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Communist Era in Poland: Some questions

4 Jul 2007 /  #1
My wife grew up in Communist ERa Poland. Sometimes she will fondly reminince about the unique challenges those years presented. In clothing, the lack of choices put creativity in the hands of the purchaser. One size fits all was a challenge. With food, it was similiar. Potaoes, herring, cabbage and vinegar. Do something special tonight....again. Each day presented a challenge. She sometimes misses the daily struggle to get through til tomorrow. You were always busy. I'm curious, but does anyone else have similiar thoughts?
4 Jul 2007 /  #2
I don't miss the daily struggle, but these were good years in spite of the problems. You would eat bananas or oranges once a year, stay in line for a pack of coffee for 2 hours (then go back to the line to get another piece). Those who lived in the country were doing better than those from the cities (as far as food is concerned at least).
OP regionpolski  
4 Jul 2007 /  #3
My wife doesn't miss the daily struggle...on a daily basis, at least. But when you grow up expending all of this energy into today and tomorrow, it's hard to replace that .............something. Sometimes I think my wife believes she's being lazy, because there's no crisis to be dealt with.
4 Jul 2007 /  #4
Well, most Poles still like staying in lines - you could hear many interesting life stories while trying to get a bottle of milk back then. I remember when one of the "richest" residents of a village I lived in announced he's going to buy a TV (a color one). In order to do that, he would have to go to the capital of Poland (Warsaw) as in other places it was impossible to buy one. In the end, almost half of the village went with him on a bus as it was a great experience for them ;).
OP regionpolski  
4 Jul 2007 /  #5
LOL my ass off!!!

My wife always tells me that on one channel ( 50% of the channels available ) Bonzanza was on.

I remember talking to an acquaintance several years ago, maybe 1992 or '93. we were discussing why Communism was failing. i was offering all of these " educated expanations , as I was just a couple of years out of college. My friend, a serb, put it in very simle terms. He said, " You can't buy a pair of ****ing blue jeans in any of those countries.
4 Jul 2007 /  #6
You can't buy a pair of ****ing blue jeans in any of those countries.

Maybe that's the reason why brand jeans (and clothes in general) are still very expensive in Poland.
4 Jul 2007 /  #7
Is it true girls in communist era had hair on their legs?
4 Jul 2007 /  #8
Should be nothing surprising. Times change - in the 70ties girls wore fake eyebrows too. But it has nothing to do with Poland in particular.
4 Jul 2007 /  #9
I thought this fashion was part of the regime's policy.
4 Jul 2007 /  #10
Fashion is most important. :)
4 Jul 2007 /  #11
Re: In clothing, the lack of choices put creativity in the hands of the purchaser.

- Hm, what would 'the lack of choices' mean? That there was just one uniform for all? If so, then no, it wasn't like that. There were clothes of various sizes, colours, and designs. Some of them looked fine, and they were often of a much better quality than the clothes you can purchase in today US and other places. The Chinese rubbish inundating the American and many European shops generally cannot compare with them.

re: One size fits all was a challenge.

- So the underlying assumption is that the clothes were of one size only? If so, the facts would totally contradict the assumption.

re: With food, it was similiar. Potaoes, herring, cabbage and vinegar.

- So your wife tells you that Poles ate only potatoes, herring, cabbage, and vinegar? If so, then, well, she doesn't seem to be in accordance with the facts. There was also lots of other food. After the lean Gomulka years, when meat was rather scarce for the majority of Poles, the Gierek years were generally much better. It got worse at the end of the Gierek decade, due to the well-known (at least to some) shortcomings of the central-planned economy (in a country, moreover, constantly ripped off by the Russians).

re: Do something special tonight....again.

- Was it allegedly so hard to do that? I don't think so.

re: Each day presented a challenge.

- Really? I thought it was all very safe, actually. Just think: 100 % employment (compulsory, moreover!), free day care, free medicare, free education, only symbolic rent etc. bills, no homelessness, paid holidays, etc. What would that alleged everyday challenge be?

re: She sometimes misses the daily struggle to get through til tomorrow.

