Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ivan Kupala Day or Noc Świętojańska

Ivan Kupala Day is celebrated in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and other Slavic countries on the night of 23rd June which is the day of summer solstice. In Lithuania it is a day free out of work and in Latvia it is a national holiday. Early mythology scholars claim that the holiday was originally a pagan fertility rite later accepted into the Orthodox Christian calendar. Many of the rites related to this holiday within Slavic religious belief are connected with the role of water in fertility and ritual purification.

Some of those rites were for example: youths jumping over the flames of bonfires, girls making garlands of flowers and floating them on rivers trying to read their relationship fortunes from the patterns of the floating flowers while men attempted to capture the garlands, in the hope of capturing the interest of the woman who created the garlands.

In old Kupala belief, that eve of Ivan Kupala is the only time of the year when ferns bloom. Prosperity, luck, discernment and power would befall on whoever finds a fern flower. Therefore, on that night village folks would roam through the forests in search of magical herbs and especially the elusive fern flower. Traditionally, unmarried women with garlands on their hair, would be the first to enter the forests. They were followed by young men. Therefore, the blooming of relationships between pairs of men and women often resulted from the quest in finding herbs and the fern flower within the forest.

These days in Kraków we have every year a celebration on the banks of the Vistula river, there are numerous exhibitions, fairs, firework displays, competitions and concerts (last year we could listen to Lenny Kravitz!).

This year due to flooding the celebration did not take place as usual near the Wawel castle but more in the centre of Kraków. It took a form of a big fair that lasted five days. We could watch unusual performances, concerts and demonstrations by craftsmen of making the traditional arts and crafts.

On top of that we could taste some traditional foods, admire old amber jewelry, see traditional costumes and all sorts of other things on the fair stalls. There were also some competitions and games for children. And most importantly as usual a competition for the most beautiful garland!

By Beniamin Palider-Traczyk and Julia Federska

Monday, July 5, 2010

Polish presidential election - Komorowski wins!!

After a dramatic night for Polish democracy, Bronisław Komorowski of the ruling liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO) emerged as the winner in the presidential election run-off, held on Sunday (4 July).

The election proved to be tighter than opinion polls had suggested. According to the state electoral commission Komorowski won 53% of the vote and Kaczynski 47%. Kaczynski's supporters were heartened because their candidate did far better than expected weeks ago. The tragedy of Kaczynski’s brother's death in the Smolensk catastrophe reshaped the public image of Kaczynski, who only months ago was one of the country's least popular politicians due to his combative and divisive style. Many Poles remember the chaotic government he led from 2006-07 and his zealousness in trying to eliminate former communists from public life – an approach that critics described as a witch-hunt.

Both presidential candidates were former anti-communist activists, but Kaczynski is a nationalist who has worked to promote patriotic and conservative Catholic values, making him popular among rural Poles and older voters. Thus he received the church’s support during his campaign and church still holds a lot of power in Poland. Komorowski, the scion of an aristocratic family, has a traditional Catholic background but he favours a greater separation of church and state and has stressed the need to modernise Poland, the largest of the ex-communist countries to join the European Union in recent years.

Pointing to the relatively high turnout (more than 54%), in his first comments Komorowski claimed that his victory was not personal but that "democracy [had] won". More than 23 million Poles had the right to participate in the election. A father of five and a politician known for his calm temper, Komorowski will become Poland's fourth democratically-elected head of state since the fall of communism in 1989. Poland's president has many ceremonial duties, but can also veto laws, and as commander-in-chief has influence over foreign military operations.

Komorowski's victory will be a huge boost to the pro-EU and pro-business government of the prime minister, Donald Tusk. He is a key member of Tusk's Civic Platform party and will not be expected to veto any new legislation it proposes, including plans to trim the welfare state. Komorowski wants to smooth the way for the government to continue privatising state-run companies. Komorowski will also support the government's efforts to heal old wounds with Germany and Russia. The Civic Platform will have the comfort of power and no more excuse not to reform the state.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

So there will be a runoff

June 20 after people voted in presidential election it became clear that a runoff will be held during vacation on July 4 because no candidate scored more than 50%. The runoff will be held between Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former Prime Minister, leader of the of the populist party PIS and twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczynskia and Bronislaw Komorowski of the right wing PO. While PIS believes itself to be a right wing/center party, PO states that they are liberal party.

The results after first part were as follows:
Komorowski in first place with 41.2%, Kaczyński with 36.7%. Grzegorz Napieralski in third place with suprising 13.4% for the social-democratic SLD, 2.5% for Janusz Korwin - Mikke, 1.8% for Waldemar Pawlak, 1.4% for both Andrzej Lepper i Andrzej Olechowski. Only 55% of people eligible to vote went to the voting boxes.

Both Kaczynski and Komorowski will be fighting for the voters and seeking the support of the electorate of Grzegorz Napieralski, although it seems to me that Bronislaw Komorowski is more likely to gain support of his voters.

If Kaczynski wins we will find ourselves in a fight between the president and the parliament which is ruled by PO. I would like Bronislaw Komorowski to win as I believe he would bring in a more peaceful and quiet cadency.
by Beniamin Palider-Traczyk, pre-IB

Acting president, and presidential candidate Bronislaw Komorowski greets his supporters after acknowledging exit polls on Sunday.

Two-round system
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The two-round system (also known as the second ballot, runoff voting or ballotage) is a voting system used to elect a single winner. Under runoff voting, the voter casts a single vote for their chosen candidate. However, if no candidate receives an absolute majority of votes, then those candidates having less than a certain proportion of the votes, or all but the two candidates receiving the most votes, are eliminated, and a second round of voting occurs.

Runoff voting is used around the world for the election of legislative bodies and directly elected presidents.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Comenius Project Meeting Latvia & Lithuania 2010

Students` opinion on understanding of Comenius project`s title THE IMAGE OF THE OTHER
* * *
On 23th of April 2010 we set out, in the name of Comenius Project for 8-day trip to Latvia and Lithuania. We were visiting museums, see sighting many places, learning culture and even we were hosted in Latvian families. Despite the fact that I spent great time in there, I also noticed many similarities and varieties between countries that had participated in Project.
Firstly we arrived to Riga in Latvia, where we were about to stay for 2 nights. As always I tried to catch some words from new language, to compare it with these that I know. It was different – a bit Russian mixed with German. Next day I focused on city itself. It shocked me with its beauty. The architectural style of building, wonderful streets and amazing chapels create, especially in night, magical atmosphere. It was really hard to leave it behind.
After Riga we went to Preiļi – town in southeast part of Latvia. Preiļi was the place where we were hosted in families – that’s the thing I’ve never experienced before. I have been welcomed warmly with honest smiles. Then I started to talk with Edgars, my host, in English. It was incredible – totally different then writing. We both knew that it isn’t our language and that it’s not an exercise. But suddenly we realized that thanks to English we can communicate! I think Edgars and I had resisted it somehow before. But that was like a trigger. After these two days he told me how much he was surprised about what happened and believe me. I was too!
Then we visited Kaunas and Vilnius in Lithuania. One thing really stuck in my head. I noticed how many historical connections have countries that participated in Comenius Project. When we were see sighting Latvian castle we got to know that it was ruled by Lithuanian King who gave it to Polish knight who hired Italian painter and architect who settled down near that castle. Such situations were very common before which ensured me that we were always together, like brothers and sisters.
When I gathered up everything I had experienced in Comenius Project, I really understood that I am a part of great European society. Now I know that however diverse we are , we feel strong need for communication and identifying ourselves. Despite many problems we still want to build bounding which we can truly call – Friendship. Mateusz Dendura

