The Cold War ended 25 years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the years since, there have been many changes across eastern Europe.
Reporter went to Poland to find out more about the recent history of Warsaw, a city which was devastated by the Nazis during WWII and then hidden behind the Iron Curtain until 1989.
Although only four years old when the communist regime collapsed, the founder and guide of “Adventure Warsaw”, Rafal Patla (29) wants his generation to understand this chapter of Poland’s history.
He says that the Palace of Culture and Science was a “gift from Uncle Stalin” and calls it a “symbol of communist times in Warsaw, a symbol of Soviet domination of our country.”
But in Warsaw, reminders of this cold war period when Europe was divided are fading away. In their place are symbols of a country which transformed itself into the EU’s sixth biggest economy and is now a key player on Europe’s political stage. A transformation beyond belief, even for those who participated in it, like Adam Ringer, who came back to Poland in 1989 after living in Sweden for over twenty years.
He is now the co-owner of the Green Café Nero. He said: “It was like a dream because no one believed this could happen at this time. Some kind of implosion that the whole system is breaking down. People do not remember how it was 25 years ago, this greyness, the people rushing around, nervous, suspicious. If you look at young people working here, all of them are born after 1989. You can try to explain to them but are they able to understand? Really? If you have not been through it, it’s really difficult to understand.”
Filip Lepka is a university student and was born after the collapse of communism. While he appreciates what his parents and grandparents lived through, for him, that period seems almost surreal: “As I heard many stories from my family, it’s hard to imagine that. Our generation is like a different world, like Alice in Wonderland.”
But has this difficulty to understand how life was behind the Iron Curtain created a new sort of wall between generations?
Thirty-three-year-old Tomasz Ciapala met his wife Marta while studying in France. Today they run a succesful custom-tailoring business, Cafardini Tailored Suits, in Poland. While many of Tomasz’ generation have left Poland to work abroad, Tomasz says the freedom to decide where to live is enough: “I travel with my father sometimes and the passport that I have today means I can go wherever. I just came back from Spain a couple of days ago and it’s the freedom. This is the main thing. The freedom of what I want, I want to go somewhere and there’s no limit for me and this is the main thing my parents experienced. They couldn’t go anywhere.”
But while Poland’s young generation may enjoy more freedom than the previous one, freedom also comes with a certain price. Marta Stefanczyk-Ciapala explained: “Our generation expects less help from the government than the previous generation. For example to get a flat, you couldn’t just go and buy an apartment just like that. You need permission to have it. And also in terms of jobs, the previous generation, most of the people, when they got the job, they would rather stay with the job for their whole life expecting that the government will take care of them after they retire for example. Today we know that’s not going to happen.”
Thirty-year-old Kamil Cebulski is an entrepreneur who five years ago was listed among Poland’s seven richest young people. He made his money creating start-up companies on the internet and today has founded four universities to train would-be entrepreneurs. He says for him, the new wall is not between generations but between a free market and too many regulations and taxes: “I moved all my companies from Poland to the UK, to Thailand, to Zambia. I don’t have any companies here in Poland now because the market is too regulated. They go too far with regulations. So now young people in Poland don’t have the chance to compete with those people who are on the market now because the barriers, the borders, the obstacles are too big.”
An abandoned factory houses Warsaw’s only “private” communist museum. It is the brainchild of the tour guide Rafal who opened its doors last April. His aim: to show what daily life was during the communist regime. Reporter spoke to some visitors whose parents emigrated to England and Canada respectively. They are another generation, a generation of children of emigrants.
Keith Kurek, whose father emigrated to Canada, said: “The reason I wanted to see this museum is because when I came back here, everything is modern. In Poland, it looks like Canada. When I saw the Communist museum I could see what it was like when I was growing up, what it was like here and the differences. Going back to the 70s and 80s in here, you see that there was a huge difference in our countries then. I couldn’t imagine living like this.”
While Keith had never been to Poland before, Chris Nield (whose mother emigrated to England) came once, in 1970 with her mother to visit family. This shop reminds her of that visit. Chris explained: “I only have one memory, I think it was queuing up to go into a butcher’s shop and there were long queues outside. And I remember looking into the shop and it was like this, with the hooks, the empty hooks. It was empty, the shop was empty. What were they queuing for? It was empty.”
Long queues. Empty shops. and the brutal Martial Law crackdown on Solidarity in 1981 depict a time many Poles prefer to forget. But for some there is a nostalgic side. A difficult period that brought people closer in their solidarity. Yet despite the museum’s display of kitsch 70s era products such as vacuum cleaners, some of Poland’s younger generation are determined to learn from previous ones.
Rafal Patla told euronews: “My generation is the first generation for last 200 years that didn’t fight for anything – 200 years. Every generation fought against something; against Bolsheviks, against Nazis, against communists, against Russians. Always we had to fight for our freedom. So now we are free, but it’s only 25 years, it’s only one generation. Freedom is the thing we can lose very fast and we should really take care of it. That’s why I think we should learn from our history.”