APU Careers & Learning Everyday Scholar Online Learning Podcast

The Harsh Realities of a Communist Childhood in Poland

Podcast by Dr. Bjorn Mercer, DMA, Department Chair, Communication and World Languages and
Dr. Karolina Kopczyński, Faculty Member, School of Arts, Humanities, and Education

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to send shockwaves around the world. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Karolina Kopczynski shares her personal story of growing up in communist Poland and sheds some light on the geopolitical turmoil that has affected the region for decades.

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Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Hello. My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, and today we’re talking to Dr. Karolina Kopczynski, faculty in the School of Arts, Humanities, and Education. Today, our conversation is about growing up in Poland. Welcome, Karolina.

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: Thank you for having me here.

[Related: Commonly Asked Questions about Our Foreign Language Courses]

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I’m really excited to have you. Unfortunately, we’re talking about this, specifically, because of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Needless to say, we’re recording this at the end of June and the war is still going on. It’s hard to say how long it will go on. Hopefully, it comes to a speedy end. However, it doesn’t seem like that. And so, my first question is what was it like growing up in a communist Poland?

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: Well, I obviously was very young. I was born in ’75, so Poland at that time was already a communistic country. So, during ’70s, I just remember from the stories of my grandparents telling me how difficult life was. And then from my parents, my parents were born in the ’50s, they would share stories about, obviously, trying to make it on a daily basis. Going to school, trying to have a job, trying to pay the bills to help out. It was really, really difficult. So, I didn’t think, really, much of it because as a child, I can’t say that I was really interested in politics. However, I think everything started when I was about six years old, when I was going to kindergarten. We lived rather far away from where our family was.

Our family was in the center of Stalowa Wola, and we were really in the outskirts, close to a city called Nisko, so we had to walk because, obviously, we don’t have school buses. We had to walk to school. At that time, my mom would walk me to the kindergarten. It was about a 35-minute, speedy walk. So, after she was picking me up from work, she would say, and this was in ’81, this is pretty much when martial law started, she would always say, “Don’t look at anything. Just keep your eyes on the road and just keep on walking. Don’t look at anything.” And obviously, when you say don’t look, what do you do? You look. So in the city, I could see everything. I could see soldiers on the street. I could see tanks parked. There was a lot of violence happening. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t really do anything. You couldn’t travel. Everything was just forbidden.

This is pretty much when the communism took over, to the point that as a person, you were receiving, and you can imagine, a card which looked exactly the size of a business card, which was divided into small, tiny squares. About one centimeter each, on the top and on the bottom and on the side, and it was nothing in the middle. In the middle was your name. So, my mom would receive one and my father would receive one, and each square represented the portion of food that you can get per month. So obviously, people were paid per month, which was already very difficult, and now you could only get one kilogram of meat, one kilogram of sugar per month. You could get half a kilogram of candy, one bottle of vodka. So everything was so portioned that even if you had a lot of money, which people did have, they couldn’t get anything. They couldn’t purchase anything.

It was really, really hard. I’ve seen my mom crying quite often and talking to my dad, “What are we going to do? It’s so hard for kids.” And then sometimes, you would go to the store with the money, but the shelves were empty because there was a shortage of food, so you couldn’t make it. I remember when I was about that age, six, seven, I was spending a lot of time at my grandparents’ house on my father’s side because they lived right across from the elementary school. I would go and I would sit down in the kitchen. I would talk to my grandma and I would always say, “Why do you guys have so much bread at home? It seems like majority of it is going to waste,” and then my grandmother explained that during the war, there was nothing to eat so, therefore, they would rather have more than not have enough. Because when you go two, three weeks without food, obviously it’s very difficult.

