dream (I made my first visit on a weekend trip to Czechoslovakia in 1992 as a college student). This year, 2011, is being celebrated in many places as the Centennial (100 years since his birth) of President Ronald Reagan. Many people credit President Reagan’s leadership and tough stance toward the Soviet Union as ultimately bringing about the collapse of the USSR and helping to free Poland (I do know Pope JP II played a big role too).

I invite you as readers of Polandian to comment on 21 years since the crack appeared in the Iron Curtain in Berlin (I do know Poland played a big role going back even further). All these years later does the memory or Pres. Reagan mean anything to you? What was your life (or your parents) like back then? Do other public figures such as the Pope or your politicians at the time hold more prominence in your memories? Do you feel you life is better now than if events of 1989 had not occurred the way they did?

I have asked some of my students and local friends about Reagan, the fall of the wall, and what memories they have. Surprisingly the comments have ranged from life is to busy apathy to hostility towards my question and the United States. I get the impression in today’s younger generation no one really thinks much about back then and the events that unfolded and how things were. I do apologize in advance if my Americanized perspective offends anyone, that is not my intention.

"Honey, I forgot to duck."

(Guest writer Mochafueled, after many visits to Poland is currently in Warsaw and trying to make Poland home for a while. Mostly he is exploring all the best locations for eating potato pancakes and goulash while sharing a few words of American English with students).

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37 thoughts on “President Ronald Reagan Centennial and Poland – A reflection on 21 years.

  1. Interesting post. I’ve always found that (Polish) people invariably consider Poland and, specifically, JP2 the main reasons as to why the wall fell – but I am conversing with people in their late 20’s and mid 30’s. It’s possible that people younger or older feel differently.

  2. Stefan says:

    Your post is really interesting yet stereotypically American (and Republican to be precise). It’s good that you acknowledge Poland’s contribution to the elimination of the ‘iron curtain’: “I do know Poland played a big role going back even further”, However, the parentheses you put this sentece in, and the emphasis on a symbol (the collapse of the Berlin Wall) rather than the real struggle and risk the Poles bore, shows clearly that your way of thinkng was shaped by the media, American media of course. Talking about happy Germans who reunited is to me and, I think, many people of my generation (I’m 46) like a proverbial red rag to a bull. Most of the Germans were well-disciplined people who would never do anything without their government’s permission. Talking about their enthusiasm on the day of ‘consumption’ of what the Poles had fought for 10 long years sounds ridiculous.

    Certainly, Ronald Reagan’s involvement in fighting the Soviet Union and, on the way, helping Eastern European countries liberate themselves from its control cannot be denied or belittled. At the same time he provided weapons for Nicaraguan contras who had nothing to do with democracy or freedom, not to mention other South American dictators who enjoyed the US support back 30 years ago.

    The Poles of my generation remember President Ronald Reagan very well and his part in the deconstruction the Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Euorope. Did he do that because he loved or admired the Polish people and the “Solidarity” labour movement? The latter was to him a good tool to weaken the Soviet system. Observing the foreign policy of the US nowadays, young people in Poland are not that naive any longer. On the contrary, they’ve become more cynical seeing that the US government never helps anybody out of charity. The human rights, especially those of women, are overtly broken in Saudi Arabia and the Americans will never raise a finger to.help the Saudis introduce democratic reforms. Instead they try to impose western democracy on nations with a tribal structure of society.That’s why young people in Poland, in contrast to my generation, who used to worship America, are more realistic and even hostile to your country.

  3. Mocha says:

    Brad, Good point I do not disagree with the thought on role of JP2…. very complex issue and probably always be debated as to why…. I am sure we have all read how in Berlin it was just and accident/ miss understanding that lead to the gates being opened that night at the end of December in 1989….

  4. Mocha says:

    Stefan- thank you very much for your insightful comments! My “happy Germans” was a more flippant last min comment at end of post. There was also a lot going on in the region with border barriers being dropped in Hungary that helped force the issue if my memory serves me correctly.

    I am also very much aware of my American view point and one reason I wrote the piece is I wanted to hear other perspectives like yours.

    Here is a link to a radio interview talking about how hard it was to get news photo’s out to the west from Poland. So yes point of view very much at times shaped by what was on the evening news at the time. http://thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/80342,Martial-law-1981-%E2%80%93-Apocalypse-Now

    Drop by the statue and give Ronnie a hug for freedom. :)

  5. […] have done a guest blog over at Polandian on President Ronald Reagan and and his centennial and what he contributed to the fall of the Iron […]

  6. odrzut says:

    Not really – most Poles think likewise, but many simply don’t care to argue about history.

