Vol 1, No 9, 23 August 1999
T H E D E C A D E:|
Ten Years Later
Nobody stormed the Bastille, no enthusiastic crowds cheered in the streets.
There was no bloodshed, shooting or even fireworks.
There was the hum of fans in offices, the clink of spoons stirring sugar into countless cups of coffee, and the rustle of ballots falling into ballot boxes.
Communist Poland departed ten years ago. It departed after elections won by Solidarity, elections which-though a breakthrough opportunity for Poles-did not interest nearly 40 percent of the population sufficiently to make them want to take part. Let historians squabble over when communism really disappeared from Poland, but that June day ten years ago set off events that made Poland what it is today.
I was worried ten years ago that Solidarity might manage to get just a few deputies and senators into the Parliament.
I wasn't the only one, actually. The communist party bosses were worrying about the same thing. When the results were announced, they looked like an employee at a weather station who, as he was writing to his head office that the weather was going to be beautiful, was struck by lightning.
I admit it didn't occur to me that the free market, democracy and capitalism were approaching. I was counting at most on a corrected socialism, with the opposition's participation and some broad oases of private enterprise. I shared my error with Solidarity leaders, who hadn't counted on anything more either before the elections, and painstakingly listed the maximum number of anti-capitalist, workers' and social rights in their agreement with the communists.
Hardly anyone predicted ten years ago what would happen after the elections. And what happened was a complete, total change in this country, at a pace unknown to contemporary Europe.
To remind foreigners what Poland looked like a decade ago, we would have to start by changing the trams. Rip off the ads of electronics corporations and laundry detergents, so that they would look like they did under the Reds - clean and neat.
Then, we would check the sidewalks for any stray banana peels. The only thing likely to be lying around back then was an apple core. Next, we would take the blinds and awnings off the stores, and camouflage the marble driveways with a layer of long-unwashed mud. Clear the goods out of butcher's shops, putting in unwashed saleswomen and their faithful companions-cockroaches dying of boredom.
Take away most Western cars. Adorn Marszazkowska, Warsaw's main street, with a group of happy citizens wearing garlands of miraculously purchased toilet paper strung around their necks. Place a group of laborers in tar-stained padded vests, drinking flat beer from bottles on a messy building site, next to a crane up to its belly in mud, which nobody seems to want to start up. Close the restaurants and pizzerias, leaving about ten and remembering to employ waiters who look like Boris Karloff and emanate the warmth of Jack the Ripper.
That's what it was like just ten years ago.
This article originally appeared in The Warsaw Voice on 13 June 1999. It is reprinted here with their kind permission.
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