I did understand what they meant because at school, we don’t have school lunches. After each class, you have 10-minute break. Then after second period, 15, then 20, then 25, 30, and you have about 40 minutes for lunch. So even in elementary school, you could leave the school and run to the store and purchase something. Obviously, nobody was going because number one, nobody had money. I remember sitting in a hallway with my friend and we would look around, and there were kids who had bread and they had ham inside. And I remember my mom, and she would ask me, she says, “I’m going to make you a sandwich.” “No, no, no. I’m not hungry. I really don’t want to eat.” And she’s like, “Well, you have to.” “I really don’t.” I was just ashamed to have a piece of bread with butter, and she would sometimes put sugar on it, and that was my lunch for school.

Literally she would get meat, she would buy it with her sister and they would cook it slowly, and then would put them in jars. So, it was just a little bit of meat and all that fat that was there and literally, we would have sandwiches for dinner because there were no potatoes, no rice, no pasta. Forget about it. There was luxurious food. We would have a bread with that spread on, yellow onion, salt, and that’s what we would eat. I remember the beginning of the communism when I was about six, seven years old. I obviously didn’t like it much because I said, “Dad, can I have an orange?” And he says, “What? No, you cannot have an orange because we just can’t purchase one. There is just nowhere to buy it. Not enough money to buy it from. And besides, where would you get it when you only have a small little card telling you how much money you can spend?”

So, to answer your question, the beginning wasn’t very pleasant. It was a lot of disappointing moments. Same thing in school, I was sharing a pair of sneakers with my friend because she didn’t have it, and in the gym we had to obviously run. I would run first and then come back, take my shoes off, give it to her. She would use them, she would run, and that was normal. Nobody would comment because people simply didn’t have it. And families were big, because where I lived in the apartment building, there were 40 families. I lived on the second floor, the family that was underneath, they had four kids. The family that was all the way to the top on a third floor, they had six kids, so it was really, really hard. Neighbors were helping each other. If you didn’t use something, you would leave it in front of your door or put it in front of their door, like clothing or food, to help each other because it was really, really hard.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It’s hard to know how to react to that. I was also born in ’75, I guess the other side of the world, in Astoria, Oregon, so I don’t remember any hardships growing up. I think that’s one of the huge positives of the US is that the whole capitalistic free market, et cetera, it allowed companies to just kind of do what they want and to try to make money. But it also meant that consumers were able to buy, and we have had enough. I mean, the only time I’ve ever experienced any kind of lacking in anything has been because of COVID, and that reason is complex also. It’s not just rushes to the grocery store, but also logistics and certain things that have happened with only one factory in the country for this and that, which of course is a bad thing.

But when I think of Poland in ’82 and ’83, we were in Crete. My dad was in the military and part of NATO base which, of course, was in direct opposition to the Warsaw Pact, famously named after Warsaw, the capital of Poland. And it just seems so utterly bizarre to think that here I was, a six-year-old kid in Crete, part of a military family in opposition to Poland. Again, we can have a wonderful, wider conversation about the frivolity and the uselessness of war and conflicts. But why do you think Poland, after having just the horrific events of Poland during World War II, besides the Holocaust, the great number of lives lost of Poles in Poland during World War II is just staggering? Was it just the communistic, authoritarian kind of grip on the country that they wanted to control everything? They felt threatened from NATO? Because Poland’s a big country, lots and lots of fields. There’s lots of possibilities for production that, like you were saying, with the lack of food, that’s a human issue.

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: And I think this is what started happening in the ’80s, because I remember we still had black and white TV, and I remember all the protestors, even my mom’s two brothers, my grandfather, who were going to the factory and staying over there and, obviously, having strikes because they didn’t agree with the regime. They didn’t agree with what was happening because they said this can be much better. I think it was the first secretary of Poland. His name was Edward Giermek. And from what I understood from my grandpa is that he took a lot of loans and wanted to improve Poland, obviously, as a country, and obviously, everything backfired, so everything resulted in domestic crisis. Farmers were not represented, so what was happening with them because this is practically where Lech Wałęsa came from with Solidarność, because that was the only thing that was on TV, on a radio, you would constantly hear.

