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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 3, 2009
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Fulfilled Expectations?
June 3, 2009   
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Hopes were high as communism toppled in 1989. The following 20 years brought changes that many could once only dream about. But some have been left with the bitter taste of disappointment.

Dr. Maciej Duszczyk, Institute of Social Policy, University of Warsaw
The last 20 years have been the best time in Polish history, Duszczyk said. "We have a safe country without enemies. In the past, Poland was always fighting with someone, and now we aren't."

That's partly because of the incredible pace of integration into the rest of Europe, he said.

In 1989, going to West Germany meant a 16-hour train ride with six passport checks. Today, it takes six-and-a-half hours and no one asks for documents.

"If anyone had told me 20 years ago it would be like that, I would have said 'sure, and we'll colonize the moon, too,'" Duszczyk said. "No one expected we'd get here so fast."

Fundamental problems have largely been dealt with and Poland can now enter a new phase in its postcommunist development, he added. It now faces the same problems confronting the rest of Europe-climate change, a falling birth rate, illegal immigration.

Dr. Jacek Kochanowicz, professor of economic history, University of Warsaw
In 1989, people expected capitalism to be what they saw in American films-full store shelves and prosperity, Kochanowicz told the Voice. For many, those promises weren't realized because they didn't expect the hard work that came with them.

"People expected, though maybe they didn't tell themselves this, that when the system ended they would live in a place that has everything positive from every system-the social stability of communism and full shelves and prosperity of capitalism," he said.

The dramatic nature of the change hit home when people started to lose their jobs-something that until then had been unthinkable.

"The fact you had a job was as obvious as water in the tap," Kochanowicz said.

Now many pine for the old days, though their memory of that time is skewed.

"A huge group is already retired and remembers communism in a favorable way, mostly because they were younger, not because it was better," he said.

Dr. Maciej Gdula, sociologist, University of Warsaw
In 1989 people were hoping for social democracy with freedom of speech and religion, but also shorter waits for apartments and strong labor unions, Gdula said.

Along with political and religious freedom, Poles earned the freedom to be unemployed and to work a lifetime before saving enough for an apartment. If they'd known that was coming, the results of that first election 20 years ago would have been different, according to Gdula.

"The system makes promises that let people down, and when they're not fulfilled, the blame falls on individuals," he said. That's in sharp contrast to decades of communism, when people blamed the government for their problems and felt solutions came from working together, he said.

Magda Konieczna
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