By Peter Andrews
I remember my mother taking me to the airport on June 10, 1981. In theory, everyone knew I was leaving for three weeks, but both of us really knew that I would not be coming back. I was nineteen at the time and wanted to see a different world, a world outside the so called Iron Curtain.
My mother didn’t show sadness but I could see tears in her eyes when she said good bye to me. I saw her twice in ten years. Once after four years, when she visited my new home, Canada, and later in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down. Our contact was scarce. In those days, it was very difficult to call out of Poland, especially after martial law was introduced. Later, when martial law was lifted, it was a bit easier, but still there were only land lines. No mobile phones, no Internet, no Skype – only written letters put inside envelopes, with a postage stamp and sent from the post office. It was only when the Soviet Union collapsed and the so-called evil empire ceased to exist that I was able to see her freely. It is only when you are not able to see your parents often that one notices how age works on people.
At the time when I was leaving Poland no one knew that ten years down the road the world’s geo-political situation would change and that eastern European countries would join NATO and later, in 2004, the European Union would allow many young people to travel freely, without any restrictions or prosecution.
A large number of Polish citizens took advantage of the new situation, deciding to try their luck abroad. As most of them had gone to Ireland and the UK some chose places like Spain, Switzerland, the U.S. or Australia. Freedom of movement was finally given to people and was tested by close to over two million Poles. For some of them it has been an adventure for some job opportunity. But in all of the cases it has been an experience shared, like in the case of my mother, by their parents too…
Bank worker Hanna Mieszkowska, 55, holds a picture of her son Piotr, 32, and his wife Ghizlane at her apartment in Warsaw. Piotr met his sweetheart during an Erasmus course in Spain. They got married in Morocco and now live in Paris. She said that despite the fact that she is happy for her son, every time he comes back to visit her it feels like it is Christmas and every time he leaves she mourns.