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.