Ostalgie

No, the title is not missing the letter ‘N’ – instead the term Ostalgie (along with the phrase Soviet chic) is used to refer to nostalgia regarding life under the socialist systems in former communist countries of Eastern Europe, most notably East Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. I find it a particularly interesting topic, as it combines a retrospective look at history (albeit sometimes through a rose-tinted view), with a look a sociological and psychological impacts of major change. The German response of Ostalgie has been made clear by films such as Sonnenallee and Goodbye,  Lenin! And with clothing saying DDR and CCCP being fashionable, it seems Ostalgie will be here for some time to come.

“Only in the PRL”…?

However, in my time in Poland so far, the touches of Ostalgia have been much more muted, if even visible at all. It took me a while to understand what the PRL was, after I noticed it mentioned a few times in newspapers or on television. However a few days ago while stopped at a traffic light, I received a flyer advertising a PRL tavern. This got me thinking to other ways in which the feel of the PRL is there, but just not in an ‘in your face’ way. While Trabants seem to fit more to East German history, it’s not uncommon to see Maluchs in Poland, still phutt-phutting around. On the culinary front (as well as the above offering), there are plenty of Bar Mleczny to be found in most Polish cities and towns.

Mmmm, I think I’ll have the 1kg meat mix!

The open longing for the past is less evident in Poland than some other countries where Ostalgie is in effect. The major upheavals which took place in East Germany and Russia following the fall of Communism are still evident today, with numbers of the older generations in particular pining for the days of full employment and more relaxed lifestyles, while conveniently overlooking queueing for basic consumer goods, censorship and police states. Poland seems to have strided confidently forward without looking back.

At some point though, history pulls you back. The character Lileth Sternin, known as the ex-wife on the Frasier series, had a great line which resonates well: “With one hand the past moves us forward, with the other it holds us back”.  While Poland is fine with dragging up history from time to time, it seems the nostalgia for the PRL period has not fully kicked in yet. Maybe in a few years, when all the kids will be wearing t-shirts saying PRL instead of CCCP. In fact, there’s a business idea worth jumping on before it takes off.

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6 thoughts on “Ostalgie

  1. Sylwia says:

    There’s this group Born in PRL on Facebook, there’s a website too. It seems they’re going to make t-shirts soon.

    I think the Polish nostalgia is lesser than elsewhere because life in Poland was much worse than in many other communist countries. Food shortages were not universal. However, I see more and more people weeping over the lost socialism. It seems their memory is whitewashed with a mixture of memories of their youth and wishful thinking.

  2. Pete says:

    You might not call it nostalgia per se, but there certainly seems to be interest in life in the PRL: for example, this book has been in the bestsellers list here for several weeks now.
    http://merlin.pl/Nasz-maly-PRL_Znak/browse/product/1,1077522.html;jsessionid=870B2837FE2CA09EFC688A54CD13442D.LB5

  3. odrzut says:

    Easy answer is that in Poland communism had never really ended :) Bureaucracy rules still, nepotism and backstage deals are everywhere, public money are wasted in riddiculus amounts (EU sponsored trainings, medial campaigns advertising eating fish or tomato, social networks for X sponsored by EU that nobody uses). Just like in PRL.

    Media show heavily distorted image of reality, just now we have 2 slightly different such images (from PO and PIS sponsored media).

    We have free elections, and free market. But we don’t have free media, courts, we live as millions of office workers from one ministry or another tells us and nobody is responsible when their decisions are stupid.

    Even the people in media, biggest national companies, courts, universities etc are still the same, they just started going to church instead of communist party meetings, and now they have PR advisors.

    Why should we feel the ostalgie, when we touch PRL every day?

  4. Decoy says:

    Hi Odrzut,

    Fair point – although to go back to a point within the post, Polish history is both holding you back and pushing you forward, depending on your point of view, and sometimes doing both at the same time.

    Thanks Pete & Sylwia – I hadn’t noticed it so much myself, but there are surely touches here and there which look to bring the PRL into focus again.

  5. Sylwia says:

    One thing I noticed is that basically the Polish nostalgia is no different than, say, American nostalgia for their childhood in the 1980s. There, too, people miss their toys, games, watching video movies, listening to particular music etc. etc. What’s funny though is that people in post-communist countries think that their nostalgia is somehow unique due to the different political system. It’s not. My grandma had great memories from her very poor village in prewar Poland and sometimes even from WWII. It’s being young what people are really nostalgic about.

  6. Ktoś says:

    In the PRL (Communist Poland) goods in the shops there was only a limited, short-term.

    Currently in Poland is the same ceznura and evil on the part of government as under communism! The only difference is that the government doing it with other methods.

    In communist Poland, the workers live better than today. Today, it is more trouble! Therefore, it is a longing for what it was!

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