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PanAm Podcast at FreedomFest: Polish Artist Agnieszka Pilat Discusses Growing Up Under Communism

By: David Unsworth - @LatinAmerUpdate - Aug 2, 2017, 1:35 pm

Eastern Europe suffered for two generations under the onerous yoke and utter brutality of Soviet Communism. Although the Soviet Union granted a thin veneer of illusory political and economic independence, the reality was that Poland and its Eastern European neighbors were puppet states, completely under the domination of Moscow.

In recent times, the world appears to be forgetting with each passing year the harsh reality of life in a Communist society. A society where collectivism trampled upon the rights of the individual. A society where the government controlled virtually every aspect of your life, from where you lived, to where you went to school, to what career you could pursue…even dictating what people could do in their free time, and with whom they could associate.

Polish artist Agnieszka Pilat came to the United States in 2002 to study at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and growing up under Communism has had a profound effect on her artistic work. Listening to Agnieszka’s story of 1980s Poland is a sad lesson about how history repeats itself: in many ways Cold War Poland, and the faulty economics it was based upon, sounds much like the problems found in Venezuela today.

“I was very fortunate to grow up in a time when I just caught the tail end of Communism, and I saw the transformation, and now I see semi-free social democracy, and amazing changes.” This contrasted with a bleak childhood, “being a kid and toilet paper was a commodity that you were dreaming about…or you go to a store, and all the shelves would be filled with vinegar.”

Agnieszka notes that even the food that was found on the Polish table under Communism was depressing and tasteless, and luxury imported items were largely diverted by party functionaries:

“Americans were sending us cheddar cheese…just to describe the difference in taste with what Polish food was…when I had a piece of the cheddar cheese, it was like heaven. I couldn’t believe the color of it, because everything in Poland was either white or gray…we got it very rarely, and most of it went to people who were in the Communist Party.”

As Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement gained steam, Polish Communist officials grew increasingly concerned, and imposed a nationwide curfew:

“Close to 1989 the economy was really bad and there was Solidarity in the streets, so the state imposed a curfew, so during the curfew you could only be on the street during the day, and between 8pm and 7am you were not allowed to be on the streets.

Agnieszka is way of the rise of a new form of socialism today in the United States, represented by last year’s Bernie Sanders campaign.

“Needless to say, for me to come from this background and come here and see the same sort of ideas crawling into the American public, it was just disheartening…I’ve seen what those ideas lead to.”

David Unsworth David Unsworth

David Unsworth is a Boston native. He received degrees in History and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, and subsequently spent five years working in real estate development in New York City. Currently he resides in Bogota, Colombia, where he is involved in the tourism industry. In his free time he enjoys singing in rock bands, travelling throughout Latin America, and studying Portuguese.