    Poles are not so gratefull towards USA anymore, because since early 90′ USA treat Poland as slave. Our soldiers are sent wherever USA needs them, and we still need visa to get to USA, and treaties between Poland and USA are changed on the Russians whim without our consent. And to make it worse Poles are informed about this 17th september – on the same day that a few decades before USSR invaded Poland :) USA simply don’t care about Poland, so we figured out that we don’t need to care anymore, too.

    So yeah – Raegan did great job, we were thankful for the most of the last 20 years, being used as a tool in the meantime. Also – unlike one nation that border us ;) we were doing our best to get freedom by ourselves, so it’s a little strange that the symbol of the communism fall is when it felt in the place that fought for its freedom the least.

  7. Stefan says:

    OK, Mocha! If I’m in the neighborhood I’ll drop by and give Old Ronnie a hug. Actually, when I was 13 and later I used to listen to the Polish version of the Voice of America every evening, which also shaped my views at that time.

  8. Kazimierz G. says:

    The collapse of the Berlin Wall is indeed a very powerful symbol. However, I too strongly feel that it undermines the role that the whole central Europe (i.e. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and few other contributions) played in the process. As I am getting older the idea of Ronald Reagan as the legend fighting for idea of freedom in this part of Europe seems more and more vague and naive.

    Of course Ronald and his administration wanted to strengthen Solidarnosc to weaken USSR. But make no mistake, was Solidarnosc to be ubeneficial for the US (even as a people’s movement towards democracy) it would be treaded on by Reagan with a total disregard to that whole “freedom idea” thing.
    Furthermore, I find his policies like making a huge debt or south american involvement (which truthfully is a crime against humanity) a disgrace. I could go on and on with stuff like putting puppet Saddam in a role of a leader of the region, selling him chemical weapons and inciting him to mingle with Iran, his stupidity in governing California’s economy as the governor or his total disregard to the pollution USA causes by stating and here I quote “trees create more pollution than cars”. Even Michelle Bachmann does not seem to make such moronic statements (though she comes close).

    All in all, thank you Ronnie – you probably made the slow process of USSR decomposition faster, but you probably burn in hell for the genocide on Nicaraguans and thousands of deaths in Iraq and Iran.

  9. Reagan has a legacy so distorted by the Conservative idolization of him that we may never have a clear picture of the real man behind the television set beyond the elaborate myth now concocted around him. Did he really rid the world of commie scum? Did destroy or save our economy? Check out my portrait of The Gipper in commemoration of the Reagan Centennial and help me figure it out on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/02/happy-100th-gipper.html

  10. GLS says:

    The more I read and learn the more I’m leaning towards a belief of historical evolution.
    It’s all lovely to think that RR or JPII simply caused the change. After all RR was a genius, wasn’t he? Yet the recently released documents (The Guardian) show that both Maggie and RR were actually AGAINST the fall of the eastern block. The concept of the reds around the corner was for decades the subject of scary movies, frightening evening news keeping the western societies frightened and therefore happy with anything their governments dished them out. The fall of the Block caused a vacuum which had to be quickly filled with something equally scary. For a few years the baddies were extraterrestrials and an impending end of the world. Shortly thereafter the Arabs became the spooky men…
    It was H. Kissinger who said (I paraphrase) that the government must have an enemy, real or invented, at all times, as a scared society is a good society.
    As to building monuments for people like RR, I’d rather see one built for a Reksio the dog.
    Sorry I don’t have a soppy story about my life under the regime.
    I did however have full health cover, free or close to free holiday camps, free lunch at school, free education. Later in life as a student with a cleaning job I spent my holidays in Greece or Paris, depending on my whim. So no, we did not all wear a burlap sack for a suit and ate raw potatoes for breakfast, sorry bud.
    You say referring to 1990: “Even so, the idea of me someday visiting Poland or other Eastern Block countries was still very much an unattainable dream”. Risking your perception of reality crumbling like the Berlin wall, but you were welcome to come and visit anytime. All through the 80’s I was involved (without belonging to any organisation, not even the stamp collectors’ club) with visiting students from all over the world.
    In 1987 an architecture student from Texas would not let go of my hand telling me how hard all Americans (I assume he meant the USA’ers) pray for my freedom. I was a bit shocked as we’ve met in Paris, ‘nuf said.

  11. tandrasz says:

    From the 1980s in Poland I remember American economic sanctions against Poland introduced after Martial Law was declared on December 13th,1981. The government blamed these sanctions for food shortages as Poland was no longer able to import food from the US. A fictional Genowefa Pigwa character sang: “Oj dana, oj dana, wszystko przez Regana.” (Reagan is to be blamed for everything). This was the funny part about Reagan.

    The scary part was the arms race: SS20 missiles in Poland and Pershing missiles in West Germany. I remember the “The Day After” movie about nuclear apocalypse shown on Polish TV.

