Friday, 5 June 2009

Toast za wolność!

If you have been buried in the desert for the past couple of weeks, or vacuum-packed into a giant jar of pickles, you won't have heard that yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the first free elections in Poland, which took place on 04 June 1989.

Basically - if like me you learnt about the end of Communism from the fall of the Berlin Wall onwards - a trade union called Solidarity started to stir up trouble in the shipbuilding city of Gdańsk in the early 80s. This eventually led - albeit with a savage detour in the form of Martial Law - to round table talks between the Communist powers-that-were and the Solidarity-led opposition, which resulted in the concession of almost-free elections in June 1989. 'Almost' in the sense that only one hundred of the seats in the Senate were actually up for electoral grabs. Other Central and Eastern European countries watching on the sidelines thought 'hang on, that's not a bad idea' and soon followed suit, kicking off a chain of events which then resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism altogether.

If, like my parents, you actually watched the news in 1989 rather than - like some of us - spending your time climbing trees, learning to cartwheel and running Matchbox cars down the stairs to the detriment of the hall carpet, you probably didn't need to to be told that.

Anyway, these were the first free elections that had been held in Poland for fifty years (one of our lecturers brought in twenty-year-old pamplets explaining how to vote for first-timers) and, knowing how much we all love party political broadcasts, pre-electoral canvassing, queues at the polling station and fiddling about with postal votes, I'm sure you can imagine why the Poles were so happy no longer to be deprived of this form of entertainment.

Yesterday was an occasion for Massive Celebration.

And in practice?

12 noon: huge excitement during lessons (the school is opposite Wawel) because Grodzka is blocked off by armed police, waiting for Tusk, Merkel, Tymoshenko et al to arrive.

5pm: our contemporary culture lecturer brings us fragile Solidarity paraphernalia and a huge basket of Polish strawberries. She tells us that these are to go with the free champagne that we will be able to drink between 8 and 8.20pm at certain establishments in the centre of town, in a toast to freedom.

6.30pm-ish: I get to listen to Andrzej Wajda talking about censorship and the future of Polish film!!!

8.10pm: Me and my flatmate try to find a place to toast freedom.

8.12pm: We arrive at Nowa Prowincja. People are crammed together in the doorway. We decide that this means there must be something good going on, but we can't get in.

8.13pm: We go round the corner to Spokój.

8.14pm: The atmosphere is awesome! Spokój is full of young Poles (most of whom, admittedly, probably have an even fuzzier memory of 1989 than I do). We stand near the bar and a woman hands us shots of vodka. Everyone raises their glasses and drinks to freedom. We join in singing 'Sto lat'. Someone hands us more vodka, this time with a red layer of raspberry syrup to symbolise the Polish flag.

8.21pm: We return to Nowa Prowincja. People are starting to leave and we manage to find our way inside. Someone hands us roses. We find out - from the label - that Róża Thun (top of the PO list for Małopolska in the European Parliament elections) has been speaking here. Someone hands us some red liquid in a vodka glass and the rest, as they say, is history...

Here's to you, Poland!

(the video basically shows people toasting the anniversary and briefly looks at the idea of making June 4 a public holiday)


Michael Dembinski said...

Well, all senate seats and more importantly, a third of sejm seats. The total wipeout of the communists let them know the game was up. There was never a "hooray, we won' moment. More like a gradual continuum from the tram-drivers' strike in Bydgoszcz in April 1988 through to the presidential elections and the transfer of insignia from exiled President Kaczorowski to President Wałęsa. 4 June's as good as any date; it led to 17 August and Tadeusz Mazowiecki becoming the first non-communist premier in any Soviet bloc country since the late 1940s.

I'll be writing about 17 August in several weeks time on my blog.

pinolona said...

cool, thanks! I knew I'd get something wrong ;)

Anonymous said...

here is a CNN special. Very informative.

Halfling PL said...

And how's the situation in Good Ole England? Tories say they've won in all the local councils, even where they believed they'd lose.

inda said...

I would like to point out the idea of free alcohol (in the colours of the national flag) and the general celebration atmosphere in the city center. It is one of the reasons I love this country. :)

student SGH said...

nice to know that the 20th anniversary was celebrated on UJ. In my university there were no celebrations at all, not even a marking of the historic elections. It caught us in the middle of examinations. Sad :(

4th June was a symbolic date, but a kind of breakthrough. There were several concessions of communist rulers that enabled those elections to be held, the elections gave rise to the next reforms. But what happened on 17th August, I thought Mazowiecki was appointed prime minister on 24th...

Pino, I leave a short clip, made by EU commission office, which in brief illustrates Poland's accomplishments from twenty years of freedom.

I wish I could remember those days, I don;t even have a hazy recollection of them - I was only seventeen month old child then...

Island1 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
pinolona said...

ah yes, I saw it and I clocked the quotation marks with some surprise - didn't think I'd had that much Zywiec. I guess that's the printed press for you.

BTW I may remove your comment shortly cos Pinolona the blogger and the language professional going by Pinolona's real name are definitely not one and the same person and it would be a terrible shame if people were to mistake one for the other.

If you're reading this post-delete, Island was plugging this month's Krakow Post, that is all you need to know.

Island the free drinks were being discreetly advertised in the form of 'Toast za Wolność' notices in the windows of various locales in the centre of town. Miss it miss out! All the more for us though...