The Curious Case of Cacica

August 26, 2013
Land that Time Forgot

Land that Time Forgot

Cacica is one of those magical places that we find in Europe. It lies in an area forgotten by many and is not the easiest place in the world to get to. Cacica lies in Suceava county where the inhabitants speak a cocktail of languages: Romanian, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Slovak and there are also a handful of… Lipovans. Religion-wise, again, it’s a cocktail. Orthodox, Catholics and… Old Believers. Who are the Lipovans? Who are the Old Believers? And there lies the beauty and mystery of this part of the world. It’s one of Europe’s borderlands that have seen a variety of powers come and go. Yet, it remains as magical as before.

Moldoviţa Monastery

Magical Monastery

To the north of Suceava county lies Ukraine, to the west lie the Carpathians and fabled county of Maramureş. Most of the county lies in southern Bukovina, in Moldavia (not to be confused with Moldova). Suceava county lies in Romania. Cacica, and the county in which is lies, is remarkable. 74% of the inhabitants of Cacica are Romanian but over 20% are Polish (with another 4% Ukrainian). The beginnings of Cacica (also known by many of its residents as Kaczyka) date back to the 1780s when the village became famous for salt-mining with many (German) miners coming from the (Polish) town of Bochnia. And thus began Kaczyka’s ties with Poland.

Bochnian Legacy

Bochnian Salt Mine Legacy

With its army of Bochnians, Cacica inherited the Polish tradition of salt mining. Tourists familiar with the mines of southern Poland will notice similarities between Cacica salt mine and the famed mines of Bochnia and Wieliczka. The salt frescoes and sculptures bear a striking resemblance to the ones in Wieliczka. The Polish salt connection does not end there. Not far from Cacica lie the villages of Soloneţu Nou (Nowy Soloniec), Solca (Solka) [Polish sól = salt], Pleşa (Plesza) and Poiana Micului (Pojana Mikuli) with either a large Polish minority or Polish majority.

Old Believer Persecution

Old Believer Persecution

Yet another curiosity is the handful of Lipovans to be found in Bukovina. The Lipovans is the name given to the ethnic Russian Old Believers in Romania, a schismatic sect of the Russian Orthodox church which split from orthodoxy in 1666 (as they wanted to be more orthodox and did not agree with the reforms of Patriarch Nikon). They were persecuted in Russia and many fled. The men do not shave, they cross themselves with two fingers (not three) and do not use polyphonic singing in church but rather chant. Indeed, with its small troop of Lipovans, native Ukrainians and Bochnian Poles, Cacica, Suceava and Bukovina is an odd little corner of the world.


Poland Has a Cross to Bear

August 18, 2010

Shit Hits the Plaque

Shit Hits the Plaque

Things have really reached boiling point and one could colloquially add that the shit really has hit the fan in Poland. A ‘faecal’ assailant soiled the plaque commemorating the death of President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other passengers in the Smolensk air tragedy. A 71-year-old threw a strategically aimed pot of poo at the memorial tablet in central Warsaw. He was arrested by police and taken away. This follows several months of  squabbling over what should happen to the cross that was temporarily erected outside the Presidential Palace by scouts in memory of the victims of the Smolensk tragedy.

José & Jarek - Feel the Love

José Luis Zapatero & Jarek Kaczyński - Feel the Love

It all started when President Bronisław Komorowski announced that the temporary wooden cross should be transferred to a more appropriate place, specifically Saint Anne’s Church, not far from the Presidential Palace. The cross is of course a religious symbol and not a symbol of state and it is inappropriate to leave it outside the Presidential Palace. His comments kicked off a storm with Jarosław Kaczyński claiming Komorowski was anti-catholic and a proponent of the evil of what he termed ‘Zapaterism’.

Crucifixion Anyone?

Crucifixion Anyone?

The odd thing is that no one, apart from Jarosław Kaczyński, seems to know what evil deed it is that Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has done. With a lack of decent policies, sound ideas and competent opinions, Kaczyński has been using the cross as a political makeweight. In fact, he has said that the policies of Law & Justice (PiS) will now revolve around the Smolensk tragedy. Kaczyński is literally crucifying his own party and followers in pursuit of his own personal mission. His personal loss seems to have clouded his judgement and the cross has begun to symbolise his hurt rather than the mission of Christ and his followers. Those so-called ‘defenders’ of the cross are to Catholics what hooligans are to regular football fans.

Christian or Fascist?

Christian or Fascist?

