Monday, 28 September 2009

Millenium Schools: A Case of Selective Memory

Amidst the recent rash of anniversaries commemorating some of the darkest moments in Poland's history, there was one milestone which marked an altogether more positive event-- the 50th anniversary of the founding of Poland's first 'millenium school'. These modern, well-equipped schools started to appear all over Poland from September 1959. The name 'millenium' celebrated a thousand years of the Polish state.
Strangely, this anniversary has been completely overlooked. Why? Here is an extract from a report by Krysztof Pilawski, taken from 'Przegląd' magazine:

Pact of Silence

The celebrations had been planned for months-- the first day of the new school year at Primary School No. 7 in Czeladż would coincide with the the 50th anniversary of its founding as the first of Poland's 'millenium' schools. City authorities had bought flags and banners and had published a special book to mark the occasion. Invitations were sent to the highest officials in the country. The guests, however, did not arrive. Donald Tusk did not attend. Neither did he send anyone as his representative. The PM did not write a letter sending his best wishes. A letter was sent by the deputy director of the PM's office saying that he was unable to attend but it said nothing about the anniversary.

So why should the head of the government have been in Czeladż on 2nd September?

Because Donald Tusk claims that education is a priority for his government.
Because school 7 in Czeladż ws the first of 1417 schools built under the programme "a thousand schools for a thousand years."
Because the millenium schools were an unprecedented development in Polish education.
Because the millenium schools, with their bright classrooms, gym facilities, libraries, common rooms, medical facilities, canteens, toilets and cloakrooms, guaranteed a European level of education to people whose standard of living and financial status were often well below European levels.
Because the millenium schools created the extra places needed in order to educate the post-war baby boom.
Because the millenium schools realised the ideal of equality of opportunity for all children and young people..
in the 50 years since their founding the millenium schools have educated millions of Poles.
Because the millenium schools served not only the PRL but also the children of the 3rd Republic.

Why did the PM decide to ignore the anniversary?

Because by going to Czeladż he would contradict his view that WW2 finished in 1989.
Because this would contradict the new WW2 museum which he is building, which is based on the idea of a '50 year war'.
Because this casts doubt on the idea that there was no difference between Nazism and Communism.
Because it would contradict the opinion that the PRL was a 'black hole' without any achievements to its credit.
Because it would put him on the side of the Communists, because the programme 'a thousand schools for a thousand years' was started by the First Secretary of the PZPR Władysław Gomułka.
Because Władysław Gomułka opened the school in Czeladż.
Because by praising an programme carried out by the war-damaged, desperately poor PRL, Tusk would draw attention to the fact that progress in education over the last 20 years has been very modest. The government has passed reponsibility for schools onto local authorities and is not even able to finance free meals for children from poor families......

Krysztof Pilawski is a Polish journalist.

Translated by Czarny Kot 28/09/09 Source: 'Przegląd' magazine.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Devil's Fruits and Vodka Absurdity

The biggest story in Poland is the missile shield, or lack thereof, but it has been written, talked and blogged to death so here are 2 other topics which entered my head at some point or another recently.

1) Fruit machines: They have sprung up like mushrooms after rain in the last 6-9 months. First they were restricted to gaming parlours and pubs. Then they appeared in petrol stations. Now they are taking over any available space-- empty shops converted into dismal 2-machine casinos, 12 year old boys and depressed housewives relentlessly feeding them in supermarket foyers....
I don't gamble. Not for any religious or moral reason, just because it has always struck me as a very pointless, dull and expensive past-time. I have no problems with fruit machines in pubs and gaming parlours but that is where they should stay.
Of course, people will argue that i'm advocating a 'nanny state' approach and that the restrictions on fruit machines should be lifted in the name of 'choice', 'fun' and the divine right to make money by whatever means. If people are stupid enough to develop an addiction to these machines then that's their problem, right? Someone selling crack outside a school could use the same logic.
It looks like their here to stay, so now everytime I go to the supermarket and see a group of underage boys with glazed expressions crowded round the one-armed bandit i'll be reminded what a cheap and crass world this can be sometimes.

2) Vodka to Poland?: There is an expression in English which makes reference to my hometown: "To take coal to Newcastle." The Poles say something similar about taking wood to the forest. It is used to describe some pointless, illogical activity.
Some time in the past, they actually did start taking coal to Newcastle (some of it from Poland) and what was a byword for absurdity became normal.
This came to mind recently when I went to buy vodka for my wedding. I know a lot of Poles who buy Bols or Maximus but I always try to respect my adopted country by buying the far more patriotic Sobieski brand. I intended to do the same but unfortunately buying vodka for 40-odd people is expensive. The 2 cheapest (drinkable) brands were Smirnoff and Bols. Reluctantly, I ended up buying 50% Sobieski and 50% Smirnoff/Bols.
There is no love lost between Russia and Poland but they would both grudgingly accept that they both know about vodka. But Bols is Dutch. Dutch vodka at a Polish wedding!! If that is not taking coals to Newcastle, what is?
The Communist era threw up plenty of examples of absurdity (basketball nets on grass?!?) but people buying Dutch vodka for Polish weddings in order to save money shows that modern capitalism is all too capable of producing its own mind-boggling examples.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Anniversary Fatigue

OK, back with batteries recharged (sort of) after a summer of drinking British ale, getting up late and getting married. I'm too lazy at the moment to find something to translate, let alone translate it, so just some things which have been going round my head in recent weeks:

1) Anniversary Fatigue:

I'm a history buff. I subscribe to BBC History Magazine and spend more money than I should on Amazon, buying books on anything and everything from Celtic Britain to Post-War Europe.
Given all this, you would think that the recent anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 would have made me happy-- plenty of articles and newspaper supplements to pore over. Not really.
The problem is that there have been so many of these anniversaries in such a short space of time (the Fall of Communism, D-Day, WW2 Outbreak and several more before) that they become depressingly familiar. Instead of dignified rememberance of human tragedy we get the undignified spectacle of politicians using these events as political footballs-- Putin says this, Kaczynski say this, ad nauseum.
It's not just politicians. In what I believe is called the 'Blogosphere', these anniversaries seem to coincide with sharp increases in ovegrown boys venting their WW2 reconstruction fantasies and naked xenophobia.
It is understandable that history forms a more important role in the public agenda in Poland than in other countries. This part of the world has seen more blood-shedding, brutality and back-stabbing than most. There comes a point, however, when the past dominates the present to an unhealthy degree. A casual glance at a Polish front page or news website in recent weeks would reveal that the news cycle is based almost exclusively on arguments about the past.

Let historians argue about the past, politicians are paid to think about the present and future. Hopefully there won't be any more controversial anniversaries in the near future and we can get back to the here and now.