    As to the fall of the wall – it was just one of the pieces in the domino, not the first one certainly. Solidarity had a big part, and you can argue that they started the chain of events in 1980, but in my opinion the first semi-free elections in June 1989 in Poland and the fall of the Berlin wall later that year were possible because of Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroyka policies in the mid-1980s. The communism was brought to Central Europe by the Soviet Union and was kept in place by the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union gave up on defending it, it fell.

  12. tandrasz says:

    Correction: according to wikipedia SS-20 were located in western Soviet Union, close to the Polish border, but not in Poland.

  13. Mocha says:

    GLS – yes my perception at the time was Eastern Europe was a place not possible – I was young. But I did visit Berlin in 1988 and spend a day in East Berlin – but that is another story.

    Tandrasz. – thank you for that good recollection… interesting story about the song. I agree with your assessment of how things happened in general terms as far as the fall of the walls.

  14. Mocha says:

    And if anyone does know a really good place in Warsaw for traditional Polish food please post here… still looking for the best…. Thanks

  15. I found some of the hostile replies to this post quite shocking, and Mocha’s responses quite (and perhaps needlessly) gracious in turn. Especially given that the caveat was expressed quite early on in his posting that this was the perspective of an American only vaguely associated with and/or cognizant of Poland and other countries once under Soviet thrall, that Mocha was interested in Poles’ perspectives, and that he was apologetic for any unintentional offense given. Where’s that famous Polish hospitality we hear about so often? “Gosc w dom, Bog w dom,” anyone?
    I’d like to remind Polish readers that the big, bad, selfish American public — and government — also includes some 10 million people of full or partial Polish descent like myself. (I’m 100%; father’s side from Podlasie; mother’s, Galicia [Mielec, to be exact]). And Sen. Barbara Mikulski. And Sen. Lisa Murkowski. And ex-presidential adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. People who, however long ago their ancestors emigrated to the US, maintain emotional, political, cultural or familial ties to Poland. And who — very whole-heartedly and honestly, and in good faith — have always lent what material and moral support to those family members and onetime countrymen they left behind. It’s shocking to me our motives are questioned. Or even those of other Americans of non-Polish descent. I was a child at the time Solidarity first rose, and my mother was an event-planner for a US teachers’ union. She and I recall quiet clearly that her union, the vast majority of whose members had no ties to Poland, was both morally and financially supportive of Solidarity to the degree it was possible. Nothing Machiavellian was at work. Now, has the US played at cloak-and-dagger? Yes. Has it funded corrupt regimes because the enemy of our enemy has at times been perceived as our friend, if only of convenience? Yes. Does the US have a national interest, especially as a superpower, that it seeks to protect and promote? Yes. I’d expect nothing less. Of the US or of Poland. And show me a country or people without some blood on its/their hands. I challenge you. It can’t be done. So yes, go ahead and critique and complain and kvetch (no, I am not Jewish; just a New Yorker) but I ask you all to play fair. Having visited Poland seven times, on business and family visits, I’ve grown to love from personal experience the place I was taught as a child to love from afar. I don’t recognize the place from the talk I see on here.

  16. tandrasz says:

    @Kenneth – I don’t know which replies you thought to be hostile, not mine I hope.

    Anyway, on the positive side: I also remember UNRA food packages distributed by the church. Back then religion was taught in parish buildings. I brought home a big can of cooking oil once (was it a gallon?), and I think I also got some salted butter, which was very strange for me – never had salted butter before.

    People were telling this joke at that time: Poland should declare war on the USA and surrender immediately, then the US would occupy us, and food shortages would be gone.

    And let’s not forget that the USA, although this was not Reagan’s government anymore, negotiated deals after 1989 that resulted in halving of the Polish foreign debt – from 40 to 20 billion, if I remember correctly.
    AFLO was helping Solidarity, too.

    Regarding the attitudes of the young people in Poland (20-something years old). I think they see the USA in similar way as young people in France or Germany, maybe even worse, because of the travel restrictions to the USA.

  17. Sylwia says:

    So, GLS, you were one of the very few priviledged who could study for free (though it’s more likely your parents just bribed someone at the university), were allowed to travel (although I wouldn’t be so sure you’d travel a couple years earlier), and didn’t have a problem with getting food. Likely your mom just slaved away in kilometers long queues so that her little syneczek or córeczka had something good for breakfast.

    Full health cover? Does it mean you’d go to the public dentist or gynecologist? Free lunch at school? You must be kidding or you’re really unaware how your parents paid your way through life! Free education? For the majority of Poles it was anywhere between unattanaible to very expensive. Only ca 5% of Poles could study at all. Out of those most were boys whose parents bribed university officials so that they wouldn’t have to serve in to the army. Additionally, there were quotas limiting the number of female students in all the best fields.How was it free?