A fine example of the utter blindness of these so-called Christians was their behaviour when the day came to move the cross. Priests from Saint Anne’s came to lead the cross in procession from the Presidential Palace to Saint Anne’s Church. The reaction of these ‘Catholics’ was to scream and shout at the Catholic priests calling them traitors and, of all things, “Jews”. Odd, to say the least. We have reached an impasse and the only real way to resolve it is for the two main protagonists, President Komorowski and Jarosław Kaczyński, to sit down and reach an adequate compromise. Then again pigs might fly…

Capital of Hope or Despair?

May 3, 2009
Expensive Dump?

Expensive Dump?

As much as I dislike the methodologies put to use in most polls and surveys nowadays, one can’t help wondering if there’s any truth behind them at all. This is especially true of the latest survey which seeks to assess the quality of living in various cities throughout the world. I took a good look at the whole list and was horrified to learn that Warsaw is 85th out of a possible 215 (with Bahgdad being last). Our Eastern European neighbours also did poorly – Ljubljana came 78th, Bratislava was 88th whereas Zagreb was 103rd. What does this say about Eastern Europe? What does this say about Warsaw? Mercer, who conducted the survey, seems to think the living standards in Eastern Europe have gone up but this survey will do little to advertise our little corner of Europe.

Reasons to Despair
Mercer looks at 39 factors when they ranked the cities. These roughly form ten categories. Namely:

  1. Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement)
  2. Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services)
  3. Socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom)
  4. Health and sanitation (medical services, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution)
  5. Schools and education (standard and availability of international schools)
  6. Public services and transport (electricity, water, public transport, traffic congestion)
  7. Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure)
  8. Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars)
  9. Housing (housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services)
  10. Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)

Points to Consider
It’s pretty easy to see what Warsaw is doing wrong and what the city authorities might do in the future to improve the living standards of its inhabitants. Most denizens of Warsaw will agree that points 4, 5, 6, 7 need to be addressed sooner than later. The number of hospitals and clinics of a high standard is far too low for a member of the European Union. Parents are having increasingly more problems with finding adequate kindergartens for their children in the capital. Much to the chagrin of Warsaw’s authorities, the metro is laughable. An underground with one line and a handful of stops is most certainly not sufficient for a city the size of Warsaw. Finally, Poland’s capital may seem to have a rich assortment of cultural events but these are miniscule compared with cities like Prague, Vienna or Berlin.

Things to Do
What is most important is the fact that Varsovians, Warsawites, call them what you will, can have a big say in how Warsaw will look in the future. Even though I’ve only lived in this city for a few years I’ve been visiting Warsaw since I was a child. This city is completely different to the one I remember as a young lad. First of all, there was nothing to do in Warsaw a few decades ago. The city was a mass of grey and dirty blocks of flats. Now, at least, a whole palette of different colours has splashed onto the cityscape; cinemas, restaurants and bars fill the streets and there are more smiling faces around. All it takes is for people to care. Communism meant that nobody gave a damn. Now, people want to put flowers in their balconies and keep the streets tidy. It may not be much, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Top Ten Cities
For those of you who are interested, the top ten cities in the world with regard to living standards are:

  1. Vienna, Austria
  2. Zurich, Switzerland
  3. Geneva, Switzerland
  4. Vancouver, Canada
  5. Auckland, New Zealand
  6. Dusseldorf, Germany
  7. Munich, Germany
  8. Frankfurt, Germany
  9. Bern, Switzerland
  10. Sydney, Australia

Note how many are in Europe!

Round Table Anniversary

February 6, 2009

Mazowiecki, Kuroń, Wałęsa, Kwaśniewski...

Foreground (l-r): Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Lech Wałęsa. Background (l-r): Kuroń, Geremek, Kwaśniewski.

Today is a wonderful day. The 6th February 2009 is the 20th anniversary of one of the most important moments in European history. On the 6th February 1989, twenty years ago, the so-called ‘Round Table’ talks kicked off in Warsaw and so began the dismantling of the totalitarian regime in Poland.

Good vs. Evil
The Round Table talks were pretty amazing as they saw the communist government invite representatives of Solidarity (the anti-government, anti-communist, pro-democratic semi-legal opposition) as well as members of the Catholic Church (sworn enemies of communism) to the table in order to discuss the future. The very fact that all of these people were able, and wanted, to sit down and together discuss the future of their country was unprecedented on a European, and perhaps even global, scale.