People just said enough is enough, but from what I’ve read and studied in school during history, that the president who was in charge in ’81, Wojciech Jaruzelski, he did the martial law supposedly due to protecting the people because he was petrified of people having riots and just standing up and saying, “Enough. We do not have to live like this.” Like you mentioned, Poland is rich. They have fields where they grow everything. Potatoes, corn, tomatoes. I mean farmers as far as you can see in certain areas, and they love it. Obviously, production was not moving, so what they created, their crops were wasted. Just like it happened here, like you mentioned during COVID, that they were giving out free food because they didn’t know what to do with it. It would just simply go to waste.

So, when everything happened, people just believed in Lech Wałęsa and in Solidarność and said, “He is going to make a difference. We do not have to be oppressed. Why do we have to be told that we only can purchase one kilogram of sugar?” So that means you can’t bake. You can’t do anything because in Poland, people drink a lot of tea and coffee. You have tea four times a day, there goes your sugar. I remember, I love chocolate since I was a little kid, and I would always ask my dad, “Can you give me one candy?” He says, “Well, we have to portion it.” I said, “What do you mean we have to portion it?” So, imagine a candy that was about three inches long, like a rectangle. I would normally have it one a day, and then he started cutting it into a half and I would have a half. And then suddenly, he would cut it in thirds, and then a quarter. I said, “No, this is ridiculous.” I mean, you practically get a sliver of you don’t even know what. It’s just a taste of chocolate on your tongue.

So, it got to the point that, honestly, even I, as a kid, I felt like, “Why can’t I have more? Why can’t I have what I want?” So that, obviously, when everything ended in ’83 with the martial law, so many people got arrested. So many people died, obviously, because they wanted to go out at 10:00 PM and you couldn’t. You couldn’t do anything, so you had to be very quiet, almost like hiding in your own home, because that’s exactly … I remember my mom was like, “Do not turn the light on.” They would go to their friend’s house across the street to play cards, and they had candles on a table so they barely could see the light because you were not allowed to have lights on. You’re living in a country, you have your own home, you pay your bills, and then somebody tells you cannot do this.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Again, it’s so bizarre. It makes me think of North Korea today, where the authoritarian grasp on the people is so extreme because they want to keep control. Were they doing that to ensure that there aren’t riots, to ensure that the Russians wouldn’t come in and crush any kind of things? Because the Russians, the ones who controlled the Soviet Union … And at the time, Poland was an “independent country,” but it was really controlled by the Russians. And they’ve severely crushed any kind of rebellions, or even any kind of protests that occurred in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, so I could see countries like Poland and Hungary and Romania being very wary of, “Okay, we need to make sure that everything looks good because we don’t want Russians to come in and kill our own people.”

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: That’s exactly what happened. That’s why the decision of the President Jaruzelski was to start the martial law to protect the people. He thought that he was doing them favors because of the riots, because of the constant protests, because of artists making movies, making music. All of that was coming through channels that were not allowed, so he believed that this would be a way to hush down everybody and kind of stop it. But what happened? Obviously, it exploded because people said, “No more,” and then Solidarność took over pretty much, and Lech Wałęsa became a president in 1990. And from that on, I think, suddenly everything flourished in such a way that if you wanted it, you had it. So, from observing it, how people lived on what happened, and I had these conversations often with my dad who doesn’t like politics but does enjoy looking at it from an economic point of view.