    But of course the privileged never know what life looks like for the rest of the people, and it’s one thing that’s the same in all countries, no matter the regime.

  18. Sylwia says:

    Good post, Lon.

    I think what mostly changed is Polish understanding of politics in democracy. 20 years ago Reagan didn’t have a political party behind him. Not many Poles understood what Right and Left were about. From our point of view Left equalled the Communists, while Right was everyone else, roughly speaking all democratically inclined people all over the world.

    So to us Reagan wasn’t a Republican. He was a representative of American people. American people supported freedom in Poland, so they were all on the Right. We loved Reagan, just as we loved the USA and freedom itself.

    Today we know that the situation is more complex. Moreover, some controversies around Reagan have nothing to do with us. Personally, I think that American Right is wrong, and American Left is blind. In effect various people here and there viewed the events very differently. American Left would have us rot in prisons and starve away just to keep the picture of great good Communists and bad Republicans alive, while American Right would romanticize Reagan to no end.

    Both views are wrong. Reagan was nowhere as important. Americans gave some money to Solidarity, but it was really all. Otherwise they just did nothing and looked from afar. So whatever influence Reagan had on the events was very small. On the other hand, the Left, being Left, wouldn’t help us. And it’s really not our fault that the American Left are a bunch of hippies living in their own Wonderland. But quite many hate us to this day for ruining their dream.

    For the most part the two camps just quarrel about everything, and Poland or ex-Soviet Block are just an argument in their disputes. In the middle, there are common Americans who were supportive of us and to whom we’re very greateful, and most likely the monument of Reagan is just to symbolize Polish thanks to Americans.

    Same goes for John Paul II. I had no idea he was credited with the end of Communism until he died and all Western media were talking about it. To us he was a moral support – nothing more. Which is why not so long ago Lech Wałęsa told some Italian journalists that the role of JPII is being exaggerated. Those were Polish people who freed themselves. Everyone else looked from distance.

    Narratives depend on story teller. USA is a country of populists. You guys just love a Hollywood movie with a charismatic hero. That’s why you need a hero for this success. Poland is a country mostly without heroes. Really, no one wants to be a hero here. They have very bad time until they die. So we don’t look for people to credit for it. To us it’ll always be a success of Poles, not of Wałęsa, Kuroń, Michnik, Mazowiecki, Buzek etc, and certainly not of Reagan or JPII.

    As to Gorbachev’s influence – yes and no. Every ten years the Communists would do something outrageous throughout the Soviet Block after which there was always a time of change. Change of politics, attitudes, new approach, dialogue etc etc. Gorbachev’s perestroika was similar. Without Solidarity it would just again change into another more severe period.

    If the Communists can be credited with anything, it’d be going bankrupt. They simply had no more money to keep their regime.

  19. Sylwia says:

    BTW The Polandian staff should either modernize this blog or return to wordpress.com. You’re just not user friendly which is why you lose more and more readers. One can’t follow your blog or comment replies.

  20. Stefan says:

    Kenneth, I think it’s my post that you found “shocking” and “hostile”. If it sounds so, I’m sorry. However, claiming that “Nothing Machiavellian was at work” shows clearly that you speak from the position of an average US citizen. Probably you all believe in the perfectness of your system that your governments don’t even need a Department of Propaganda (as totalitarian regimes do). How do you know that “nothing Machiavellian was at work”? On the part of common people, especially those of Polish extraction certainly not, but are you sure that Ronald Reagan himself acted just out of his pure love for Poland and Poles? Are you sure that he even had known about the existence of this country before the “Solidarity” movement?

    “Now, has the US played at cloak-and-dagger? Yes. Has it funded corrupt regimes because the enemy of our enemy has at times been perceived as our friend, if only of convenience? Yes. Does the US have a national interest, especially as a superpower, that it seeks to protect and promote? Yes.” I can’t agree more! South American nations under US supported regimes were not lucky enough to have a common enemy with the US, or maybe Ronald Reagan didn’t love Latinos as much as Poles. OK, let’s leave it.

    Polish hospitality is nowadays a myth, although there are still lots of hospitable people in this country. However young genereations’ reserved attitude towards the US stems from some simple observations. Poland, when was a centre of anti-Soviet movement in Eastern Europe was a great partner of America. When Poles had played their part, the only thing Americans remember about the collapse of communism is associated with happy Germans. Fine. In Iraq, where like in Afghanistan, we send our soldiers as cannon fodder, our companies where eliminated from any business by our American friends (I know, there are no sentiments in business). Poland’s involvement in those Middle Eastern countries was a great misunderstanding. Does America have its interests? Yes. Does Poland? Probably not. It seems that it’s enough to serve the American ones. In addition we are not eligible to travel to America without visas, like other EU citizens. This is treated in Poland as humiliation rather than something we should admire America for.

