2013-05-19: Resting and Bike Maintenance
Our double room is on a top floor in a quiet apartment, separate from the main portion of the hostel. At breakfast, we joined the riff raff and were entertained by a group of Frenchmen who had not yet gone to bed, and who were cavorting in only their underpants. We also met some quiet and thoughtful Swedish art students.
We armed ourselves with rags and did a valiant bike cleaning job. The bikes deserved a good dose of TLC in the aftermath of the swamp adventure. We both felt we needed rest and shade rather than a rush to begin sightseeing.
Today we visited the exhibition ¨Roads to Freedom¨ about the Solidarity trade union and its attempts to peacefully regain control of Poland from the Russian authorities. For the last week we have been cycling through former Warsaw Pact territory. I had been marvelling at the affluence achieved since 1989. But the contrast was bought home to me by two simple exhibits: a Soviet era toilet and a food shop. It is obvious that the cost of running a police state and a command economy left nothing for improving the lot of the common man… and the exhibit stated this truism.
But the exhibit caused me to ponder a different question, one posed by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: What do you do when the secret police knock on your door? I realised today that the question is the wrong one to ask. To deal with a police state you need an underground organisation; the individual is unable to fight alone. With the Polish underground resistance movement left from the war, the Polish Catholic Church, and a large working group in the Gdansk shipyards, Poland was uniquely able to resist.
Margo pointed out over supper that in the ex-dictatorship countries we have travelled through we have found free WiFi in many city centres. With the internet, the populace is very much better armed to resist the state. Perhaps this is why it is put on public display: a sort of ¨it will never happen again¨ statement from the current authorities.
We also spent some time today and yesterday exploring the town. It is well worth a visit. The fortifications along the river from the era of the Amber Route are especially impressive.
Margo Writes: The third of Solidarity’s twenty-one demands was: “Observance of the constitutional freedom of speech, press and publication, which also means not repressing the independent publishers and making the mass media available to representatives of all faiths.”
A cascade of “dominoes” that look like segments of the Berlin Wall are each labelled with the name of a former soviet republic or satellite country. The piece that triggers the cascade is Poland.