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.
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.
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.