Between 24th of April and 1st of May me and other people from European College (mainly form my class) visited two beautiful countries, Lithuania and Latvia, to participate in meeting of Comenius Project “Image of the others”, ran by our school and its partners- schools from Preili (Latvia), Sicily (Alcamo), Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Lekėčiai (Lithuania) in last two years. This meeting was special, because it was the final one- our project came to an end.
I could write here thousands of words about places we visited or things we’ve done. Because we have done a lot- we were in Riga, capital city of Latvia; we spent some time with of Latvian friends in Preili, where we were presenting our countries, dancing traditional dances and lots more; then in Lithuania, delighted by the warm welcome, we were participating in all attraction they prepared for us and saw lots of great places in Vilnius and Kaunas.
Of course sightseeing was very important part of our trip, but there was something more, which was, in my opinion, the main aim of this project Meeting people. And they all were just amazing. We could feel their friendliness, openness. They were completely engaged in all they were doing. Thanks to their enthusiasm I spent one of the best weeks in my life there.
A great idea to me was us at families homes in Preili, not in a hotel. Because of this we could spend more time with our friends and got to know them better. For me there was an additional advantage- I was living with Edvin, guy whom I was hosting during meeting in Krakow. We really got on with together and I wanted to find out more about him, his family and interests. Even my classmates, first skeptical, after two days were astonished.
We were all sad that project came to an end. But it really doesn’t matter. Projects lasts two years, friendships- forever. Jakub Bieda


Every trip that I go on is a new experience and an exciting adventure, and this trip was no exception. I had a few expectations beforehand such as to return happy, satisfied, to have seen a lot of different sights and to have met a few interesting people. This trip easily met, or rather exceeded, my expectations leaving me with fondling memories and memorable photos that have captured images of things that I cannot describe with words but are worth seeing.

The Comenius Project trip to Lithuanian and Latvia was a first for me but I enjoyed every second of it. The only downside that I could find was the fact that we stayed there for only a very short amount of time which most definitely prohibited us from seeing everything that each city had to offer. Nonetheless, we managed to see some rather peculiar attractions such as The House of Blackhead and the Motor Museum in Riga, Latvia. These two places stood out to me the most because not only is the city, Riga, itself unique in its architecture and open space but also because the Motor Museum showed off some of the most impressive cars in history included the world’s fastest car which reached speeds greater than the speed of sound. The House of Blackhead was very special because it was an open, public museum, where at the time of our arrival, a couple was having a wedding which later on involved a fireworks show and a beautiful presentation where the building itself was being lit up and had music playing in the background.

I would also like to mention the warm and dear families that hosted us in their homes in Preili, Latvia. I was kindly surprised by their genuine hospitality, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness in sharing what they had with us. I felt like I was at home and was told the entire time that their door was always open and that I could visit again anytime.

For all of those who wish to follow in our footsteps and visit everything that we got a chance to, I highly recommend that they do so. These places are worth the long trip that lasts hours and hours because nowhere else would you be able to see what we saw and experience what we experienced, not even in Cracow.

-Dabrowka Zarska


Last month, along with several other people from my school, I went on a weekly trip to Latvia and Lithuania. To get there we had to travel by bus for about 12 hours, it was exhausting. On the first day after our arrival we had the opportunity to see Riga, the capital of Latvia. It was something amazing for me, like the mixture of Warsaw and Cracow. Tall buildings and old architecture blend in quite nicely. I really liked the fact that we went to see a motor museum, I have never been in one and it was the biggest in Europe. We spent there 2 days and were soon of to a small town called Preili. I really didn’t want to leave. In Preili we were all met to sleep in families. I was really scared but excited at the same time. I have never been hosted before and i was quite curious how it is. Traveling there my mind keep on asking the same nervous questions if my host will be nice, will we be able to communicate, will she like me, and so on. At the end it wasn’t as scary as I thought, it was fun. If someone asked me if I would do it again I would say, yes, why not. One day we all went to visit there school, they had prepared for us lots of lovely presentations and performances. We were prepared as well of course. I had to play the piano. Oh no, it was a tragedy. I never felt so embarrassed in my life. Anyway everything turned out fine. The next few days we spent with our new friends in Lithuania. It was amazing again, all the preparations. I really enjoyed the trip, I learned many interesting things about these beautiful countries. I saw many interesting places and monuments. I am sure that I will never forget this trip to the end of my life and certainly I want to go back. Alexandra Bittner


I first learned about Comenius project and came into contact with different cultures and people from overboard In Cracow when the Comenius took place In Poland. I never before that time saw a foreign exchange or had chance to take part in one, so Comenius Project opened my eyes to the cultural differences and the amazing feeling of being where I am belonging to certain culture and being different than others. For the first time in my life I felt proud to be Polish to represent a group of people, a country, a culture. In Cracow I met with exchange students and especially Edwin who stayed with a friend from class Kuba Bieda. Then later that same year we went to Latvia and Lithuania and visited them in their own country were we stayed in Riga and Preili. I stayed with a girl Baiba Upienice and had a great time. We stayed with the locals in Preili 2 days and 2 nights. Very first day we went home and socialized with our hosts, we learned a bit of their culture, their interest and lives and on the second day we had a group meeting in the school and lunch later. In the meeting there were shown presentations 2 from our country and many more from others. Our presentations were on Chopin and the tragedy in Smolensk. Later we had a meeting with the mayor and learned about business situation of Preili as well as tour of the city. On the 3 day in the very morning we went to Lithuania. We stayed and visited Kovno, and visited partner school in the country were we were most welcomed. They also showed us traditional dances a bit of their culture and history of the country as well as few famous English songs. The stay was very enjoyable in both countries and we learned about different people and their life views, as well as their daily struggles and communities. We learned that we aren’t the only ones in the world and that there are much different cultures and people that are important. Ben Pailder-Traczyk

Close presidential election expected as polls open in Poland

Polish presidential candidate Bronislaw Komorowski casts his vote.