    Still, my comment is not intended to be hostile or aggressive (though it probably is, sorry again). What I’m trying to do is to explain why our enthusiasm towards America has turned into reserve, and in some cases hostility. I personally have a number of friends in America and wish this country all the best. America as a country, on the other hand, must understand that being the strongest bully in the neighbourhood who has fought another bully, should also show some minimum respect to its petty allies.

  21. siudol says:

    Sylwia, I actually find parts of what GLS has said to be pretty consistent with the reality of the life under communism. I don’t know if you’re speaking from experience (how old were you in the early 80s?), or just relaying the stories you were told.

    Let me assure you, right from the bat, I was not a privileged kid, my parents were members of Solidarity, my mother (and I too) queued for food (although kilometre long queues you mention are for the most part an exaggeration), we lived from hand to mouth, I demonstrated in the streets and once was even arrested. I’m not mentioning that to brag, (in fact I was pretty scared at the time), but simply to demonstrate I was not what you would call “privileged”.

    Yes, we had free (full) health cover. It was inefficient and slow, but it was free. I had an elbow operation, quite a decent job actually, and paid nothing for it. I had dental care (we even had a surprisingly good dentist with her own office at our elementary school; not a privileged school, believe me) and paid nothing for it, my mother also had a number of serious operations and paid zilch for it, etc, etc. So GLS says the truth there.

    I got into University, by passing the entry exams, not bribing anyone and so did most of my friends. The 5% figure of the people who could study you mention is nonsense. A lot of my piers studied and none of them was a son or daughter of collaborators. And it was free. It was tough to support yourself while studying, granted, but there were no annual fees and the level of education was quite high. GLS tells the truth there again. At my course 90% of student were female, so I am curious what made you come up with the statement that there were some quotas against female students. Utter nonsense.

    Travelling. In case you didn’t notice, travelling to the West was possible in Poland. You had to apply for both a passport and visa, so it was a big schlep but possible. For example, I got my passport and then visa to travel to Greece in the 80s through a tedious and long process of applying and waiting, but there was no privilege involved in any way. I hitch-hiked all the way there because I was dirt-poor, but I got there eventually. I also travelled the same way to West Germany and Austria. So GLS says the truth in this regard too.

    I am not defending that system. Life under communism was shit and I am happy it is history now. However, if you want to paint a picture of life in those days make sure it is accurate and don’t go about making up figures. GLS’s picture is much more accurate than yours.

    One more thing. I found your implication that GLS was a privileged kid and his parents were bribing officials right and left, simply offensive. Did you know him or his parents?

  22. GLS says:

    A privileged one, you must be kidding me!
    None of my parents belonged to any organisations (although according to you they were probably secret agents beating people with a hose in their spare time). Both from small towns and went through unis part-time working full time (they did not pay a cent for it). We lived in a two room apartment in Krakow (which probably makes them rich) and at some point bought a Fiat 126p.
    I did go to public dentists, in fact twice a week there was a dentist at my primary school, later at high school, only once a week. You could just go and have work done.
    I asked my mum and she says the lunch (a slice of bread with and unknown origin topping at my primary was indeed free. The after school care and dinner and desert cost a few cents which my parents could afford without a problems (probably by the virtue of being privileged).
    My summer holidays (kolonie) were heavily subsidised and did not affect the family budget.
    When I was sick with a golden staff pneumonia for a few months, I was admitted to the children’s hospital and cared for (of course I would have been left to die in the street if it wasn’t for my parents being privileged ones).
    I entered the university after months of hard work and preparation, I failed the first time and after a year of working got in on the second attempt, of course due to the fact that by them my parents were in the upper echelons of the secret police (according to you).
    I’d really like to see where your statistics of 5% being able to afford education came from.
    All the rubbish and complete lack of acknowledgement ANYTHING positive that happened usually comes from the people whom: “Komunizm wytącił z ręki łopatę”.
    If you take pleasure in wallowing in heve-been-misery than enjoy, I don’t reallyu care, but do not go acusing others of corruption and god knows what else.

  23. Sylwia says:

    “I’d really like to see where your statistics of 5% being able to afford education came from.”

    Just Google how many people could get tertiary education back then and you’ll know. You seem to not understand that ‘unfree’ doesn’t have to involve money. In the US, where 27% people can study, education is nearly 6 times freer than it was in the Communist Poland where they’d never be allowed to study, with money or not.

    FYI “privileged” doesn’t necessarily mean that people worked for the secret police. Just some people or entire groups were privileged according to the Communist system. One would get so called points for background when going to university, no? Perhaps your parents qualified. Obviously you were a very lucky one with lots of positive experiences, unlike the vast majority of people.