He says that right after that severe control of communism, where you were completely told what to do and how, suddenly, capitalism started. Just like you mentioned because everybody, “Oh, I want to have a business. I want to do this. I want to do that,” and suddenly, people had started making a lot of money. So, the production, the industry, everything started growing, and same thing with education because at that time, not many people were going to school because everybody was going to work because, obviously, they had to make money because you didn’t have it. Especially for families, like I said, who were not very fortunate, and we’re talking about the lower class, it was really hard. Can you imagine standing in line in front of the store for two days, without sleeping, to be able to purchase two pounds of potatoes and maybe a small little piece of meat, and then toilet paper? And toilet paper, you couldn’t just come in and grab a whole bag. You were giving a roll or two. Two days to be able to purchase that.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: These stories, I feel, should be told more often because of the experience you went through and millions of people like you in these countries. Because again, we were born the same year, and when I grew up, my dad was an enlisted Army. My mom was a nurse, so we weren’t rich, but we were not poor, and I don’t ever remember lacking. Of course, this is the memory of a child, but at the same time, we always had chocolate. My dad always had his tea. My mom always had her coffee. There was always sugar. I think these stories should be told everywhere, not just here, but in Poland, in Russia, in all these countries for good governance. It even makes me think of Poland today, which is, what I would describe as, it’s a flourishing country, versus Russia, which has stagnated for years because the government, again, is trying to control things. I would describe myself as a lowercase libertarian. Let people be who they are. Let companies do what they want to do. You regulate the things that can kill people. If you just let it be, typically, they take care of themselves.

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: And I think we can learn from other countries. We had multiple conversations about Finland, how they handle certain things, and it’s considered to be the happiest country, where people are really saying that they are happy. It’s because they are not being told what to do and how to do it. So, I think those years when I was growing up, they were really difficult. And I agree with you that stories should be shared. There are books, obviously, articles, everything is written. I like to read it from not only my point of view when I was a little girl at that time, but seeing my parents struggling, and then my grandparents struggling.

Because, obviously, every generation, it’s impacted in a different way. So, my grandparents, because they lived through the war, for them it was really, really difficult, but they were not shocked almost. The fact that they didn’t have food, the fact that they couldn’t get certain things, it was almost normal. It’s like, “Okay, yet another one,” type of thing. But for us, the younger generation, “What do you mean I can’t have chocolate? I can’t have milk? I can’t have Pepsi?” It was just impossible. But then within literally five, six years, everything had changed. It went to a beautiful country that started moving. Like I said, everything just started flourishing at the same time, so it changed drastically.

There are other things that, obviously, are happening. I remember talking to my grandfather, who would always say as a joke, but not really, “The people that have will always have. The people that are in the middle and are below, they have to worry about things,” because when something happens in a country, it seems like these are the group of people that are being hit the most. And you’re absolutely right, making reference to Russia at that time. Controlling and really keeping a finger on the pulse, like, “What’s going on? Where is this going to happen?” We were definitely impacted, even as children, not only because of economics, but even at school.

We had to take Russian and it was mandatory starting in fourth grade, so we were just kids. But because they didn’t know what was going to happen. That was in the beginning of the ’90s, ’88, ’89. Because there were always frictions between Poland and Russia, and you could hear it on TV, “This person said that.” But anyway, so we had to do it and obviously, when they tell you, again, what to do, you choose not to do it. I would have these conversations with my grandfather where he lived. There was this beautiful willow tree and a small little bench, and we used to sit over there. When I was coming back from school, he would see me so he would come downstairs, and we would sit down, and he would talk.

He didn’t want to talk much about war. He didn’t really want to talk much about politics. He just said, “Try to enjoy life. Every moment, even if you have nothing to eat, just think about, ‘It can be worse.'” He says doing war, and he would tell me, and sometimes show me, his feet, where they were crossing from Poland to Russia in the wintertime, and they had to cross the river. They would have to take their shoes off. His feet were purple, and he said, “And I keep on walking because we are like machines. Our bodies are built to move. I don’t want to sit down. I don’t want to stop moving.” So, things like that he would share, that made me become stronger and say, “Okay, if he can do it, I can do it. Even if I go without a sandwich a day or two, it’s okay. It’s going to happen.”