Forces of Good
The members of the Solidarity opposition who sat at the Round Table (and in later years became key figures in Polish politics) included: Lech Wałęsa (leader of Solidarity), Bronisław Geremek (chief consultant to Lech Wałęsa), Tadeusz Mazowiecki (editor-in-chief of the weekly Solidarność), Jacek Kuroń (Solidarity advisor and founder of the Workers’ Defence Committee), Adam Michnik (Solidarity advisor and Workers’ Defence Committee member) and Lech Kaczyński (Solidarity advisor).

Forces of Evil
The governmental side at the Round Table included: General Czesław Kiszczak (member of the Politbiuro and Minister of Internal Affairs), Leszek Miller (member of the Central Committee of the Party) and Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Minister for Young People).  The infamous General Kiszczak is said to have played a fundamentally positive role in the talks. Leszek Miller and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, perhaps not huge players at the time, were set for dazzling careers in Polish politics in the years to come.

Wałęsa at the Table

Wałęsa at the Table

The talks were pivotal in the fact that they saw the bitterest of enemies sit down and constructively discuss the future of a nation on the brink of economic and social collapse. As a result, Solidarity gained a tangible foothold in Eastern European politics and led to the disintegration of communism throughout Europe. The Round Table not only began the erosion of communism within Europe, but the participants (including the much-maligned communists) actively worked towards the dismantling of a totalitarian regime that they realised no longer had a future.

Round Table Careers
The political legacy of the talks can still be felt today. Beginning with the Solidarity side, Lech Wałęsa went on to become President of Poland, Bronisław Geremek was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was Poland’s first post-war democratically-elected Prime Minister, Jacek Kuroń became Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Adam Michnik founded Poland’s first post-war free newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and Lech Kaczyński is currently President of Poland. As for the communists, Leszek Miller became Polish Prime Minster whereas Aleksander Kwaśniewski was President of Poland. Three Presidents, two Prime Ministers and a host of ministers is quite a legacy.

Is Poland a Secular Society?

January 13, 2008

RydzThe answer to the question may be obvious to many people, but things are not always as obvious as they might seem. Is the Pope Catholic? Is the average Pole religious? These questions do not always give us the same answer.

The Godfather
Radio Maryja Godfather Tadeusz Rydzyk is fighting an ongoing campaign with ruling Civic Platform (PO). He is well known for his racist, nationalist and anti-liberal sentiments and Donald Tusk seems to make for ideal target practice. Tusk recently mentioned that the College/University of Higher Education set up my Rydzyk will be treated like any other private educational institution and the preferential treatment afforded the school by Law and Justice (PiS) has come to an end. Rydzyk replied with some lacklustre comment.

Rydzyk on the Run
Rydzyk’s days could be numbered. If PO implements its pre-election promises, the racist exploits of Radio Maryja and insulting talks of Rydzyk during his lectures at the Toruń school could come to an end. That is, of course, if Donald Tusk has the balls to push his ideas through and realise them.

Feeble Platform
However, PO does not look up to the task – a party of um-ing and ah-ing, a party of indecision that appears to be more fractured than it first seemed. The recent in vitro scandal showed the public that Tusk & co are not prepared to grit their teeth to push through social (and cultural) reform but are scared witless of the church.

Church of Power
So, is Poland a secular society? A difficult question to answer. The Polish Catholic Church is an extremely powerful institution bloated by decades of far-reaching influence thanks to the Polish Pope JPII. The Polish Church was (and is) in effect untouchable, which explains the nature of the ‘Rydzyk problem’.

Church of Indifference
Even though millions confess to being ardent Catholics, Polish society cannot be described as the most forgiving and loving nation on the Earth. There is no direct correlation between ‘being a good person’ and ‘calling oneself religious’ (regardless of religion).

Polish Paradox
On the one hand, the Polish Church is an amazingly influential institution, but on the other hand, there is an increasingly large number of young Polish people walking away from the Catholic Church and organised religion. What we are witnessing is a splintering of society with the older (communist-filled, grey, dull) generation idealising the Church as their only saviour. We have to remember, the genuinely huge role the Church played in the destruction of communism. The young generation have never needed this kind of support and therefore, in pratical terms, the Church for them is redundant.

Polish Society
So is Poland a secular society? Which part of Poland? the cities? The villages? Western Poland? Eastern Poland? Today’s Poland is a divided society and it is difficult to make generalisations and adapt theories to a country which is still feeling the effects of the culturally crippling partitions which came to an end little over ninety years ago.