Skip to comments.Mind the Generation Gap
Posted on 05/26/2005 2:41:34 PM PDT by lizol
Mind the Generation Gap
by Colin Graham 26 May 2005
We wanted it all but had to compromise to stay alive, say the first generation of post-communist Poles. We wanted it all too, but we got nothing, rejoin their younger siblings.
WARSAW, Poland | Age has determined the social fault lines of Poland and the rest of the post-communist world; more so than in the West, it would appear. In recent history, the generation which emerged from a communist-era university education to join a capitalist job market in the 1990s found they had the pick of the crop when it came to careers. Most of them have not looked back since. Those that came after had bleaker prospects to face.
In September 2002 an article by a philosophy graduate of Lodz University, Kuba Wandachowicz, appeared in one of the country's leading newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza. Wandachowicz is also bassist and co-lyricist of the Lodz-based punk band Cool Kids of Death (usually nicknamed CKoD). In his article, entitled Generacja Nic (Generation Nothing), Wandachowicz wrote of how those born in the early '80s had been cheated of the prosperity promised them after the fall of communism.
THE MARTIAL-LAW GENERATION
Last year young Polish filmmaker Piotr Szczepanski released a documentary, Generacja CKoD, the product of two years filming during which the director was able to examine from close quarters the groups struggle to maintain its cutting-edge credibility in the face of escalating media attention. The debate ignited in the Polish press over Wandachowiczs Generacja Nic claims gained center stage in Szczepanskis film, which won several awards at the 44th Krakow film festival in 2004.
They are in a special situation because they are baby-boomers, says Professor Krzysztof Kosela, vice-director of the Institute of Sociology at Warsaw University, of the predicament of Polands 20-somethings. Those young people who are at university now and are trying to enter the labor market have to compete with a lot of peers. Demography has put them in a difficult predicament, he adds.
The baby-boomers "are different compared to those people who got their university degrees in the middle of the '90s. Those people were lucky because they were in a situation when there were many posts that could be taken and people older than they were werent trained to do them, Kosela says. But this is in the past."
No one is quite sure why Poles had so many babies in the early 1980s. Some say an increasingly anti-communist population reacted to the partys reliance on birth control and family planning, by embracing the Biblical tenet "go forth and multiply." Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland in 1979 would have given plenty of succor to such a mood.
Others say the regime was responsible, but in a different way. Many of the 20-something generation owe their existence to the 18-month state of martial law the regime imposed to suppress the Solidarity movement on 13 December 1981. The curfew that was introduced at the time meant young couples were limited in the options they had to wile away their hours of leisure.
More than 650,000 children were born every year during this time, Kosela says almost double the present birthrate.
OPTIMISTIC FOR LACK OF ANYTHING BETTER
Despite themselves, this generation has come to symbolize optimism because there is currently nowhere else for it to be invested. Untouched by corruption, beyond politics because they disparage it, they encapsulate the entrepreneurial spirit that was just a twinkle in the democratic oppositions eye back in the 1980s.
There were some discussions that this generation would change Poland because there are so many in it, Kosela says. However, we do not see that that they have any ideas for society at the moment. They are trying to find something for themselves, but as individuals, not as a group. It is not a rebellious generation.
Szczepanskis film might seem to bear this out, up to a point. In one scene Wandachowicz debates his Gazeta Wyborcza article with a crowd of people, CKoD fans and detractors alike. His attempt to articulate his view of contemporary Poland is drowned out by a mixture of boorish heckling and crass questioning. In the end, sighing with exasperation, he appears to accept that Generacja Nic is exactly that: nothing, not some metaphorical device to get the dormant insubordinate juices of Polands youth flowing.
Yet the film shows, despite Professor Kosela, that the band members at least are mercifully bent on raging against the machine, whether or not they are typical of their generation. And whatever academic objections that are raised against Wandachowiczs stance, he at least made the indispensable point that deep down below Polands corrupt yet respectable surface, some people were very angry at how things had turned out.
We had a taste of freedom, wrote Wandachowicz in his article. We allowed ourselves some optimism only to face high unemployment and the necessity of bowing down to the new idol: the impersonal consumer.
In another scene, Wandachowicz reads aloud from his article while a split screen shows the band bashing out the song of the same name from their first album in front of a crowd of pogoing youngsters at one of their gigs. The effect of this is to evoke some of the anarchic rage of the protagonists, those supposedly left behind once the initial post-communist bubble had burst in Poland, while at the same time depicting Generacja Nics incipient rational self-consciousness, as exemplified by Wandachowicz.