Polls have opened in the presidential election in Poland. After President Lech Kaczyński was killed along with 95 others in a plane crash in Russia on 10th April 2010, the Constitution required the speaker of the parliament to declare the date within two weeks, with the election to take place on a weekend within the following 60 days, i.e. 20th June at the latest. The Sunday vote in the Polish presidential election isn’t expected to make anyone president-elect yet, with a runoff likely on 4th July. But a recent opinion poll suggests center-right candidate and acting president and speaker of the parliament Bronislaw Komorowski could scrape by with 51 percent of the vote, the minimum needed to avoid a run-off against right-wing candidate Jaroslaw Kaczynski who has vowed to pick up where his brother left off.

Polish presidential right-wing candidate Jaroslaw Kaczynski

The President of Poland is elected directly by the people to serve for 5 years and can be reelected only once. The President is elected by an absolute majority of valid votes. If no candidate succeeds in passing this threshold, a second round of voting is held with the participation of the two candidates who received the largest and second largest number of votes respectively.In order to be registered as a candidate in the presidential election, one must be a Polish citizen, be at least 35 years old on the day of the first round of the election and collect at least 100,000 signatures of voters.

In Poland, the president is not just a ceremonial figure. He may hold less power than the prime minister but can still veto laws. The country's next president could play a role in the debate over adopting the euro and when to withdraw the country's troops from NATO's mission in Afghanistan or in shaping the welfare reform. Poland is the only European Union country to have avoided recession during the global economic downturn. The election will also determine how it reacts to the new debt crisis.

Both Komorowski and Kaczynski are conservative Catholics, but take a dramatically different approach to the euro and Poland's foreign relationships. Kaczynski, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2007, could put the breaks on parliament as it takes steps toward the adoption of the euro. Kaczynski's right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) is known for nationalistic stance, putting up a frosty front both to the European Union and to Russia, it is conservative on moral and social issues but swings left on the economy and favors more state spending. Komorowski is a pro-EU, moderate member of the governing Civic Platform party (PO) who has pledged to work closely with the prime minister, Donald Tusk, to adopt the euro in about five years, end the unpopular military mission in Afghanistan and promote pro-market reforms. If Komorowski wins PO will control the office of the prime minister and president.

Nation in a state of mourning after the plane crash in Russia on 10th April 2010

The death of Lech Kaczynski cast a shadow on the election, compounded by two consecutive waves of flooding that left 24 people dead in recent weeks. Thus the campaign mood was sedate, even with topics like euro adoption and Afghanistan up for debate.

It is worth mentioning here that Poland observes the so-called election silence to allow a "cooling-off" period for voters to reflect on events before casting their votes. It is used in order to balance out the campaigning and maintain a free voting environment. During this period no active campaigning by the candidates and their parties is allowed. Polling is also banned. The silence is legally enforced.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A normal school day in European College

In European College everyday starts in the cafeteria, we as a class meet here and talk, buy something to drink for the day and venture into classes. Every day we have different classes with different teachers sometimes we have double classes in a day for example two histories. One class is 3 quarters of an hour followed by 5, 10, or 15 minutes break. When we have breaks we talk with our friends and socialize. We set up meetings after school, talk about parties in the city and new movies and interesting clubs in Cracow. English classes are very easy for most students as nearly everyone in our school speaks English fluently, however, the rest of subjects is a little more challenging. We have great problems with maths, physics, chemistry and computer programming. We are more of a humanistic class. The life in our school concentrates in cafeteria, most talking is done there as well as meetings with friends over a cup of coffee, most presentations and group projects for classes are prepared there, too.

History is one of our favorite lessons because of the amazing history teacher Grzegorz Ciemała who teaches us about both Polish history in our native language Polish as well as the world history in English.
Most of subjects in our school are taught in English as a pre-taste of International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme that we will follow next year. In Poland, we have “matura” which is a final exam before university, however, in our school we can take International Baccalaureate exams, they are an international exam which makes it easier for us to study in any university in the world! In IB system there are two years of continuous projects and assignments which also determine the grade from 1 to 7 where 7 is the best grade you can acquire. Because of 6 different subjects each person chooses there are many different time tables and sometimes people have free periods before another class. In their free time they socialize in cafeteria. We are a year before IB 1 and thus are called Pre-IB class. At the end of this school year we were choosing our subjects for the IB programme. Each of us has a different timetable so we will be working in different groups and when we see each other will depend on the time tables we have.

Our teachers most of the times don’t go easy on us making us work hard and study each day. Internet sites like facebook play an important role in our life as they allow contact between people who in our classes sometimes live far away from each other. On facebook we remind ourselves about tests, quizzes and oral tests. Hope you can now picture better the daily life in our school.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A trip down memory lane...

As the holidays are approaching, it's a time to reflect. To remember back to the good and the bad times of this school year.

As students of Pre-IB, we are happy to say, that this was a year that we will never forget. One of our first memories together, was the school trip to Krynica. There we built our friendships, formed amazing memories together and had so much fun. Those five unforgettable days went by so quickly as we had a great time together.

After those few days of getting to know each other, we returned to school, as one big happy family. It was time to get to work. That is when all the testing, studying, homework and projects started. It was
stressful at times, but we got through it with positive results. In October we participated and hosted guests from Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Italy, as part of the Comenius Project. This project opened a lot of opportunities for us and we realised that we are able to have friends all over the world. We thoroughly enjoyed their stay in Krakow. We prepared a special performance for them about the legend of the Wawel dragon. It was rewarding for us and it was entertaining for them.

During Christmas, we had our first Christmas lunch together as a class. A week later we had Christmas break which lasted till the New Year. We returned back to school fresh-minded and relaxed, however it wasn't too long before winter break started. In the second semester our school week cycle began once again. There was nothing interesting about this intensive learning time.

Finally, in April we set out on our long awaited journey to Latvia and Lithuania, the last trip of the Comenius Project. We spent ten days travelling, site seeing, meeting new people and learning about these two countries. It was an amazing experience and we had so much fun! We met so many interesting people and made friends from different countries. We returned back to Poland with a new perspective on life and a feeling of achievement.

Now all we are thinking about is the summer time. Some of us are still improving our marks, but in our school there is such a relaxed atmosphere, that we can feel that summer holidays are just around the corner. This year has been one to remember! by pre-IB students

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Every year floods, tsunami, storms, volcanic eruptions leave behind a whole different world.

