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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 3, 2009
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Remember How It Was?
June 3, 2009   
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Today store shelves are groaning with food. The press is free. The streets are choked with shiny new cars. Back in 1989 daily life was very different.

Wait your turn: The 1980s were the era of vinegar-sometimes the only item on store shelves. People stood in line for everything, for hours or overnight, while new deliveries were snapped up immediately. By the early 1980s, many were waiting a decade or more for an apartment. In the southern city of Zakopane the wait at one point was estimated to be 100 years.

Dollars welcome: In the 1970s, the government created a chain of Pewex stores. Otherwise out-of-reach imported goods-coffee, jeans, Coca-Cola-were available there for hard currency, which the Polish government used to pay off the country's debt.

Red news: The Communist party controlled the news by limiting the amount of newsprint allotted to each publication. That meant tiny letters, few pictures and, in the case of the Roman Catholic Tygodnik Powszechny, no new subscribers-the only way to get the paper was to take over the subscription of a reader who had died. Underground newspapers and brochures flourished in the mid-1970s and Gazeta Wyborcza, the first newspaper not subject to censorship, was launched in 1989.

Hardly Easy Rider: Before you could buy a car-often a Polish Fiat 126p, affectionately called the Maluch-you had to deposit all the money into a bank account and wait. And breaking down wasn't your only worry-other citizens were likely to eye your car enviously while parts were liable to disappear from vehicles parked in lots. Ration cards were needed for gasoline, and by 1989 stations were frequently running out of it.
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