Saturday, May 01, 2004

May 1, 2004 - Poland joins the EU

17 years ago this week I was in Poland. I can clearly remember May Day in Lublin as a light-hearted affair with colorful parades and street theatre. Unfortunately, neither I nor any of the other 3 guys I was with could speak Polish and there were very, very few people who spoke English. So, we were unable to judge how happy the people were.

What was clear was that Poland was incredibly poor. Farmers ploughing behind horses, children dressed in rags and too many people ready to do anything for us "rich" Americans for a lousy dollar bill. The 4 of us combined had dinner and drinks in any restaurant for less than a Happy Meal cost in New York. We had so much more than they had that we felt awkward and uncomfortable.

My clearest memory of that trip, however, is from May 3 in Krakow. We had no idea, but May 3 is a special day for Poles. In the 1980s, May 3 was a date of protest for Solidarity. On Sunday, May 3, 1987, we came out of Mass in Krakow Cathedral and found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a huge protest. It was exhilarating and maddening, especially as we watched the bravest protesters get clubbed by the police when they attempted to exit the Cathedral grounds and enter the city.

Now fast-forward 17 years and Poland and 7 other former Communist bloc nations are today joining the EU. I'm not a great fan of the EU, but I am happy for the Poles et al because as frustrating as the EU is, it's still a huge improvement over what they had for 50 years after WWII. Today they feel that they are rejoining Europe, which is great.

{By the way, if you're planning to go to Poland, my recommendation based on 17-year-old memories is go to Krakow rather than Warsaw. Krakow was spared the worst of WWII bombings and the old city is beautiful. The old city in Warsaw is a recreation and felt like it.}