The floods in Poland over the last two weeks of May 2010 had large human and material impacts. Following intensive rain in the south of Poland, both Wisla and Odra river systems were not able to deal with so much water. In all areas the rivers started to flood the surrounding land and induced land slides in the mountains. A lot of bridges were closed in case of being swept away. This luckily didn’t happen and as soon the level of the water went down a bit the bridges were reopened. The floods left behind an area which became dirty and destroyed. Many people lost their houses, farmers lost their crops and animals and some even lost their lives. The victims of the flood needed to be helped urgently and a large national and international solidarity action has helped to meet their needs. By Alexandra Bittner

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Polish Constitution of 3rd May 1791

Constitution of 3 May, 1791 is considered as first European and second in modern world codified constitution. It was adopted by Sejm (parliament) of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The main idea of the constitution was to reform political system of Commonwealth. Old privileges for nobility, known as Golden Liberty were very good for them, but not for all society. Rules, such as liberum veto (every deputy had the right to undo legislation passed by Sejm) led the country to anarchy and corruption. Commonwealth was under influence of its neighbors, especially Russia. After First Partition of Poland in 1772 many people realized, that lots of things in the country have to be repaired and that old system may lead Poland only into destruction. That’s why, after four years of debates the constitution was adopted by Polish king Stanislaw August Poniatowski and many prejudiced deputes during the gathering of the Great Sejm, on 3 May, 1791 in Warsaw.

The Constitution introduced political equality between townspeople and nobility and placed the peasants under the protection of the government, abolished pernicious parliamentary institutions such as the liberum veto. The Constitution sought to supplant the existing anarchy fostered by some of the country's magnates, with a more democratic constitutional monarchy.

Despite the fact that constitution was in effect for only a year, it was a great achievement of Polish society. Unfortunately, after Russo-Polish War in 1792, when defenders of the Constitution were beaten by Russian army supported by Targowicka confederation, Constitution was annulled. This situation led to Second and Third Partition of Poland (in 1793 and 1795). After that Poland was erased from the map of Europe for next 123 years.

In the words of two of Constitution’s co-authors, Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłątaj, it was "the last will and testament of the expiring Motherland”. 3rd May is now a holiday, celebrated in whole country.The constitution led to the creation of the first constitutional monarchy in the world and thus was recognized by political scientists as a very progressive document for its time—for generations it helped keep alive Polish aspirations for an independent and just society, and continues to inform the efforts of its authors' descendants. In Poland it is viewed as the culmination of all that was good and enlightened in Polish history and culture. The May 3 anniversary of its adoption has been observed as Poland's most important civil holiday since Poland regained independence in 1918.

These charters of government form an important milestone in the history of democracy. Poland and the United States, though distant geographically, showed some notable similarities in their approaches to the design of political systems. By contrast to the great absolute monarchies, both countries were remarkably democratic. The kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth were elected, and the Commonwealth's parliament (the Sejm) possessed extensive legislative authority. Under the May 3 Constitution, Poland afforded political privileges to its townspeople and to its nobility (the szlachta), which formed some ten percent of the country's population. This percentage closely approximated the extent of political access in contemporary America, where effective suffrage was limited to male property owners.

The defeat of Poland's liberals was but a temporary setback to the cause of democracy. The destruction of the Polish state only slowed the expansion of democracy, by then already established in North America. Democratic movements soon began undermining the absolute monarchies of Europe. The May 3 Constitution was translated, in abridged form, into French, German and English. French revolutionaries toasted King Stanisław August and the Constitution—not only for their progressive character, but because the War in Defense of the Constitution and the Kościuszko Uprising tied up appreciable Russian and Prussian forces that could not therefore be used against Revolutionary France. Thomas Paine regarded the May 3 Constitution as a great breakthrough. Edmund Burke described it as "the noblest benefit received by any nation at any time... Stanislas II has earned a place among the greatest kings and statesmen in history." In the end, the conservatives managed to delay the ascent of democracy in Europe only for a century; after the First World War, most of the European absolute monarchies were replaced by democratic states, including the reborn, Second Polish Republic.

by Jakub Bieda

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Torrential rain has caused heavy flooding across southern Poland

This week's floods have left few unaffected, as the heavy rainfall has left its mark on many spheres – business, social and political.

Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in southern Poland with the water levels of some rivers reaching up to 7.45 meters. Rescue workers have been working around the clock, building temporary levies in an attempt to stop the water from spreading into the cities.

Heavy rains that began in central Europe last weekend are causing flooding in areas of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, with rivers bursting their banks and inundating low-lying homes and roads, and cutting off villages. Rail travel is also paralyzed in places, rendering some areas unreachable.

In Krakow, continuing heavy rain led the Mayor of Krakow, Jacek Majchrowski, to declare a state of emergency at 22:00 Sunday night, after the Vistula rose above emergency levels in the city. Many other towns across the region have followed suit. In Krakow three major bridges have been closed as the Vistula River nearly reached them. Many regional roads in the province have been closed, as well as in the city of Krakow, some of whose main arteries near the river Vistula have flooded. The Krakow-Zakopane train line is also affected by the adverse weather conditions.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi death camp that draws about a million visitors a year, authorities carried historical documents and some artifacts, including brushes and bowls that belonged to victims, to the upper floors of old barracks that are used to house exhibits. Officials closed the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site on Tuesday to protect its Holocaust archives.

Flash floods in Poland turned more dramatic Thursday as the swollen Vistula River broke its dykes near Sandomierz, central Poland, spilling into the town of 25,000 residents and stretching as far as seven kilometers from the usual stream channel. Many have been stranded in their homes in villages near Sandomierz, with water five to six meters deep. They are unable to call for help as power outages have made phone communication impossible in some areas. Thursday morning, news channel TVN24 showed live footage of the area, taken from a helicopter, with people on rooftops waving white cloth. The situation worsened in many regions as people refuse to leave their homes for fear their abandoned property would be looted.

Meanwhile, the peak wave on the Vistula is moving north faster than expected and is likely to reach Warsaw late Thursday afternoon. The head of the regional government told a news briefing this morning that river banks in Warsaw could withstand water as deep as eight meters, while the forecast peak level is seen around 7.8 meters, the highest level in the country’s post-war history.

Poland will likely ask the EU for financial help to cope with damage caused by the floods. To be eligible for assistance from the so-called EU Solidarity Fund, the damage must exceed €2 billion.“We fear that the damage may be even bigger,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news briefing overnight before embarking on more tours of the flooded regions.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Katyn forest massacre

> For Poles, Katyn is a symbol of the criminal policy of the Soviet system
> against the Polish nation. In the Polish-Soviet relations in the years
> 1917-1991, Katyn is the culminating moment. The "Katyn Massacre" is a
> symbolic term, referring to one of the places of extermination of the
> Polish leading elite during the Second World War, the first to be
> discovered - the Katyn forest near Smolensk.

