Mon, Mar 21, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Cash-strapped Poles nostalgic for their communist past

LOOKING BACK The market economy and corrupt government that has failed many in Poland has made days of a state-directed economy look more attractive

DPA , Warsaw

When the communist bloc crumbled 15 years ago, no one thought the Poles, frequent political scandals have made the communist past seem less unattractive to many Poles than it once did.

Now the Gierek era of the 1970s is in fashion, much as the clothes of the time are back in the shops.

Gone are the days when young people could irritate their parents by wearing T-shirts with communist symbols like the hammer and sickle.

They have been replaced with fond memories of the time when the state took care of everything, when the future was secure.

This is even reflected in the advertising world. One food chain is advertising: "Sausages like they were under Gierek." A popular television program broadcast at prime time over the weekend allows older people to recall the supposedly better times and the younger generation to brush up on their knowledge of the country's socialist history.

The program reveals, for example, how much meat without bones a Polish citizen was entitled to each month, or the slogans with which the state tried to encourage industrial and agricultural workers alike to increase production.

"We want to show viewers that there were also unpleasant times under the People's Republic," director Andrzej Horubala says.

For those older than 50, the years under Edward Gierek represent modest prosperity, during which working people could aspire to owning a small car.

The Fiats made in Poland at the time represented a realizable dream to millions of Poles.

Gierek, who was general secretary of the party and first secretary from 1970 to 1980, enjoyed popularity in his native Upper Silesia in western Poland at the beginning of the 1980s, after he had been thrown out of power.

There is now an initiative in the central Polish town of Piotrkow Trybunalski to erect a monument to the man, of whom post-communist president Lech Walesa once said: "On the list of Poland's communist first secretaries, Gierek did the least harm."

And the "Gierek movement for economic revival" wants to recall the prosperity of the times by reviving the economy.

Pawel Bozyk, an economic adviser to the communist government under Gierek and the youngest professor in Poland at the time, is currently working on a program explicitly based on the Gierek economic miracle.

"In the early Gierek years the shops were full. There were Western goods, more homes were being built than there are now," Bozyk says, recalling the mood of the times.

More critical observers point out that much of the prosperity was based on loans from the West, in particular from Germany.

It is primarily those who have lost out as a result of the change to a market economy who look back to the Gierek years with nostalgia.

They feel they have been left behind in the race to catch up with the West and are not able to afford the goods on show in the shop windows.

But there are also younger people who regard the Gierek era as a time to look back on with pride.

"People had jobs then, whereas today there is no future for us," a young technical student from Warsaw told the program.

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