What Poland left us

I was only fourteen and everything was happening too fast around me.  The material shortages were severe and in the shops of my city it was already difficult to find the magazines with many colors but few truths that came from the USSR.  We had seen the television show of General Ochoa’s trial*, and my parents lost their illusions watching how the law folded before the olive green uniforms.

News of what happened in Poland came in those same days.  We didn’t understand anything, because until then the European socialist block seemed to us something designed for eternity.  A distant cousin told us of her apprehensions after a short stay in Moscow, but we still believed that the COMECON, the Warsaw Pact and the Robotron typewriters would survive us all.

The word Solidarity had suddenly become fashionable and several schools in my city were still named People’s Republic of Poland.  Although my Marxism-Leninism teacher was making an effort to idealize the East, something inside him snapped when he learned what was happening on the streets of Warsaw.  If the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 had been difficult for our leaders to justify, the rebellion of the “Polish working class” left more than one without answers.

I grew up, had a son and he also came to repeat the slogan, “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che.”  Today he is the same age I was in that tumultuous 1989, when my doubts began, when I knew that everything they’d drilled into me might not be true.

Translator’s note

General Arnaldo Ochoa, a member of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, a prominent general in the Cuban army and a “Hero of the Revolution”, was arrested on June 12, 1989 and charged with corruption, drug trafficking (in alliance with Pablo Escobar) and treason.  His trial was broadcast on Cuban TV (the films, subtitled in English, are available on line).  Ochoa was executed on July 12, 1989.

12 thoughts on “What Poland left us

  1. Well, I lived 35 years in Cuba ,so I think I know a little bit about this, what I don’t understand is the freedom some Cuban have to write from Cuba…

  2. Thank you Milena for making your statement about Polish people appreciating their freedom.We were waiting and working for it ,for a long time.And of course freedom came with a price.Price of higher unemployment,price of paying money for a private health care (if you choose to use one).But freedom also means “choices” .And that is what makes people happy.I believe that Cubans will get their freedom one day.We all support them (just like other nations supported Poland),but it has to come within them .There must be enough Cuban people wanting the change.There must be another “Solidarnosc” and another Walesa born in Cuba.
    Todo mejor mis amigos !! :-))

  3. I am a Cuban American (both parents born in Cuba, me in the USA) who recently lived in Poland for almost 3 years. One thing I can say for the Polish people is that they appreciate their freedom much more than many in my own country. I hope that one day what happened in 1989 inspires Cubans to take back their country.

  4. Thank you very much Klasyk and Beata for your solidarity with the cuban people. We hope to have your comment often here.


    REUTERS: Cuba announces resignation of central bank chief
    Soberon was one of the last holdovers from the government of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who retired due to health problems in February 2008 and handed the presidency over to younger brother Raul Castro.

    The resignation comes as Cuba’s state-run economy has been hard hit by the global financial crisis and a drop in revenues from tourism and nickel, its leading export.


  6. I am polish,living in Canada.I grew up in communist Poland and understand what Cubans are going through.I also have many Cuban friends,we all believe the change will come! Yoani ,I am with you and all my Cuban friends…be strong !If Poland could do it ,so can Cuba !You are not alone.

  7. For left of center NY TIMES to write this EDITORIAL WITH THIS VIEW POINT, I THINK IS A HUGE DEAL!! They could have gone in another tangent citing the embargo and other excuses for the Castro Brothers! THINGS ARE CHANGING CONO!!

    Humberto Capiro
    El Cubano de Venice Beach

  8. Have faith people of Cuba! For Your Freedom and Ours – polish people will always fight. Greetings from Poland

  9. Good editorial from the NY Times.

    The second paragraph in Yoani’s blog posting above resonated with me. While Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism outwardly looks impenetrable, at its core it’s very fragile and unstable. What’s required to overthrow it is the right spark. In Poland, that spark was the independent trade union movement – Solidarity – which despite severe repression endured and ultimately triumphed.

    Until Andy reminded us, I’d forgotten that the Polish election in which Solidarity won 99% of the seats they were allowed to contest had been held on June 4, 1989, the same day as the Tiennamen Square massacre. And thanks Yoani for using today to write about a hopeful anniversary.

  10. NY TIMES OPINION SECTION: Mr. Obama, Cuba and the O.A.S. (SEE LINK BELOW)

    The campaign was led by the O.A.S.’s least-democratic members (Nicaragua and Venezuela), which seemed intent on picking a fight with Washington — and deflecting attention from their own unsavory practices. The timing seems especially odd and counterproductive considering Mr. Obama’s strong overtures to the region and to Cuba.

    We understand the desire to fully reintegrate Cuba into the main regional organization. But as Human Rights Watch argued this week: “Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere that repudiates nearly all forms of political dissent. For nearly five decades, the Cuban government has enforced political conformity with criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, physical abuse and surveillance.”


  11. Opening this up a little — I find Yoani’s article of today very interesting because while I remember of course the rise of Solidarity and the fall of communism in Poland, I only remembered it as “about half a year earlier” than the fall of the Berlin Wall — the date of which is seared into my brain. I didn’t realize it occurred on the same day as the Tiananmen Square massacre (though I clearly remember the Polish elections and their outcome as being huge news). And yesterday we had the OAS actions, and of course today Obama’s speech in Cairo, which I watched live on streaming video so I could see and hear the audience’s reaction for myself.

    So my question to the rest of you is — I’m very curious about your perspectives on where the world is today. Cuba of course may be an incredibly isolated country in some respects, but we all share the same planet and as we all know, “When the world sneezes Cuba gets pneumonia.”

    So what are y’all thinking about all the other huge events of the day? Will N. Korea start a global nuclear war? Will dirty bombs coming out of Pakistan be detonated in major world cities? Did Obama make any difference at all today with his comments in Cairo. Are we moving toward a more peaceful world, or are we perched on the edge of the cliff?

    If el viejo psychopath kicks off some day soon (hopefully taking his brother with him)… will Cuba be joining a family of democratic nations moving towards hope? Or towards global meltdown?

  12. ***
    The people of Poland finally got their freedom–after hundreds of years of slavery. I hope that the Cuban People will get their freedom one day. It happens when the people no longer serve in the army–and when the soldiers will not obey orders against the people.
    La gente de Polonia recibieran su libertad al fin–despues de cienes de anos de ser esclavos. Espero que la Gente Cubano van a recibir su libertad una dia. Eso pasa cuando la gente rehusan servir en en ejercito–y cuando los soldados ya no obdescan los ordenes contra la gente.

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