In this dual scene, the on-screen passion is expressed by lead singer Krzysztof Ostrowski as he rasps his lyrics of frustration: a significant coupling in that the singers role in the film as a whole is to preserve the groups anti-establishment fervor, while Wandachowicz is sometimes shown as enjoying his place in the limelight as Generacja Nic spokesman rather too much for someone at the forefront of a vital, new social critique. The two dont always see eye to eye and in one scene when the group are being harassed by a drunk in one of the down market hotels they have to stay in while on tour, Wandachowicz gets on his mobile to complain to the police, much to the chagrin of Ostrowski who reminds the bassist that such "upright citizen" behavior is unbecoming of Cool Kids of Death. Elsewhere it is Ostrowski who stands up to aggressive security guards and abuses hostile audiences, while Wandachowicz lurks in the background. He is clearly more at home on his own under the media glare than dealing with the rough and tumble of rock and roll.
Szczepanskis film captures the excruciating dilemmas experienced by any artist confronting the truth that success sometimes comes at a very heavy cost. Cool Kids of Death responded to this by recording a second album, rawer than their first, which concentrated most of its ire on the manipulation it believed it had been subjected to from the media. But there are some who insist that the band owes its very existence to the circus it apparently detests and needs to learn to be a little harder on itself before it lays down the law on others.
LA BOHEME, POLISH-STYLE
In his Gazeta Wyborcza article, Wandachowicz attacked the generation a few years older than himself, those who had grasped the opportunities that the fall of the Berlin Wall had presented, for having sacrificed freedom for money.
Any thirty-something will do anything to hold on to the job he got at the beginning of the 1990s, because he knows that losing it would mean that he'd sacrifice his place in the labor market to the horde of young people waiting to fill his job, he wrote. How many people gave up their ideals for the sake of working for advertising agencies?
Jaroslaw Kaminski is 37 and has been in advertising since the early '90s, currently working as a senior copywriter at Saatchi & Saatchi in Warsaw. He is also a playwright and poet. Back in September 2002 he published a riposte to Wandachowiczs article, also in Gazeta Wyborcza whose editor-in-chief, Adam Michnik, was one of the intellectual flag bearers of the dissident movement under communism.
For Kaminski, unavoidable naiveté, as well as economic necessity, dictated the path he embarked on, while Wandachowiczs Generacja Nic enjoyed the benefit of hindsight.
My point was Dont blame us, he says now. "We were in a different situation and in many ways a tougher situation. We had no choice. The option was either to pursue the arts and have no money, because nobody was interested, or accept something in an advertising agency and just do some artistic stuff on the side."
The outlook for Poland's aspiring artists is brighter today because the economy is in better shape than a couple of years ago, Kaminski thinks. But he doesnt believe that Wandachowicz and his ilk have produced an entirely honest appraisal of the post-communist condition. Their understandable frustration at the lack of opportunities that came their way blinded them to the very real advantages they in fact enjoyed, in his opinion.
My first play was staged two years ago, so you can imagine how much time I would have waited without earning any money. The choice I had was to either die of starvation or take on commercial work, he says.
Wandachowicz's point, though, was that his generation never even had that option of taking on a cushy number at a firm like Saatchi & Saatchi. They were left with literally nothing," no nice cars, no renovated apartments, no foreign holidays.
The thing is now they do have these opportunities and its something they dont appreciate, Kaminski goes on. They have a clearer idea of what to choose and how much you pay for your choice. I didnt know what the price of the advertising business would be when I began working in it because it was very new. We had a lot of enthusiasm at that time, but I didnt really have much of an idea of what I was paying for that sort of life. You get something and you lose something.
Right now 'Generacja Nic' knows more [than we did] about life under capitalism. We didnt have any other idea than the idealistic view that everything was better, richer, and freer."
"The outlook for Poland's aspiring artists is brighter today because the economy is in better shape than a couple of years ago, Kaminski thinks. But he doesnt believe that Wandachowicz and his ilk have produced an entirely honest appraisal of the post-communist condition. Their understandable frustration at the lack of opportunities that came their way blinded them to the very real advantages they in fact enjoyed, in his opinion.
My first play was staged two years ago, so you can imagine how much time I would have waited without earning any money. The choice I had was to either die of starvation or take on commercial work, he says."
The trouble with that article is that it's cultural in orientation, i.e. it has no statistics, charts and graphs. On one level you have the thirty-somethings who are just old enough to remember what it was like growing up in the bad, old days and having to stand in line for moldy potatoes, wait years for a car or an apartment and having to scrape just to survive. The "baby-boom" generation presumably grew up with much higher expectations and is less willing to compromise. I guess added to that is the fact that there are so much more of them and the labor market is glutted.
I watched Chirac's discussion with 80 young French in which he was urging a "yes" on the EU constitution. They all wanted to talk about jobs - a young unemployed lawyer, a business graduate working as a cashier at a supermarket, an auto worker who had just seen his plant move to Slovakia.
I know a young Polish woman studying chemistry at Warsaw University and excelling in it. She also is near-fluent in English. She will have no difficlties, and I think that Poland's 1980's "baby boom" will ultimately be a great advantage in a continent where Poland's neighbors to the east and the west have almost ceased to have babies.
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