Culture in Poland during Communism

Access to culture, the REAL culture, not a mass culture type of Disneyland and talk show was quite good in Poland. Maybe, it was caused by a fact that because of not having so many attractive and tempting products people concentrate on something more spiritual, maybe because they did not have so much access to the "easy" culture like komix books, shut out movies etc. Of course some of the cultural programs were "painted" with ideological propaganda but people learn how to separate the fruit from the

One of the reasons why people were watching programming that was artistically and thought challenging - we had only two TV programs available. Everybody knew that on Monday after the main news is a TV theatre with Polish and international performances. On Sunday was usually movie in series - like for instance an Italian film about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, French historical "Great Escapes", English "Henry the VIIIth and his Wives" series or mythological "Odyssea" or "Eneida". The next day in offices or factories people were discussing the current developments. The soap operas came later and probably the most popular remained the Brazilian soap entitled "Slave Isaura".

The culture in Poland was not commercialized and the artists, writers did not need to write something easy but shocking to appeal to publishers or to the readers. TV programs were never interrupted by commercial breaks. Of course the publishing policy was not always and everywhere based only on the artistic value of the book. The author who was more politically correct had a better chance to be published in more copies but even these who did not behave in agreement with party line could be published. There were many publishing houses, some of them not owned by state. Christian or Catholic publishing houses ("Pax" and "Znak") were more than glad to publish even non-religious authors that were of any artistic value. Of course in some instance the Censorship office intervened and the book could be stopped or author banned.
For instance the books of Czeslaw Milosz were allowed for publication only after he was awarded a Nobel Prize.

Every Thursday after a criminal or detective type of story called "Kobra" (Cobra) we had a cultural TV program called "Pegas" with information and discussion about the cultural and artistic life and events in Poland. This program avoided any political propaganda although it had probably its highest popularity in 70-es.

Polish artists did not earn too much money maybe it was an additional reasons why they were easy accessible for the common people. The working places organized trips to the theatres for their workers, the artists sometimes were even performing at schools. I remember when I was in the elementary school for some time we had opera singers from the Krakow´s famous opera to come to our school and teach us about opera and to perform. It was fun although I don't think that we kids really appreciate what is given to us.

The Polish artists could express to the certain extend their dissatisfaction from the political system. It was done by Andrzej Wajda (Oscar Honorary Award 2000) in "Man of Marble" or by Krzysztof Zanussi in many movies in the late 70-ies. During military law many Polish actors publicly opposed the regime and were performing in so called second circulation for instance in churches or to limited audiences.

Check articles about Polish culture and communism.

If you want to understand political, social and economical changed that takes place in Poland in the mid-1980 I recommend an excellent book written by Jadwiga Staniszkis
The Dynamics of the Breakthrough in Eastern Europe: The Polish Experience

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, February 2001 (article #28)

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