> The Katyn Massacre was the secret execution by the Soviets of almost
> 22,000 citizens of the Polish state who - after the Red Army entered Poland
> on 17 September 1939 - were taken prisoner or arrested. Pursuant to a
> secret decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist
> Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) of 5 March 1940, approximately
> 15,000 POWs, previously held in special NKVD camps in Kozelsk, Ostashkov
> and Starobilsk, and 7,000 persons interned in prisons of the western
> district of the Ukrainian and Belarusian republic, i.e. the eastern
> territories of Poland included into the Soviet Union in 1939, were killed
> with a shot in the back of the head.

>> The victims were mainly important citizens of the Polish state: officers
> of the Polish Army and the Police, officials of the state administration,
> and representatives of intellectual and cultural elites in Poland. They
> were buried anonymously in mass graves, in at least five places within the
> territory of the Soviet Union. In April-May 1940, POWs from three special
> NKVD camps were transported by trains to the places of execution: Katyn
> (from the Kozelsk camp), Kalinin (from the Ostashkov camp), from Kharkiv
> (Starobilsk camp). Those killed in Kalinin (currently Tver) were buried in
> Mednoye. Others, held in prisons and murdered there, were buried in
> previously undetermined places; two are known: in the Belarusian Republic
> and the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR (Kuropaty near Minsk and Bykivnia
> near Kiev).

>> After the outbreak of the German-Soviet war and the Polish
> Government-in-Exile initiating official relations with the Government of
> the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the Soviet authorities failed to
> provide Poles - despite their efforts - with any information concerning
> those "missing in action". The Soviet Union broke the alliance in April
> 1943, when the German Army stationed in the Smolensk region discovered a
> burial ground in the Katyn Forest and attacked the Soviet Union for
> propaganda purposes. Soviet authorities responded with the tactic of
> pinning the blame on the Germans who had allegedly murdered Poles after
> entering those territories in 1941. Stalin, using the pretext of "slander
> against the USSR", broke relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile (in
> London).

>> The "Katyn" case was one the best guarded secrets of the Kremlin during
> the entire USSR period. When, after the end of the Second World War, during
> the Nuremberg Trials, the Soviet Union failed to pin the blame for the
> massacre on the Germans (but at the same time managed to avoid being judged
> for its deeds), the Soviet authorities permanently adopted the
> interpretation of the "Katyn lie", in defiance of the facts: the Soviets
> had nothing to do with the massacre of Polish officers - German fascism is
> responsible for everything...

> The Katyn Massacre was not an isolated event. It was the consequence of
> system differences, the Soviet attempt at creating a state of the world
> proletariat, and the growing hostility between the Soviet Russia and the
> pre-war Poland. When, after the end of the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920,
> which was victorious for Poland, the Soviets had to give up the export of
> the revolution to the West for many years, and Stalin himself was
> criticised for his significant mistakes on the Polish front - the Soviet
> authorities accepted their Western neighbour to be their main enemy. During
> the Great Terror in the USSR in the years 1937-1938, which was aimed at
> pacifying the anti-Bolshevik mutiny brewing in the whole of Russia, the
> Soviets fought Polish groups in their territories with extreme fierceness.
> Over 70,000 Poles (Soviet citizens) were killed with a shot to the back of
> the head at that time. One in every ten victims of the Great Terror was
> related to Poland. The mechanism of mass exterminations was fine-tuned in
> the USSR then.

> When in September 1939 Stalin, after entering into an alliance with
> Hitler, attacked Poland defending itself against the Germans, one of his
> aims was to permanently destroy the Polish statehood. From the very first
> moments of that aggression, the Soviets consistently isolated (or killed on
> the spot) those people whom they regarded to be representatives of the
> group of leaders of the state that was being destroyed, and particularly
> the officers. One might imagine that the Soviet authorities planned their
> systemic elimination in advance - just as it was planned by the Nazis in
> "their" part of the occupied Poland. With regard to those prisoners the
> Soviet did not apply the rules of international law, that is why they held
> on to the lie they devised with such consistency.

> After the relations with Poland were severed in 1943, and after the Soviet
> Union took control of Poland's territory in the years 1944-1945, it
> controlled the subjugated country, ruled by puppet governments subordinated
> to the communist empire, well into the eighties. During that period, the
> demands for the truth about "Katyn" were treated as an act hostile not only
> against the USSR but also the People's Republic of Poland. This is because
> the post-war Poland was harnessed to the "Katyn lie".

> After the system changes in the entire Soviet bloc (1989-1991), the demand
> for the explanation of the truth about "Katyn" also appeared on the Russian
> side. Many Russians helped in discovering the truth about that crime. In
> the years 1990-1992 the main "Katyn" documents were disclosed, including
> the decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist
> Party of the Soviet Union (b) of 5 March 1940, signed among others by
> Stalin. In August 1993, a group of Russian historians developed an
> exhaustive expert appraisal in Moscow, presenting honestly the process of
> the crime and the subsequent lies.

> Those guilty of this crime have never been judged. Although the people who
> made the decision are known, as are over one hundred executioners (the list
> of persons rewarded for the "camp clearing" campaign was disclosed).
> However, the investigation on the Russian side was discontinued, and the
> Russian authorities refuse to make any comments on this subject. No one has
> been and no one will be punished for the crime.

> There is a material trace of the crime. Three cemeteries built by the
> Poles - in Katyn, Mednoye and Kharkiv - where each and every one from among
> almost 15,000 Polish POWs is commemorated by name. This is an exception
> among the graveyards remaining after the crimes of the Soviet power.

Russian and Polish prime ministers honour the WWII Katyn massacre

In an unprecedented move, the Russian and Polish prime ministers on Wednesday 7th April honoured together 22,000 Polish officers murdered 70 years ago by the Soviets in the WWII Katyn massacre.

Russia's Vladimir Putin and Poland's Donald Tusk paid their respects to Soviet victims of Stalinist-era terror campaigns buried next to Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, near Smolensk, western Russia.

Soviet NKVD secret police massacred Polish military elites mobilised to combat Nazi Germany's September 1, 1939 attack on Poland after they were captured by the Red Army following its September 17 invasion from the east.

Although the slaughter was committed in several places, Katyn has become its chief symbol.
It also represents what was perhaps the most flagrant lie proffered for half a century by Soviet propaganda, which long claimed Nazi Germany was to blame.

Although in 1990 then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that Moscow was responsible, even today few Russians -- long fed on Soviet propaganda -- know the truth about Katyn.

The memory of Katyn remains a painful issue in Polish-Russian relations, which have often been tense since Poland peacefully threw off communism and Soviet dominance in 1989, joining NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004.

Russian courts have classified the vast majority of files in the Katyn massacre case, making it impossible to access information that could prove helpful in finding those still missing.

