Sunday, July 13, 2008

Greetings from Sunny Warsaw

While perhaps the title of this post seems like a joke to some, and it happens to be raining during the evening as I write this, Warsaw was indeed quite sunny all day today. In fact, it was almost Los Angeles hot here today.

I spent the day with Marcin, Adam and Olga tooling around Warsaw. The Warsaw Uprising Museum seems twice as large as it was when I last visited two years ago. The most interesting part of the museum is finding out about the people and their feats, but there is also military hardware to peruse (including a Liberator bomber hanging from the ceiling of a newer section). A recent purchase of letters with stamps minted during the rising itself was an especially interesting new curatorial find. During the uprising, a post office and newspaper was set up specifically to spread news during the fighting. It is an amazing testament to the drive for self-determination amongst Varsovians during that period.

We also went to a cemetery where soldiers, prominent citizens, and people who were persecuted by the Soviets in Siberia are buried, which was very interesting in its juxtapositions, such as being the home of both the Communist General Secretary Gomulka and a spy who turned over Warsaw Pact documents to the CIA named Kaminski. Many units of Armia Krajowa soldiers are buried there, as well as units from the 1920 Polish-Soviet war, and the January Uprising of 1863.
Beside them may lie victims of Soviet deportations to Siberia (those who returned to die at home, that is), as well as loyal Communists and pro-Soviet military units. Quite a lot of history is reflected in the graves in that cemetery.

Finally we went to the Praga district, pretty much the only place in Warsaw where there are pre-WWII buildings. The highlight, for me, was a disused Vodka factory that is slowly being converted into a mall for boutique shops and a cinema. Fortunately, for now, it is still mostly disused and therefore still interesting to look at.

Many of the oldest residential buildings in the district are very run-down, victims of a deliberate Soviet policy of moving the very poor into this district, and running out artists and intellectuals. Artists have begun to return, which is a good sign, but so have yuppies and now there are plenty of restaurants and boutiques in Praga that neither the desperate poor, working class, nor artists can afford to go to. Poland's economic modernization is still emergent, and the government is struggling to adapt a German model of quality social services but with a robust private sector. It is a work in progress.

(Note: I will update this post with photos when I get a chance to upload them. The connection in this hotel is very slow.)