    And really, if, as you say, your parents had a car, then you really should realize they were in the very small percent of the very rich. Cars were much more expensive than today and hardly anyone had one.

    “The after school care and dinner and desert cost a few cents…”

    That’s pretty cynical to say that if something cost a few cents it was cheap when the average salary varied between $10-20 a month.

    Yes, one could go to a public dentist for free, if one didn’t care to have teeth. People tended to not take the risk, which made private dentists so very popular.

    Well, I simply don’t know people who could afford a car in the PRL without corruption, Party membership, private practice (dentists, gynecologists) or a family member in the West. Clearly your parents were magicians. Alas, ones of a very tiny troupe.

    Additionally, you seem to believe that the Communist government was so generous to its subjects, paying for everything with money that seemingly grew on trees. Alas, it was more like people were paying 99% tax, which the government used to pay for several basic things. Obviously no one in the free world would agree for something like that. People tend to know better what they want to do with their own money. Surely the American average can pay for health insurance, education, holidays, car, house etc.

  24. GLS says:

    As we used to say: “Bredzisz”.
    I am sure that being a victim helps you. I see “victims” here in Oz as well.
    As to using google to get information, look up how much tax we paid, it wasn’t 99%.
    “Yes, one could go to a public dentist for free, if one didn’t care to have teeth.” My teeth are fine thank you.

    “Surely the American average can pay for health insurance, education, holidays, car, house etc.” Yes in lala land – Google it!

    “I simply don’t know people who could afford a car in the PRL without corruption” You simple don’t know a lot of things and are TOO quick to acuse. I feel you’d be the first to denounce me and have me crucified or whatever you people do, but we will not meet (I hope). I do not accuse you of anything so hold your horses sister.

  25. Sylwia says:

    Siudol, I did experience Communism first hand but, unlike you and GLS, I’m trying not to depend so much on my own experience. That’s why you see things in such rosy colours, because you can’t see the full picture.

    I didn’t mean that being privileged meant being a collaborator. How many times I need to repeat that for you and GLS to get it? Things depended on your background. Your background didn’t depend on you. Neither you nor other people could choose what background they were born to, but their future was often decided that way. Similarly, I couldn’t choose to be born a man rather than a woman which would give me better chances (and ca 40-50% higher sallary) under the Communist system.

    Still, being among the tiny percent of people who fare much better than the most means being privileged in every sense of the word. I’m surprised it’s so difficult for you and GLS to admit it.

    The 5% is a simple historical fact, not a nonsense. Here are stats for mid 1990s when already 6,8% could study, and as you’ll see the number has been growing very fast since the fall of Communism. http://www.poland.gov.pl/struktura,wyksztalcenia,45.html

    The fact that you say that your friends could study only proves me right. As a student you knew many people who studied as well, and this is how you judge the entire system. You simply didn’t know most of the 95% who couldn’t study.

    For some people it was easier than for others. If you want to understand the general situation you must also look at the people who weren’t your friends. How did they fare?

    I said there were anti-female quotas in all the best fields. Clearly yours wasn’t one of them. Medicine might be an example with 50% quota. Today many more women than men study medicine (over 70% if I remember well), so it changed for the better. There was also a list of some 100 best paid professions where women were not allowed at all – so a 0% quota. How many women soldiers under Communism?

    Similarly, women made for the majority of school teachers but minority of academicians, professors, rectors etc. The myth of equality under Communism! Today the situation is much better, even if it’s still not as good as it could be.

    So what GLS says is not consistent with the reality of life under Communism, but it’s consistent with his and your memories of it. There were other people whose experiences differred. Only after taking all of them under consideration one can speak of the reality of life back then.

    Travelling to the West was possible only at times. Have you ever checked what were the striking students’ postulates in the early 1980s? They wanted to be given passports. Later, still, it was much easier to get a passport if you actually were a student than if you were a factory worker. Just the Communists assumed that you’ll want to return to complete your free education. People who didn’t study didn’t have this kind of carrot to be lured back with.

    So, no, travelling to the West wasn’t possible for everyone. It referred only to the very few, which is why only the very few travelled. Otherwise London would become a Polish speaking city back in the 1980s, wouldn’t it?

    Also, if you know anything about the 1980s then you should know that Poles became regular airplane kidnappers, with several kidnappings a week. Why would they do that if they were allowed to travel to the West? But all you remember are the late 1980s, say, 4 years between 1985-89, when Communists already hugely relaxed their rule. And those are the memories that you impress on the entire, nearly half a century long period.

    Life also differed according to a place. For example I’m from Warsaw. One of our greatest problems were shoes and boots. But in many voyvodships they weren’t rationed, so people there didn’t have the trouble at all.