Going back to taking Russian in school, he would say the same thing. He said, “Just think about it.” He said, “Your enemy is right over the river, so don’t learn the Russian language to like it. Learn it because at that time, it was your enemy. So, speak the language of your enemy.” So, you start putting it together. From one point of view, it was a fantastic life lesson. From a second point of view, I saw it, how sad it is that at that age, I have to learn about that because you just didn’t know what to expect.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It is. It is. It’s hard to even know how to respond that your enemy is across the river. Historic enemy, not just the now, decades and centuries. So, this brings me to the next question. What are the concerns of the countries like Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia? What your grandfather said is learn Russian to know the language of your enemy. I would like to say that we could live in a world where we have no enemies. We’re just people. The average person, honestly, doesn’t care if you live across the river and on one side, it’s somebody who speaks Polish, the other side is Russian. They just want to farm. They just want to live. But the leaders have other intentions, so what is it like for those Eastern Baltic states?

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: I feel that since I grew up over there, there was this type of mentality that you live your life, but you almost, all the time, walking on eggshells because you never know. You’re surrounded by other countries. And the history of Poland is fascinating when you start learning it. The fact that the country wasn’t there at all for 123 years. It just wasn’t on the map. And obviously, the leaders, like you said, brought it back and then you have the leaders who just want something else. Learning from both of my grandparents, my mother’s father fought in Italy, in Monte Cassino, and my father’s father fought in Poland, in Ukraine, which at that time was part of Poland, and then in Russia.

Honestly, when myself or my cousin, both of my cousins are in the military, and they would ask, “What was the purpose?” he would always shake his head and says, “That’s the only one question that we do not have an answer for.” He says, “Because war, really, there is no purpose.” He says, “I am fighting for ideology. I’m fighting for somebody’s desire to have something that I don’t want, and I have to go over there”. And obviously, he would never share with us the details, but you could tell that he was deeply hurt by what he’s seen, what happened. So, he says, “One thing you do not want in life is to be a part of a war.” Number one, it takes away so many people and it’s really senseless. And he says it’s definitely politics. He said it’s definitely a money-making business. But going back to Poland, like I said, we in school learn not only Polish history, but we have three different history classes in school.

We learn the whole world, every single country. We learn about United States, Asian countries, everything. They want us to compare and contrast to see what was happening. And like my grandpa used to say, history does repeat itself. What happened 50 years ago is going to happen again. How it’s going to be handled, it’s up to the people who will have the power, who are going to be impacted by it. But he said it’s always the same. It’s just going to keep on coming back. And I’m sure if we were to sit down and track that, there are a lot of similarities. We are looking, as you mentioned, at one right now that’s happening. And once again if somebody asks the question, “What is the purpose of this war?”

I think Poland right now with the politics that they have, I don’t follow it very much. Obviously, I hear much from my dad, who tells me what he is watching on TV and what’s happening, but one thing is for sure. Younger generation has a good chance of making it through. The educational system is better. Universities are free. Students can go and study, be able to have really good professions, and be able to find a job, which is obviously very important. And the fact that borders are open, it doesn’t just prevent you to work in Poland. If you want to go and study in Spain … My family’s all over the place. I have one cousin who lives in Poland, one who is in Ireland. Another cousin is in Spain, so they are all over the place.

We are able to do that, but I think there’s always going to be that mentality in the back of our head. It has happened before. In other words, once you get burned, you know that if you put your hand under hot water, chances are you’re going to get burned again, so you don’t forget the feeling of how it was. And frankly, I would not want to wish it upon anybody to really not know what you’re going to put on a piece of bread, and even if you’re going to have that piece of bread.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, agreed. And in the U.S. today, there’s so much infighting, and I find the infighting curious because I think for Americans, for the most part, we agree on seven out of 10 things. We agree on democracy. We agree on freedom of speech. We agree on all these things, and then we get down to details. So, three out of 10 we don’t agree on. You know what? That’s normal. I mean, how often do we have fights with our own family about things we don’t agree with? It’s totally normal for politics not to agree.