On March 5, the Russian NGO "Memorial" called on President Dmitry Medvedev to reopen the investigation into this "war crime and crime against humanity".

As a sign of the new openness on this question earlier this month, Russia's public Kultura television channel aired "Katyn", a film by Polish director Andrzej Wajda about the massacre.

After the ceremonies at the cemetery in Katyn, Putin and Tusk had a face-to-face talk in nearby Smolensk during a meeting of a joint task-force on "difficult issues" in bilateral relations.

Among the most contentious issues, was Poland's decision to host US Patriot missiles on its soil and the possible involvement of Warsaw in the new version of a planned US missile shield.
Both are the source of considerable concern for the Kremlin.

Poland for its part has opposed the joint Russian-German NordStream project to build a natural gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea floor, thus bypassing Polish territory. Warsaw sees this as a threat to its energy security, not to mention lost gas transit earnings.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sicily - a memorable trip

First day
Monday 22nd March

The welcoming reception was truly exceptional with all the colours of traditional costumes and sounds of lively music. The headmaster opened the day with his speech to greet us whole heartedly. We could try dancing different traditional dances ourselves, enjoy delicious Sicilian food prepared by our hosts and play games that we were teaching each other. All to be followed by a little more serious exchange of information about our countries, traditions and customs.

Our Palermo trip

Tuesday 23rd March
Text and photos by Szymon Bartuś (Kolegium Europjskie, Cracow, Poland)

During the second day of our stay in Sicily, we had a pleasure to do sightseeing in its capital city, Palermo. The trip was led by a professional guide and was very rich in historical sights.
We began our tour by visiting the gardens of San Giovanni degli Eremiti church. The church itself is quite an extraordinary building, dating back to the 6th century and being influenced by both Muslim and Byzantine civilizations. But for me and my group, the largest impression was made by its gardens. We were very surprised to see oranges simply growing on trees, looking ready to be collected (Pic. 1. – 2.). Oranges are obviously known and popular fruits in Poland but because of the local climate they can’t be grown there, so very few people have any idea what orange trees look like. There was also a grenade tree in the garden - in our region grenades are almost unknown.
Next, we had quite a long walk, during which we saw the ruins of an ancient Roman mansion (Pic. 3.) – a reminder that Palermo is indeed an ancient city. During the walk we also passed the Quattro Canti square, known for its Baroque architecture (Pic. 4.). Our trip arrived in the front of Fontana Pretoria at Piazza Pretoria square (Pic. 5.). The fountain itself is one of the primary examples of renaissance style in the city. It turns out that the structure was first built in Florence (in 1555) and about 20 years later bought by the Senate of Palermo. It was dismantled, transported to Sicily and assembled again. On the side of the fountain, the building of Sicilian government is located. There were even some protests in the front of it as we were walking nearby! The next sight was San Cataldo church (Pic. 6.), built around 1160 and notable for its Arab-style exterior and red domes (the guide told us that Islamic influences are very widespread in Palermo’s architecture). The last church we visited was the largest one – the huge Palermo Cathedral (Pic. 7.). Our formal trip concluded with a bus ride around the city, during which we could see the coast and botanical gardens.
After the scheduled sightseeing every person had a free lunch time. It definitely appealed to me as I find Italian cuisine quite delicious. All Polish students went together to one restaurant and spend some good time together. Finally, the bus took us back to Alcamo.

Selinunte Temples and Mazara del Vallo
Wednesday 24th March

Text and photos by Virginia Wąsikowska (Kolegium Europjskie, Cracow, Poland)
The third day of our trip didn’t promise very optimistic – the sky was covered by a thick layer of clouds and there was a rain threatening. Like previously, the bus was waiting by the castle, at the Piazza della Repubblica. At 8.00, when everyone sat down comfortably in the bus, we finally set off to Selinunte.
Selinunte is located on the south coast of Sicily, in the province of Trapani. Situated in a strategic point between two rivers, Belice and Modione, Selinunte used to be one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily. The main point of our trip was the complex of temples, or I should rather say it’s ruins as out of five temples only one, known as the Temple of Hera, has been reconstructed. By the time we reached Selinunte the weather cleared up and we eagerly started the walk. The most remarkable places were the Temple of Hera (also called the Temple E) and the ruins of the biggest temple in the area - Temple G.

There’s an interesting curiosity connected with the place’s name, which – according to etymologists - have been derived from wild parsley, which grew in large quantities on the spot. The parsley leaf was also adopted by the citizens of Selinunte as the symbol on coins.
When the sightseeing came to an end everyone was hungry, so we had lunch in Selinunte, at one of the restaurants with the wonderful view on the sea. Then, we could relax on the beach and sunbath a little bit.
We sent the afternoon in Mazara del Vallo, sightseeing it’s old city center, however the most interesting was the Museum of the dancing Satyr – Greek statue made of bronze. In 1997 on the southern coast of Sicily a fishing boat fished out the leg of the statue. The discovery was so outstanding that the boat’s crew decided to throw its nets in the same place in order to find the rest of the sculpture and after a year, in March 1998 the crew find the torso of the sculpture. The sculpture is dated in the early 2nd century CE. Although some parts of the figure are missing (arms, one leg, tail) it is very well preserved, despite millennia spent at the bottom of the sea. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos there.
We finished the trip with the diner at “Baglio Giorlando” and then set back to Alcamo.

Erice and Trapani
Next, we were off to the town of Trapani, right on the coast, with part of the older section jutting out. Drove past vast expanses of salt pans where salt production has been carried on commercially for centuries. Trapani also produces a lot of vineyards & olives.

Another town we visited was the medieval town of Erice with its stunning views and wonderful surrounding coastline. Old Norman castles (around 11th century) sit precariously at the very edge of the cliffs as you approach on foot.The old town looks just like one imagines it might have almost 1000 years ago! Small, narrow, cobbled streets suitable only for pedestrian traffic these days, but once the routes for small carts drawn by horse, abound (you can still see rows of wider pavers marking where the cart wheels were positioned in days gone by). Lovely old churches, shops, eateries, etc everywhere.... we could sample famous local almond/sugar sweets.

And in the Evening back to Alcamo to feast on real! Pizzas and sing some karaoke during the farewell party.

