Between 1987 and 2004, Kjell Albin Abrahamson was an Eastern European correspondent (mostly for the Swedish Radio) stationed in Moscow, Warsaw and Vienna. However, it was in Poland that he thrived the best and where he returned to after the years in Austria and the Soviet Union. He lived in Poland until his death in 2016 at the age of 71. The book was published in 1998 and is about the history of Poland and Abrahamson’s view of the country and its population.
ERASED FROM THE MAP OF EUROPE. Between 1795 and 1863, Poland was controlled by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poland did not even exist on the map. Rising attempts were made in 1830, 1848 and 1863, but it was only at the third attempt that Poland could begin its resurrection as a nation. But it was not until the end of World War I until Poland officially re-emerged as a nation. Poland then had 21 “free” years with – as Abrahamson calls him – the “soft dictator” Josef Polsidsku in power before it was time to again lose control of their country.
STUCK BETWEEN HITLER AND STALIN. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany attacks Poland, marking the beginning of World War II. On September 17, the Soviet Union attacks from the east and three weeks later the country is divided between the two invaders. World War II hit Poland hard and it is estimated that six million Poles died in the war, out of the war’s total casualties of 50-80 million people.
MEETING IN TEHRAN CREATES EASTERN EUROPE. In 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met in Tehran to agree on the balance of power in Europe after World War II. Abrahamson believes that it was this meeting that made Eastern Europe communist and that caused fifty years of suffering for its inhabitants. After the end of World War II and the takeover of power by the Communists, Eastern Europe was characterized by a monopoly of opinions, oppression and corruption. The red aristocracy lived well, the people in whose name the Communists ruled lived in poverty and had to live through eternal queues for simple groceries. In addition, there was overcrowding, and the food was of low quality. Human resources were used very inefficiently in the industries and environmental pollution was unparalleled.
AN ELECTRICIAN MAKES THE EAST STUMBLE. In 1980, the trade union Solidarity was formed in connection with a strike unrest at the shipyards in Gdansk. The strike spread across the country and the association’s leader, the electrician Lech Walesa, would later play a major role in the fall of communist Eastern Europe. The following year, 1981, a state of emergency was introduced. Solidarity was banned and several of its leaders were imprisoned. Walesa was also imprisoned, but the Solidarity movement could not be stopped and continued through boycott actions, demonstrations, underground press and information dissemination. This hit the country’s already weak economy hard and in 1988 the regime was forced to legalize Solidarity. The following year, the first free election in the Eastern block was held. Ten years after the outbreak of the strike, Walesa was appointed as Poland’s first elected president.
MARKET REFORMS & PRIVATIZATIONS. In the early 1990s, the reform from plan economy to market economy began. As early as 1991, the Polish stock exchange (which was in operation back in 1919–1939) was revived and initially there were five listed companies. During the 1990s, Poland was primarily an agricultural economy and in 1996, 20% of the population worked in the agriculture sector, compared with the then 2% in the United States. At that time, there were still more horses than tractors in the country. In 1995, Walesa was replaced by Alexander Kwasniewski, who was elected the country’s second president. For much of the 1990s, Poland maintained the highest growth rate in Europe.
THE POLE ACCORDING TO ABRAHAMSON. Abrahamson describes Poles as digital people, either one or zero, hate or love, yes or no – nothing in between or on the other side. With the black-or-white thinking comes irrationality like the “Polish truths” that rich people are always tricky businessmen, that politicians never tell the truth, that taxes are only for the benefit of those in power and that the bad situation in the country only gets worse and worse. However, he also has a lot to say about the Poles and their strong will to rise through wars, occupations, divisions and map erasures. Abrahamson describes Polish as a fun language full of comic expressions. Among other things, a divorced woman is called a “warm widow” and stingy people are said to “have a snake in their pocket”.