Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Journey Back in Time and into the Future

By Janepicha Cheva-Isarakul

This year, the Humanity in Action Core Program 2010 in Warsaw began on an auspicious date, June 4, the day that marks the victory of the Solidarity Movement and the beginning of modern Polish democracy. Nineteen Fellows from 4 different countries—Poland, USA, Ukraine and Germany---were warmly welcomed by Monika Mazur-Rafal, the Director of HIA Poland Program, Magda Szarota, Coordinator of HIA Poland  and myself, Janepicha Cheva-Isarakul, an intern this year.
As a Senior Fellow who completed the HIA program in Denmark in 2006, I now return as an Intern in Poland. I still remember feeling inspired and energized during those long talks and discussions about a wide range of issues  with other Fellows from diverse academic and personal backgrounds. In a short time, we were able to connect, and form friendships that still stay with me today. This wonderful feeling reemerged when I got to meet all of the Fellows this year. Despite our different focuses, we all strive to bring about change  and share the goal of challenging ourselves and collaborating to instigate positive change. More than anything, this is the aspect that distinguishes HIA from other academic fellowships and has made me look forward to being part of the HIA journey again.
Through various activities throughout the day, Fellows got to know one another and shared stories as well as expectations about the Program. There was no better way to conclude the magnificent day than joining “A Toast for Freedom” hosted by the city of Warsaw to commemorate the victory of the Solidarity Movement and the first partially-free election. At this special event, HIA Poland Team  had the privilege and honour to meet and greet with Tadeusz Mazowiecki--the first non-communist prime minister in Central and Eastern Europe after World War II and one of the former leaders of the Solidarity movement. As prime minister, Mazowiecki undertook various  reforms aimed at moving Poland in the direction of a free-market economy. At the age of 83, Mr. Mazowiecki remains a prominent figure in Polish society today. 

An introductory day to Poland, Warsaw and HIA came to its perfect completion with a welcoming dinner at “Oberza pod Czerwonym Wieprzem” - a unique restaurant, where Fellows enjoyed delicious Polish cuisine while being transported back in time with the Communist decorations. On Saturday, Fellows spent a sunny afternoon having a picnic in a peaceful park on the outskirts of Warsaw.
A historical journey through Warsaw began on Sunday. We spent 4 hours on foot tracing back to both the beautiful and the painful past of Poland. I was pleasantly surprised that Poland was once a multicultural and multi-religious society. Its union with Lithuania as one of the first Republics was also one of the most interesting discoveries of the day for me. At the same time, the recent history of the Holocaust and the oppression during the USSR regime has left me with a very heavy feeling inside. It is incomprehensible how we, human beings, were able to inflict such suffering on others while the world waited and watched. However, it is equally important to remember that among the evil doers and bystanders, there existed those who deviated from the expected behavioral social “norms” at the time, who refused to conform to what they did not believe in, who displayed and asserted their will against the authority figure even if that meant risking their own lives. These who stood up against the atrocities and injustice have given me hope, and reminded me how we cannot fail to live up to the “never again” promise and let another tragedy occur before our eyes.

As for the Polish society today, it has come a long way for being a relatively young country with much suffering in the past. As the core value of HIA states “A test of genuine democracy is how a society treats its minority groups”, and it remains for me to discover Poland and the extent of its democracy.

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