    Similarly, if you lived in Warsaw’s Ursynów then you had many more educated neighbours than if you lived in Praga. And you probably knew more workers if you lived in Nowa Huta rather than Kraków.

    Earlier, the local differences were even greater. There were towns were there were no bread supplies for months. But most likely it wasn’t your town so your parents don’t remember it.

    It’s just plain wrong to judge the entire system according to one’s personal experience. There are papers and books about it, and there are stats available. Why don’t you read those?

  26. Sylwia says:

    GLS, actually I did quite a thorough comparison of the average sallary in the US and Europe last year, and I assure you its buying power is still much better than in most places, including many countries of Western Europe. You know, I’m one of those anal people who check their facts zillion times before saying anything.

    Of course, from the American point of view, the situation is much worse than it used to be, but most of Americans don’t compare their own situation to the reality in other countries. They only think that life in other countries is so much better than it really is.

    I don’t accuse you of anything. I just ask you to, for once, look further than the tip of your nose, and see the situation of people who weren’t as privileged as you were.

  27. siudol says:

    The inequalities, which your somewhat long-winded post talks about, can be observed right across the world, also in the so-called developed countries. There you can also find people where for some people it is easier and for some it is not, where some can study and some cannot, where men have higher salaries than women, where there are few, or none, women soldiers, where there are fewer women who are professors, or where there are affluent and underprivileged districts, cities, etc, etc.

    I have no intention of entering into a pissing contest with you here and keep getting assailed by thousands of meaningless statistics and figures. You can keep on digging around for those if that’s what you like. If someone chooses to be a down-trodden victim, they can do it in any country they live in.

  28. GLS says:

    Interesting….
    Are you implying that in “the west” your background doesn’t affect your future? Tell this to the Australian Aborigines, to point to an extreme example.
    That women have equal pay for equal work? So why have an “equal pay commissions”. If you were in Oz in the 70’s you wouldn’t, for example, be allowed to have a separate bank account if you were married.
    That women are equally represented in the academia or governments?
    That everyone has equal access to higher education?

    You seem to pick bits and bobs and blow them out of proportion to illustrate a point, forgetting that many of those are issues which were, or are present in many countries world-wide and are not specific to Poland or the former political system.
    Also, I don’t think we are painting a rosy picture of the past, we are simply pointing to the fact that the wholesale condemnation of everything that happened is not fair.
    It does suit the victim’s legend and propagates a certain view of the world so important for the spin doctors. I just refuse to jump on the bandwagon.
    Don’t get me wrong, I still have a scar from a “friendly meeting with the people’s militia”, but have also been roughen up in OZ protesting against public schools’ closures, so there, it all equals out at some point.

  29. GLS says:

    “I don’t accuse you of anything.”

    “(though it’s more likely your parents just bribed someone at the university”

    “the privileged never know what life looks like for the rest of the people”

    “I simply don’t know people who could afford a car in the PRL without corruption”

    “Clearly your parents were magicians. Alas, ones of a very tiny troupe.”

    And then:

    “I’m one of those anal people who check their facts zillion times before saying anything.”

    Obviously not when it comes to offending people.
    A clear contradiction doesn’t not do much for your credibility dear.

  30. Sylwia says:

    Yes, there are inequalities everywhere, and I doubt I ever suggested otherwise. Just the inequalities under Communism were much greater and impossible to fight against. So, for example, the difference in wages between men and women is twice less today than it used to be back then. Likely, because it’s no longer steered by the Party. It’s not a meaningless statistics to me. I’m a woman, it’s my money.

    But the obvious difference between the Communist system and the developed world is that you can talk about it in the latter, you can protest officially, and you can demand changes. In the case of the former you didn’t even know they existed, because the Communists wouldn’t let anyone publicize it, and that’s how GLS thinks of those times. He knows the things that the Communists said officially, and nothing about the reality.

    Statistics are not meaningless. There are real people and their lives behind them.

    So yes, today there still are inequalities in Poland – much lesser than they used to be, but still. But today we also have various official bodies to fight against them, free press that publicizes them, activists etc. Today we can do something about it, back then we just had to sit quiet and endure it.

    And yes, Anglo-Saxon countries (and not only those) have a very long history of gender inequality. But the situaiton didn’t have to look as bad in Poland, because Polish women had a fairer start. It was Communism that infringed their chances and changed their lives for the worse. So we don’t need to look at women in Western countries to justify Communism. Unlike in the UK, OZ, US etc. separate bank account was never a problem for a Polish woman. Neither in the First nor Second Republic, and it’s not a problem in the Third one either. I don’t need to suffer for Western women. However, bank accounts obviously were a problem during the Communist era, for women just as for men.

  31. Sylwia says:

    GLS, “more likely” means that statistically it’s more likely that it happened like that. It does leave room for an exception in your case, although it doesn’t change the argument. The system wasn’t fairer to the majority just because you were luckier than others.