Riserva Naturale Orientata Zingaro
Friday 26th March

Text and photos by Iwetta Musiał (Kolegium Europjskie, Cracow, Poland)
We have visited Zingaro Reserve, a real paradise of nature for the great variety of natural environments. It is located near the sea and the coast opens towards it with high and indented calcareous walls interrupted by inlets, rocky ravines, and caves.
From the sea level to the highest peak Mt. Speziale (913 m above the sea level) we have met different kinds of ecosystems, all extremely significant.
The landscape is characterized by harsh and rough shapes. In the most open places, where steep slopes and heaps of stone dominate, many reptiles live: small like the gecko and the hemidactylus (they can climb on vertical walls thanks to the thin hooked lamella present under the fingers), or the ocellated skink, similar to a lizard with short legs, or the two species of lizard (Sicilian and Italian Wall Lizard).
This year, there are some organisations working in the environmental and in the cultural field, such as "La Poiana", whose members have a lot of experience in the environmental field, and the Archaeological Association "Dreapanon", belonging to the Archaeology Groups of Italy, whose archeo-trekking combine archaeology with the pleasure of an outdoor walk. These associations give an extraordinary contribution to promote the knowledge of the wonderful island, rich in natural, environmental and artistic beauties, protecting the wild animals.

Polish, foreign leaders attend Kaczynski funeral in Kraków

KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) – Polish and foreign leaders attended a funeral mass on Sunday for President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, but a volcanic ash cloud over Europe prevented some overseas guests from joining them.

U.S. President Barack Obama was among those forced by the ash cloud to abandon plans to attend the funeral in Krakow for the Kaczynskis, killed on April 10 with 94 other, mostly senior, political and military officials in a plane crash in Russia.

However, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev managed to fly to the city, reinforcing a strong message of Russian solidarity since the crash that has raised Polish hopes for an improvement in long-strained ties with their communist-era overlord.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz praised Russia during the funeral mass, which was held in St Mary's Basilica, a mediaeval church famed for housing Europe's largest carved Gothic altar.

"The tragedy of eight days ago and the sympathy and help extended by the Russians in these days give us hope for better relations between our two great nations. I direct those words to Mr President Medvedev," Dziwisz said.

Nearby, the coffins of Poland's first couple were both draped with the red and white national flag.Kaczynski's daughter Marta and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who heads Poland's main opposition party, led the mourners. They had insisted the funeral go ahead on Sunday, despite the ash cloud that has closed Polish and other European airports.

Other mourners included Poland's interim President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his government and the presidents of Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Georgia.


Outside, an estimated 50,000 mourners watched the mass on large screens. The Kaczynskis' coffins were later to be taken to Wawel cathedral where they would be laid to rest in a crypt normally reserved for Polish kings, national heroes and poets.

The funeral crowns a week of unprecedented national mourning for the Kaczynskis and the 94 others who perished in the crash.

In Warsaw, Poles had queued through Saturday night to view the coffins while they remained on public display. Early on Sunday, the coffins were flown by military plane to Krakow at a low altitude because of the volcanic ash cloud.

Obama said he regretted being unable to attend the funeral.

"President Kaczynski was a patriot and close friend and ally of the United States, as were those who died alongside him, and the American people will never forget the lives they led," Obama said in a statement.

Poland, part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, is now a member of NATO and a close U.S. ally.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Poland's biggest trade partner, also expressed regret at having to scrap her trip. But Germany's president and foreign minister joined the funeral after flying to Krakow from Berlin by helicopter.

Medvedev's presence was ironic, given that Kaczynski was a stern critic of what he called Russia's "imperialism" toward ex-Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine. During his five years as president, Kaczynski never visited Moscow.

Kaczynski's plane crashed while heading to Katyn forest in western Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret police.

Wawel cathedral was the coronation site of virtually all of Poland's monarchs and the adjacent castle was the center of government for five centuries until the end of the 16th century. Some Poles have staged protest rallies and joined petitions on social media site Facebook against the decision to bury Kaczynski in such a hallowed spot.

Kaczynski was a polarizing figure whose support levels had fallen to about 20 percent before his death. He had been expected to lose a presidential election due in the autumn and now likely to be held on June 20.

The protests were the first cracks in an otherwise remarkable display of national unity since the crash.

By Gabriela Baczynska and Wojciech Zurawski

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Welcome Spring!!!

It happended. The first day of spring, the 21st of March was two days ago. And that means that the warmth and brightness of spring will be with us for another three months ;). In Poland, the First Day of Spring is an important event with many customs and traditions. They have been all preserved from pagan times, when the Mother Earth was worshipped by the Slavs. Accompanying those customs were magical rituals believed to bring energy to homes and the joy of life and ensure a good harvest and success throughout the whole year. The most common and popular practice was (symbolizing the expulsion of winter) the drowning or burning straw effigy called Marzanna. After the ritual symbolic ban of winter, it was turn to welcome spring. Men used to ignite fires on the hills, which were expected to ensure the coming of spring and sunny days. Young people would set off to the meadows and the woods in search of willow and hazel - covered with buds - the so-called catkins or "Bazie". Women used to clean the whole house and bake special spring cakes. The most important, however, was painting eggs - a Proto-Slavic symbol of life, fertility and magical vital force. Easter egg was in fact a particular element of the magical rituals that was to provide health and fertility not only to the members of the household but also the animals. In some regions, a colourful processions consisting of both human and animals were organised in order to manifestate the fact that spring had come.

Customs are of course important but spring means also longer days, warm weather and smiling faces so let's cherish this beautiful time of year!!!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women's Day

Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th March. It’s a great occasion for men to show their respect to women – to give flowers or chocolates, to say how important they are to them. There are many votes against this holiday, but mainly because people don’t know its history.For many years Women’s Day was celebrated ostentatiously. Nowadays many man use to say that it was created by communists, and need to force themselves to give flowers, or any other gifts to women on 8th March. But in fact this holiday was “invented” by US women in 1909, before communism in Poland. Its history goes back to March 8th almost 150 years ago - in 1857 when women from New York City stopped work in protest of bad working conditions, a long working day (12 hours), and low pay. The march that started in a poor neighborhood was brutally broken up by police when the women reached the wealthy district of town. A similar march took place 50 years later; this one was triggered by the death of 126 women killed when they were trapped on a high floor in Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. Their slogan was "bread and roses" -"bread" for economical security and "roses" for a better life. The remembrance of this day was eventually adopted by a conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1910, the year when Women's Day was created.

In our country it started to be celebrated after the Second World War, it matched to the socialistic propaganda, that’s why a lot of us call it the communistic holiday and refuse to celebrate it. Throughout Communism in Poland, this day of the woman was very important and was celebrated with the most possible attention, because it went well with the propaganda of success, so much liked by the socialist power. The Polish women were thus honoured obligatorily by their partner, and received flowers and symbolic gifts. At schools, the pupils thanked their teachers by offering flowers and gifts (for example "laurki" - the hand made cards by the youngest were very current). The men colleagues offered flowers to their women colleagues. This traditional day was officially suppressed in Poland in 1993. In spite of that, many people still celebrate it, even today. What can be interesting: in particular the younger generations are favourable and for a few years, the interest for the International Day of the Women in Poland has increased. Obviously, that does not mean that Polish men offer flowers to their favourite women (as well their wives, mothers, daughters or sisters, colleagues) only on the 8th of March. Quite the contrary, because Polish men are very courteous and polite!!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love is in the air

These are the results of the Valentine's school competition for the best declaration of love, read below three best ones!