- I wonder what did your wife struggle with so much? What did she do for a living in Communist (= Russian-occupied) Poland? No offense, but it seems to me that 'the daily struggle to get through til tomorrow' (sic) was the lot of the very few panhandlers and such. I don't expect your wife belonged to this category of people.

re: You were always busy.

- Actually, people had far more leisure time then than they have now.

So Communism had all those aforementioned advantages, and yet living in it was intolerable.

I wonder if any one knows why?
4 Jul 2007 /  #12
So Communism had all those aforementioned advantages, and yet living in it was intolerable.

I wonder if any one knows why?

It was this Jaruzelski look.
4 Jul 2007 /  #13
You would eat bananas or oranges once a year, stay in line for a pack of coffee for 2 hours

We appreciate anything better when there is less of it.

Now we take convenience for granted. My maternal grand parents did not have running water in their home. When I had spent a weekend there, and then returned home, I appreciated hot water in a tap and a flushing toilet. :)

But there is a kind of peace in living more simply.
4 Jul 2007 /  #14
We appreciate anything better when there is less of it.

That is why western men adore beautiful girls.

Anyway I was surprised that most people from former communist countries do not make many negative comments about that period.Some even prefer the way things were run by the communists.It is striking in every conversation that there is a big difference between what western media spread about the opinions of people in communist countries and what these people actually believed.After all communism did not fall by an uprising of folks.
4 Jul 2007 /  #15
re: western men

- And whom do you mean by that?
OP regionpolski  
4 Jul 2007 /  #16
Geez Puzzler, you come off as a propaganda marketer for the Party. Really. My wife, and others her age have told the same story. I don't know your age, but if life was as good as you claim, why change from this Utopia? Did you wait in lines? Seriously? Wait in line for a several hours, only to learn that the store ran out of whatever it was you wanted. Or stand in line for a few hours, and then get replaced by a relative, because you couldn't wait several hours? Did you ever sew you own clothes? Really? Again, I don't know your age? Wait six months to buy a washing machine? Wait a year to buy a color TV? Go to purchase furniture and find an empty store? Did you depend on relatives living in America to send you money? You have a self-righteuos way of calling people liars, pal. If life wasn't a daily struggle, what was the impetus for change? A life of convienence after several years of struggle can be boring at times. Was there always plenty of sugar at the store when you showed up with your rationing card? How were the lines to get baby food? If the store opened at 8AM, what time were in line? Waiting in line is one Hell of a use of liesure time, right?
5 Jul 2007 /  #17
re: You have a self-righteuos way of calling people liars, pal.

- Do you mean I called you a liar? Where? Who is self-righteous and lying here? I'll reply to the rest of your post later. And read my previous post once again - the one when I reply to your initial post. Read the question I ask at the end of it.

Peace, peace, pal.
5 Jul 2007 /  #18
To Regionpolski and others with experience of Communist Era Poland, please keep up this thread.
I don't speak Polish, German or Russian and have to rely on under 30's to translate for their parents (my contemporaries) and Grandparents when I visit Poland. The kids get bored with oldies talk and there is so much I would like to know about those times.

I love the grandparents gardens with their chickens, beehives and vegetables - just like my English grandparents, but my contemporaries went in for higher education and less gardening (just like me).

Poles in our family used to make road trips to Polish relatives in the 1970's & 80's with colour TV's, early computers, microwave ovens and similar unobtainables and I remember Levi jeans being high on the shopping list. The return trip brought some leather goods - jackets and shoes. I shudder to think how well instant cake mix and other foodstuffs were actually received.

