Global Dispatches: Communism Gone, Potholes Remain

April 3, 2011 Updated: April 4, 2011

Since I like happy endings I’m going to reverse the chronology for this one.

“You’re lucky your wheel didn’t fall off completely!” Then a grin from a grease-covered man in grubby overalls. He grabbed the wheel and gave it a good shake. Clang, clang, clang!

“You lose control of the car?” I shook my head. Not in denial, mind you, but acute discontent. Lousy Polish roads got me—again!

In Poland, which is famous for its bad roads that see the greatest number of traffic deaths of any EU country; nary a week passes in which my car is not battered in one way or other.

This happened couple of days ago when I was driving back home after covering a story in the city of Katowice in southwestern Poland. I was leaving the region of Silesia known as Poland’s Deep South replete with a distinctive southern drawl and rather rudely denied autonomy that gives rise to the occasional “The South Will Rise Again!” attitude, when I slammed into the mother of all potholes.

Actually, this hole could rightly take offense at being described as anything less than a full-fledged crater.

My mood had been pretty chipper as I left Katowice. The otherwise fairly solemn event that I had attended had ended in a riot of laughter thanks to the antics of one of Poland’s best-known comedians and singer-songwriters, a fellow named Jan Pietrzak.

I’ll share a joke of his about buying a car in Poland under communism. Cars were in shockingly short supply then because there was only one producer, Polmozbyt, in the whole country. Here goes:

A guy wants to buy a car. After months of requesting, he is finally issued a ration coupon, which entitles him to buy the car. He takes the ration coupon to the state-owned bank and pays for the car. He walks away with a receipt, which he takes to Polmozbyt to arrange delivery. Polmozbyt takes his receipt, checks the delivery schedule and tells him to come back in exactly eight years to collect his car. Thinking for a moment, the buyer asks, “But when exactly, morning or afternoon?” “What’s the difference?” comes the reply. “Because I’ve got a plumber scheduled for that day!”

But Pietrzak was just the unexpected icing on the cake. I actually went there because the National Bank of Poland (the central bank responsible for printing money) was presenting a commemorative coin to honor the 30th anniversary of the founding of the NZS (Niezalezny Zwiazek Studentow, which translates as Independent Student’s Association). I went down to cover the ceremony and to interview the founding members and some of the old NZS activists, most of who spent time in prison for their fight against the repressive regime.

According to Jaroslaw Guzy, the first-ever president of the NZS, the association and Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc, fought side-by-side against communism.

"The Association was a special part of the Solidarity movement because it was made up of young people, and what particularly connected us with young workers was that we rejected communism completely. We focused on the here and now and believed that communism had to fall and that it had to fall in our time. That was our aim and in this respect there was no compromise."

And when it finally did fall in 1989, the NZS became a traditional student’s association, representing more run-of-the-mill student interests in Poland.

Thursday afternoon, as I was leaving Warsaw for Katowice, I smiled to myself at the thought of a long weekend road trip.

“Come what may, so long as it’s a happy ending!”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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