Looking at the current war in Ukraine, where Ukraine was a struggling democracy. I think any country that comes from communism, especially being an authoritarian kind of system, transitioning to democracy is never easy. I mean, it takes decades for that to happen. And I think when the West “won the Cold War,” we, because we’re over here, thought, “Slam dunk! We won! Our side won. Our ideas are better,” and then we dropped the ball in the reconstruction. And it’s not that we dropped the ball with Poland and all the Baltic states, and they’re all doing great. Ukraine struggled a bit and more importantly, Russia has struggled. And because Russia struggled, economically, the people were depressed. The oligarchs, we can always argue that there’s oligarchs here in the US, but it’s free market oligarchy.

Those people are chosen by Putin. I mean, it’s been Putin since the ’90s. One guy in control. Imagine if Clinton was still in control. It would be terrible. I always like to use the example of Mugabe, I believe, in Zimbabwe, where for the first 10 years, he was great. He helped this struggling country do wonderful. And then the next 20 years, he just murders his people. That’s why there should never be people who are in control for a longer than X number of years, because they might do great, but then eventually, they do terrible.

It is so hard to imagine because here I live in Arizona; you live in Massachusetts. We’re not afraid of Mexico invading Arizona. You’re not afraid of New York invading Massachusetts, or the Canadians coming down through Vermont. We’re very, very lucky living in North America because we’ve had relative peace for centuries, besides the Civil War but that was our own creation, that was us against us, versus Poland which has been in such a struggle. If it’s not the Germans invading, it’s the Russians invading. It’s those two countries that always seem to want to, well, control people around them. And the Poles and the Estonians and the Lithuanians and the Finns, they’re caught in the middle. It’s luckily something that Americans don’t have to worry about, but we should know about.

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: I agree. I think it’s very important where, especially that in United States, we have people from all over the world. We test our nationalities, right? We find out, “I’m 10% this, 15%, that.” That’s exactly what it is. Your great-grandparents came from that country. That’s exactly what it is. We should know the history of why did they come here? What pushed them to come here? You know what I mean? I often ask my dad, “Why did we come here in ’92?” We lived in Poland at that time. My father had a successful business. My mom had, same thing, a successful job. The entire family was taken care of. We were going to really, really good schools, and then suddenly a moment came and he’s like, “We’re going to America.” And I said, “What? Why would we go to America? We have America here. This is our land of opportunity. We know exactly what we’re going to do,” and everything changed.

My grandmother came here in the late 30s for the first time, and then she came to United States 14 more times. The last time she was here, she was in late 70s. She says, “I can still make it.” She says, “I want to see United States one more time.” And she wrote her own diaries, but then when we talked quite often, she said it has changed tremendously. “United States,” she said, “I feel that it’s more controlled now than it used to be when I used to come here at the beginning.” She used to come, and she was staying in New York and New Jersey. She was working for a Jewish family. She was sewing for them.

It was very, very interesting to hear her story, and she said, “I feel that now, in a way, through media, they tell you what to eat, how to exercise, what to buy.” She said, “Very few people have their own garden.” She said, “When I was here in the ’50s and ’60s, people were making their own food.” She said, “I’m talking to my friends who are here in the United States, and I hear they are sick. They have this. They are that.” She said, “Could it be because it’s no longer human made, but it’s processed and everything else?” So, it was really, really interesting to see it through her eyes, who came to the same spot, to the same country so many times, practically every three years. She would come over here and stay for a month or two. She would sit on the bench and just watch, observe people walking, talking, behaving in the store and everything else, so it was really interesting to hear it.

But I do agree with your point that it’s important to know about prior generations, where we came from, and how much was sacrificed in order for generations here, now, to be happy, to have food, to have a successful life. I think they had a glimpse of it during COVID when, suddenly, remember there was a panic of going to the store and buying because you didn’t know what was going to happen. And I talked to my parents at that time, and I said, “How does it feel for you? Because this is practically part two.” My mom was just saying, “Oh my God, I hope we do not go through the same thing that we had to go through in Poland.” And obviously, it was short lived, but she said it was really, really scary.