I am ashamed to say that as a callow youth at that time, I took no interest in these matters and the really interesting older guys are now long dead.
5 Jul 2007 /  #19
If life wasn't a daily struggle

Commies suck very much, but really many people lived worse in 90's or even now.
5 Jul 2007 /  #20
Stazi spies live worse for sure.
5 Jul 2007 /  #21
You mean that conditions did not improve for Poland in the 1990's when 'financial wizard' George Soros brought his boys in with their 'shock therapy' & Lech Walesa became the president?
14 Aug 2007 /  #23
Yeah i was a boy in 1980,81,82 when the tough times were on. There was periods where food was scarce, we lived in the city. In the morning the bakery was swamped by people lining up for bread and other basics. My mother sent me once, she said ' i am sick of these stupid lines can you go?' So i went and the line was 150 people long. I lined up for 15 minutes and got nowhere. Anyway, because most of the people were adults they let me in the line infront of them and i tried to look really cute ( lol at the cunning! ), they must have thought i was a poor boy with no parents. From that day on i went to the shops on a regular basis. It was easy, i just start talking to the ladies and the men too and get further up the line, one day i was pushed to the front by people behind me and the guy who was at the very front objected. He turned around to see a 100 angry faces staring at him and just waved his hand and let me in, i won't forget that one. SUCKERS, I win!
18 Aug 2007 /  #24
I don't remember the good ol' Gierek years because I was in India then (as a child). But I was a young teenager in the eighties, and boy was life hard (in Warsaw). I think one occurrence just about sums it up: I was in Prague with my Mum, I could have been about 15, and we went into a sandwich bar to grab a bite to eat. And my Mum said: you can only have one sandwich, I need the rest of the money to buy something else. I remember looking at all the different tempting sandwiches on display (salami, egg, mayonnaise, ham, bacon, you name it) - and bursting into tears. I just couldn't make up my mind. It seemed so cruel to have to choose. I only got to eat "fancy food" about once a year, when I visited my family in Czechoslovakia... Back home it was bare basics, secondhand clothes I used to dye and adjust, bread lines (my parents thankfully never stood in line for carpets or TVs, just went without), empty shops full of vinegar bottles and sacks of salt. I still remember the shock when I could buy sugar or butter without food stamps. I daresay things have only improved since then.

The reason a lot of people have much fonder memories is probably because they remember the golden era of Gierek's rule in the seventies: he raked in millions of dollars in international loans, mostly American if I remember right. Farmers were granted credit which was usually written off. It was a fools' paradise and Poland is saddled with debt repayments to this day, unless I'm very much mistaken.
18 Sep 2007 /  #25
Hi everyone,

Something that I've often wondered, but have never been able to find a sensible answer to (ok, I haven't tried THAT hard): Did people own land under the former communist system? I know people in towns and cities didn't own their flats/apartments (i.e. they didn't hold title to them and couldn't sell them) but what was the deal with farmers and 'their' land?

People in rural communities in Poland today own land. How did they come by it? Did they continue to own family land throughout the communist period? Could they sell it or develop it in those days? Was it passed down from parents to children?

I'm intrigued by this since, in the West, we were always taught that communism meant that the means of production (including arable land) could not be privately owned.

Any clarification to undo my years subjected to propaganda?
18 Sep 2007 /  #26
farmers had continued to own family land throughout the communist period, the so-called collectivization of the land failed in Poland, so we had some kovchoz and sovchoz (called PGR and Spółdzielnie Rolnicze), but mostly in the Western, Northern and North-East Poland (generally on the lands given to Poland after the WWII, where there were no private owners, because they belonged mostly to the Germans before the war).

And in a city you could have a plot with a house, but it was illegal to own more than 1 house/apartment per family.
But you're also right about flats/apartments that didn't belong to the people, but it regarded mostly poorer classes, you simply had two options - eternal rent or buying

I think many of the people owned their flats in those blocks, but many couldn't afford them and some didn't want to buy, because they already owned another house.

I could give you some examples of real estate flow in my family, so you could understand better, but I'm too busy at the moment, maybe I'll write more some day this week :)
18 Sep 2007 /  #27
i was told that these queues had a postive effect in harsh times,because poles where brought together and swaped storys of the wwII which the censors had stoped poles getting correct facts, and life storys and jokes.
18 Sep 2007 /  #28
Thanks Krzysztof, very interesting. So, many families have owned the land they have now for generations, there wasn't an interregnum.

How did the system cope with people buying and selling land? I'm sure it was all immensely complicated, but I find it fascinating how little us Westerners know about the way the economy of half of Europe worked for so many decades (not that I'm assuming it was the same everywhere in the Eastern Bloc).

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