From my earlier posts, you can tell that I am back home for a while already - the trip back from Warsaw was rather uneventful, as it should be. I finally got round to sorting out the pictures of the trip, which you can see here.
I had a great time with my Polish friends, particularly W & A - thank you very much, guys! But I am not entirely sure what to make of the place as such. One thing is for sure: Warsaw has a distinctly separate identity from other Eastern European cities I've seen so far, i.e. Budapest, Prague and Vienna. It's probably not a coïncidence that these places have once been imperial cities of the Austria-Hungarian empire, which gives them a lot of common heritage, despite of their respective differences. Not so Warsaw: This is clearly a separate country with a strong slavonic influence, not least in the language, which seems to be largely untainted with English. Also, relatively few people seem to speak foreign languages - it was rather odd to occasionally have to resort to Russian as the lingua franca.
Another very sad difference is that Warsaw has been virtually obliterated during WWII. This city has seen far more than its fair share of attrocities, violence and wars in the not too distant past, and this still reverberates eerily in its atmosphere. If you see the pictures of Warsaw's beautiful old city centre, you wouldn't think that it has only been rebuilt from scratch some 50 years ago. And yet, the veneer feels precariously thin.
But the future looks bright, I think: Despite of their often tragic history, the Poles appear to be a proud, confident & incredibly resilient people. Probably for the first time in their history, they will have the opportunity to bring that to bear in the peaceful environment of the European Union, upon which they could have a very favourable influence if they set their sights to it. Stolat to that!
In other news, I was unable to resist the temptation to invest in a fine piece of graphic art by Andrzej Kasprzak from this place, which has a great selection of contemporary (apparently, they'd better be alive, otherwise you'd have trouble exporting them!) Polish artists.
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Maybe this is the 'real' Eastern Europe?
It certainly is one incarnation of it. On the whole, however, I believe that Eastern Europe is a question of degree, or of gradual transition between different identities, as best (but also most conflict prone) characterised by the Balcans.
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