    You said:

    “You simple don’t know a lot of things and are TOO quick to acuse. I feel you’d be the first to denounce me and have me crucified or whatever you people do, but we will not meet (I hope).”

    I don’t accuse you in this sense and I don’t envy you your money or situation. I’m just saying you can’t use it as a proof of anything about Communism, because you were an exception.

    And, for the record, I’m neither your sister nor your dear. Keep your patronizing male talk to yourself. It’s no longer acceptable. Neither in the post-Communist Poland nor in the developed West.

  32. Sylwia says:

    GLS said:

    “As to using google to get information, look up how much tax we paid, it wasn’t 99%.”

    But you forget that they also devalued people’s wages. If people earned $10-20 a month instead of, say, $1000-2000, then it means the Communists took 99% from them yet before tax.

    Nothing was free under the Communist system, it was only freely robbed from the people.

  33. Sylwia says:

    GLS said:

    “Are you implying that in “the west” your background doesn’t affect your future? Tell this to the Australian Aborigines, to point to an extreme example.”

    Yes, Aborigines are a good example of victims of a country’s background related policies (I hope you don’t mean to suggest they weren’t victims). How does it make this kind of policies in other countries look better? How Polish peasants weren’t victims for example?

    Well, you say that “All the rubbish and complete lack of acknowledgement ANYTHING positive that happened…”

    Can you give some examples of the things that were positive for the majority of the people under Communism? Things that were better than they are today or were before the war?

  34. Pub says:

    Wow, you sound like a very angry person, just like most anti-American Leftists are. Drown in it.

  35. Pub says:

    Just admit it, young Poles have become as trendy anti-American, indoctrintated and hateful as Western Europeans. You are simply slowly going back to your Soviet Leftism.

    The USA did not make Poland a slave to anything. Your leaders did. And what’s more ironic is that you believe fighting in wars to keep the Western World safer is bad. That is SO completely a Western Europe opinion. A bunch of useless Western European countries who have let their military crumble while letting Americans defend their countries for decades now as they spew hatred at Americans making them fight their wars, as if they’re not citizens with a voice.

  36. Lon says:

    First – apologies for late response as I stopped paying attention to my post after a couple of weeks thinking it was dead topic.

    Kenneth – thank you for seeing clearly my intention of jogging a few memories and getting some fresh point of view. I love history more than politics so I like to capture people stories. Sylwia as always you bring a certain level of high thinking and writing to the pages of this blog – keep it up and your should think about a guest blog post.

    Honestly I am always shocked to hear and read people say that life was better for them under the communist – ie I will take a free summer camp over freedom of expression and movement… my Boy Scout camp was never that good. Belarus is just a few short hours away if you want a free summer camp…

    I will not try and jump into the battle of thought at this point. I will just say that our views of Poland and US and further east are greatly effected by the way we view the world (I’m a bit to the right). I found the opinions expressed here by the posters to be very interesting though I’m not likely to agree with the more anti-Reagan points of view. Sitting back 20+ years later it is easy to judge the actions of those times and be critical. For now Poland is free and I hope all Poles fight hard to keep her free so all people can speak freely and move freely along with all your inalienable rights (unalienable.com). An take the time every once in awhile to reflect on where you have been and where you are going as a Nation and people. Here is a story from this past week that helps put Poland in perspective maybe… http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501714_162-57361615/romanian-riots-reveal-growing-gloom-in-region/

    And one last note if anyone is looking for private English conversation lessons in the Warsaw area drop me a note… we can talk about History and Reagan. :))

    blessings
    ps… love the move to wordpress guys.

  37. Anonymous says:

    tandrasz, Kazimierz G., Stefan, Sylwia and many others…
    We shouldn’t be so apologetic at all.
    WE – Poles – should be more arrogant, more nationalistic, more self aware, more proud, more confident, more patriotic, more thrifty, more bitchy, even if we are not particularly consistent with the reality. Especially toward those who pull as apart in 1772, 1793, 1795, and left us alone in 1939. I don’t to mention… So, since we are in the United Europe, let them know that Polish hospitality has its limit. Period.
    RR wasn’t any genius; he was a “superman” video clip by Genesis (Phil Collins).
    All what RR and the US wanted and needed at that time was to get to Russian economy and markets. But there was big BUTT, the USA could not to trade with the USSR by default, and subsequently they crave for trading with China. And that was RR brilliant plan. Poland and Polacks ware the last thing on their agenda.
    We should be proud of ourselves that all the change started in Poland, that we were united one more time, that SOLIDARITY become a synonym of fighting polish working class, and for all that we pursued the blessing of late Paul John II: “Don’t be afraid…”.

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