Where to go, Poland?

Travel Report from a Country (Un)known to Me

After two years of exceptionally not going to Poland, I decided to go on a roundtrip through the country, in order to visit some friends and family, starting this march. After an eleven hours bus trip, I reached my first station: Wroclaw, a beautiful city that has been elected this year’s cultural capital of Europe. The main station, as well as the other buildings in downtown, had just been restored and painted in strong colors. Only few streets away, you could still make out a townscape that mainly consisted of grey facades, but still kept its beauty.

Modern Europe vs. Nationalism

On the first day, on my first walk through Wroclaw, a demonstration against the new government elect attracted my attention. The protesters waved rainbow flags, Polish and European flags, and held posters appealing for freedom of press and women’s rights, and speaking out pro Europe. The parade was accompanied by policemen armed with heavy machine guns, and on the other side of the market square, there were speakers spreading some pro-government-paroles, a very diffuse situation. I could also remember sceneries of burning EU flags and xenophobic paroles, being shown in the news. Both sides are represented in this city and it can be hard to tell which one is the opinion of the society.

I do know Poland due to my family and mainly because of the numerous Erasmus students who came to Munich. All in all I had a very modern and cosmopolitan image of Poland, but it actually surprised me that there were so many demonstrations against the newly elected government. When I talked to a friend from Wroclaw and asked her about the political situation, she told me that she was unable to understand how the PiS party could become the governmental party and that she couldn’t imagine staying in Poland for longer than her studies would take. She said that there was no perspective for her as a chemist in Poland, for there is not even a big chemical industry.

And this was not an individual case, which the next friend I talked to confirmed. She said she was already looking for a job as a translator in Munich. She further told me that the future for well-educated youngsters of Krakow and even of the whole country of Poland did neither look very bright nor safe. Krakow is a big cosmopolitan city as well. The city is expected to welcome more than a million pilgrims this year, who are to visit the World Youth Day of the Catholic Church. Krakow seems to be the most significant city, historically but also in terms of tourism. The numerous tourists predominantly visit Krakow to discover the city center, which belongs to the UNESCO world heritage, the salt mine in Wieliczka and the extermination camp in Auschwitz.

Poland’s Youth Gets Lost or Goes Abroad

Of course, my view is blurred, for my Polish friends and family lived in foreign countries, due to their studies or any kind of work, and so they know the world a little. Nevertheless it’s possible to see a tendency for the Polish youth to imagine another Poland and therefore tend to leave that country. The following conversations with my friends showed me that there were many more that were willing to go abroad and start a new life, or at least work there for a few months. Friends from Warsaw revealed to me that the leasing fees for apartments were comparable to those of German major such as Hamburg or Munich, whereas the income was way lower. These facts lead to them being determined to leave for Germany where they wanted to make some money as fitness coaches. Another friend from Posen wants to apply for a job as a dentist in Germany, for she cannot think of staying in Poland, or even in Posen.

For me, this makes a huge contrast to the attitude of the most Poles, who I got to know as very patriotic and proud of their nation. A nation, that pulls its orientation out of their ancestry. Poland has suffered a lot in their long history. The whole country was occupied many times and where there was no autonomic state. During these times, the Polish people longed for an own nation and the Polish language and culture became the most significant and the central possession of the people. These strong feelings of solidarity lead to an almost homogenous society with little space for foreign cultures of another people. Here may be the root of the difficulties in another very important matter, namely the refugee crisis.

An Important Matter: Refugees

The population, even the young and cosmopolitan Poles, is scared. They’re scared of the alienation of their country and even of foreigners themselves. The reason might be found in the history of Poland. In the Polish society there had hardly been any migrants who the people of Poland could have come in contact with. Therefore it’s not too surprising that the government of Poland wanted to accept another 7.500 Refugees. After the elections the number shrank to 400, and when the assassinations in Brussels took place, they decided to take none. They say that they try to protect and enforce the Polish people by only showing theatre plays that support the Polish patriotism and also by predominantly selling Polish products. These developments make many open-minded, modern-thinking and well-educated Poles flee the country.

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