Tag Archives: East Germany

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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Masovia is wealthier than regions of Germany or Italy!

A discussion we’ve been having recently on this blog on whether Poland is poor or not, now has a surprising epilogue.

This year the income of an average resident of theWarsaw region (the Masovian voivodship) will level to 88% of the EU average – says Eurostat.

This is a great achievement: even though EU funding has only begun to reach Poland, Mazovia is already richer than the East German regions of Mecklenburg, Thuringia, Brandenburg or Saxony which for over 20 years have seen a constant influx of cash from West Germany.

What is more, Mazowsze voivodship is wealthier than a growing list of EU regions, which have never even experienced communism. Including: Picardie and Nord-Pas-de Calais, the whole south of Italy including Sicily and Sardinia. Or in Spain: Galicia, Asturia, Castilia-La Mancha, or Extremandura.

This however is just the beginning. The capital region is developing so fast, that it is very likely it will out compete more regions of Western Europe. In 2004 when Poland joined the EU the average income in Masovia was 76% of the EU average. A year later it was 81%.

Mazovia results are mostly thanks to the enormous impact of Warsaw. The largest Polish region with an area comparable to Belgium and population size similar to Denmark comprises of the cosmopolitan, rapidly developing Warsaw, but also many smaller towns with economic problems and villages more grim then in other regions of Poland (especially in the north or south). Warsaw’s strength lifts the whole region in the statistics.

The Polish government is proud of Warsaw’s performance, yet no one is chilling the champagne. There are concerns that the Masovia region has become so rich, it will no longer be eligible for EU funding (only regions with a development level lower than 75% of the EU average are eligible). The 7-year budget until 2013 had been negotiated previously, based on 2001 economical data, so there is no need for immediate alarm. However the government is considering separating Warsaw and making it a 17th region. This would sustain the support for the wider Masovian areas.

The success of Mazowsze exposes the defeat of many other regions of Poland. Four of them: Lublin, Subcarpathian, Podlachian and Holy Cross, all of them comprising the so called “eastern wall” or “Poland B”, are within Europe’s 15 poorest regions. Only Romania and Bulgaria perform less well. In the eastern part of Poland the level of development reaches only 35-38% of the EU average. It is therefore three times lower than in Masovia.

Poland, which used to be more or less homogeneous, is now a country of contrasts.

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