It just brought up all those feelings of fear and not knowing if we’re going to go someplace or do something. Not knowing if you’re going to be able to eat tomorrow if you’re going to have enough. So, people who went through it, they have it in the back of their minds. When you ask a question about how is it in Poland right now? I think the people who were impacted by it, they will never forget it. And they will always remember that, so if that moment comes, they kind of pause and wait a second. We’ve been through this before. What do we do?

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I guess I could say I kind of wish that the U.S. had a better kinship with Poland to really understand what it was like to go through, and to always learn from that so that we don’t take anything for granted. And your grandma’s observation is interesting because since the late ’30s, I mean, the population I think has doubled. And unfortunately, the political infighting is worse. But again, I always describe this as the narcissism of small differences. We fight over the smallest details. We’re not fighting over, “Oh, we should become communist or full-throated capitalist.” It’s more of, “What’s the extent of certain regulations and other things,” but it’s not foundational and completely changing the country.

And again, if we just look at countries like Poland as a wonderful example of survival and growth, and also look at Russia. It’s tough because this war, which is, of course, 100% wrong, it shows a failure on all of us to help Russia transition. And they reverted back, even to the extent that they’re hearkening back to the Imperial days, to the days of the czars, like, “Oh, well we really should have the lands when we had a czar.” It’s like, “Well, you want Poland? You want Ukraine?” I’m pretty sure if you ask the average Russian, they’d be like, “Look, I just want to live.”

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: Yeah. That’s what we see even here on the news. That’s what people say. Some people are strong believers and what is happening is it ought to happen, but majority of people it’s like, “Why are we doing this?” Exactly like you said, we just want to live. We just want to be happy and try to do the best that we can. Exactly. But it seems, and unfortunately like you mentioned, communism is definitely a very, very difficult system because it seems that one tells you what to do all the time. And obviously, you, as a human being, you are truthfully not allowed to express your opinions. Because I remember during that time I remember all phones were tapped. I mean, at home you couldn’t have a conversation with a neighbor on a phone because everything was tapped. So, number one, who’s got time to listen to all those conversations? And number two, why? If you want to do this, not a problem. State your opinion, like you said. We agree and we disagree, but I think it’s important to learn how to disagree respectfully and not immediately judge or call names and this and that.

There is positive in communism. There’s negative in communism. There are benefits and advantages and disadvantages in all of these systems. But unfortunately, like you said, Poland being in the middle, so you either get squashed by everybody, or you can’t really grow unless you take lens away. But it’s good to hear that after 40 years, that the country was able to recuperate and it’s actually growing, and you can see people being happy. And I see that in my friends who live there and my family who are younger, who have kids, who have families and are able to move forward. They have enough to live. I think that’s what it’s ultimately all about. But there were generations that had to sacrifice a lot for them to be able to have this.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly, and just the fact that Poland didn’t fall into a Yugoslavia. Again, a European country that fell into a civil war, and I guess Yugoslavia does have a lot more different, ethnic divisions and boundaries than Poland. But even in Poland, there’s Russians in Poland. There’s Poles in Poland. There’s some Ukrainians. I mean, there still are differences. Well, absolutely wonderful conversation. Any final words, Karolina?

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski: No, thank you so much for having me and being able to share my story!

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It’s an important story. I think we should really talk about it more. Even from a selfish, American perspective, we need to make sure that America’s healthy, and the best way to do that is just let them do what they want to do. The vast, vast majority, I say vast majority, of people are hardworking, good people, and let those hard-working people do what they want. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Karolina Kopczynski about growing up in Poland. And of course, my name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, and thank you for listening.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music in his spare time.

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