Ewa Stawiarska:

I - because you are my idol.
L - because you light up my life.
O - because your beauty overwhelmed me at first sight.
V - because you give my world vivacious colours.
E - because you elevate my self-esteem.
Y - because you never yell
O - because you outran every other man.
U - because you understand me.
Basically, I love you, baby!

Michał Grotowski:

Hey, hi, hello,
I know you might hate me.
I know you can't look at me straight.
I know that the thought of me repulses you.
But I just want you to know how much I love you.
In fact, more than fat loves cake.
So how about another chance?

Maja Kruczalak:

look at me
I'll create your dream
reality escapes or so it may seem
but truth is only what you believe
I'll give you faith without deceit
I'll make you forget
purple echoes, screaming height
fossilized thoughts, second sight,
I'm in love with you
and it's crushing my heart

Monday, February 15, 2010

St. Valentine’s Day in Chełmno

St.Valentine’s Day has made new entry in the Polish Culture. However, it is celebrated wholeheartedly in the unique Polish style. All lovers manage to gather at Chelmno, the lover’s city, where a historical Valentine altar is present and the relics of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, have bee preserved for several hundred years in the local parish church. Lovers and singles pray for a happy marital life to the couples who gathered here centuries ago and St.Valentine who got them married.

Chelmno is a northern Polish hill station (situated between Torun and Gdansk) with a few thousand local population and tremendous natural beauty.14th February in Chełmno is a day one of its kind, many love and romance-themed events are organised throughout the city including rock concerts, brass band parades, competitions and a wide array of other performances. Students and scouts make a huge heart of thousands burning lanterns in the market square. After dark, a singing concert is held there that fills the air with romantic lyrics and songs. St. Valentine’s Day in Chełmno traditionally ends in a fireworks display.

Valentine couples declare their love for each other and exchange love quotes. Men present spectacular floral arrangements, made of red roses and bows, to their date. Heart shaped cookies, cakes, pastries and buns, specially prepared for the occasion, accompanied with greeting cards, are presented to women from their men. One can imagine very well that how romantic and women respecting are the Polish.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day (in Polish: Walentynki)

Saint Valentine's Day festival is celebrated in a big way in countries around the world ! It is interesting to note that the popularity of this ancient festival has grown several folds and is said to be increasing by the year as more and more people are getting influenced by the idea of celebrating love and lovers. The present generation holds the festival in high regard and celebrates the day by expressing love not just to their sweethearts but everyone they hold dear and special.

Valentine's Day has not been celebrated in Poland until very recently. Poland had been behind the Iron Curtain for quite some decades, only after the collapse of the Eastern European Block in 1989 and the consequent opening of Poland's borders this well known, especially in English-language cultures holiday entered Polish society. Romantic Poles were very quick in adopting Valentines Day and nowadays it as popular in Poland as anywhere else.

As a result, men in Poland are now "burdened" with two occasions to adore their ladies with gifts and flowers, as the old custom of Women's Day (in Polish: Dzien Kobiet) is still very popular as it used to be in the communist times. It is celebrated on March the 8th of each year. Women's Day is the old Polish version of the Valentine's Day with the one difference that all women are on the receiving side while all men are on the giving side. While the Valentine's Day is more privately celebrated between the lovers, the Women's Day is celebrated more as a national holiday for all women, whether they are 8, or 80 years old. At that day all women in Poland receive special attention (usually in the form of flowers) not only privately, but also at schools and at work (hospitals, offices, etc.). In addition to flowers, they sometimes receive greeting cards, which are not that popular in Poland as they are in English-language cultures.

It is interesting how popular greeting cards are in English-language cultures. In Poland people do not send greetings cards to their friends or family who live in the same town. In English-language cultures people do not only send them to far away places where they cannot communicate the message personally, but often take a greeting card with them to hand it personally to the addressee. For example, when they go to a wedding, or a birthday party, in addition to flowers or a gift, they also bring a greeting card.

Early Valentine's Day Celebration
Valentine's Day Festival is said to have originated in pagan times when people celebrated February 14th in honor of the Roman God of Fertility. This February fertility festival celebration that also marked the beginning of spring was known as the Feast of Lupercalia. In such festivals boys drew out names of girls from a box. They would then be regarded as a couple for a year. Sometimes these couples would fall in love and even marry. Christian Church decided to turn the pagan event into Christian celebrations in honor of St Valentine. Gradually, people began to celebrate February 14th by expressing love for their sweethearts.

In the 14th century Valentine's Day began to be celebrated with loved ones and a large feast was organized to mark the day. In 16th century began the custom of exchanging gifts between lovers with the passing of paper Valentine. Initially, Valentine's Day cards were usually handmade and given anonymously. During the 1800s much larger hand-painted copperplates molded in the shape of hearts replaced paper cards. In later years, the copperplates gradually gave way to woodcuts and carvings and lithographs. By the middle of the 18th century, Valentine's Day become popular amongst the masses and it became a common tradition for all social classes to secretly exchange small tokens of lover or handwritten love notes called Valentine. In 19th century began the custom of sending mass-produced Valentine's Day greeting cards. This custom is very much in vogue even today.

Valentine's Day Celebration in Present Times
In present times, Valentine's Day Festival celebrations are massive in several countries across the globe. The festival has emerged as a popular dating and gift-giving festival and therefore has a major social and economic significance. It may be noted that Valentine's Day started as a romantic festival but today the festival has increased in scope. These days, Valentine's Day is essentially regarded as festival that celebrates love between individuals and not just lovers. People therefore wish ‘Happy Valentine's Day' to parents, teachers, siblings, friends or any other person special to them.

Though there are various traditions and customs associated with the festival, the most popular way of celebrating Valentines Day is by expressing love to sweethearts and dear ones with an exchange of gifts. Some of the most traditional Valentine's Day gifts exchanged between lovers are fresh flowers, chocolates and cards. Jewelry is also fast emerging as the most sought after Valentine's Day gift for women. In the modern technologically advanced age, exchange of text messages between friends and loved ones has become a norm.

Going on dates with beloved is the other major way of celebrating Valentine's Day Festival. Restaurants see a busy time as people celebrate the day of romance with a candle light dinner. People also participate in Valentine's Day dance parties and balls organized by various clubs and hotels. Private parties are also organized in homes and farmhouses where young and the old have a blast. Some couple use the occasion to propose their beloved while some chose to get engaged on the festival that celebrates love and lovers.