The Vienna-Warsaw intercity train leaves a neat station in Vienna. Hardly an hour passed, it stops at a shabby bordering town station in Czech Republic. Rusty rigs, containers, log laden freight trains and locomotives stand there seemingly for ages. Few scrapped vehicles on the outer edge of the tracks are evocative of the country’s turbulent past. A simple rustic hops on short of breath permeating the cabin with smell of cigarette. The journey begins! The ruralscape of green hill farmland dotted with cozy little bungalows hypnotizes one while the train speeds up.
Before you know it, it arrives at a station across the border in Poland. A stranger in wonderland! Name plates hanging at the stations, the announcements, everything is next to impossible to figure out. No way! Excitement and anxiety grow with new faces, new people and new land. Railing along thousands of hectares of arable land and occasional dilapidated stations and houses, the train reaches the hulky granite Warsaw central station, reminiscent of the old timer Commies. Together with the common apartment blocks of Eastern Europe, skyscrapers of international hotel chains Marriott, Westin, Intercontinental etc. and multinationals Mercedes, Peugeot and many more dominate Warsaw’s skyline. The Stalin gifted hulky Palace of Culture and Science standing tall resembles the empire state building in Manhattan. The growing high rising buildings are the empirical evidence of the dynamic present day Poland and its success in creating market economy and attracting foreign investments.
A long-time firm US ally, now with a deal of a permanent US missile base, a revamped version of missile defense shield, makes it the most reliable ‘bridgehead’ in mainland Europe for the Americans. Distinctly displayed and recommended Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay (Californian wines) in cafes explains, not only political and economic, but people to people relations and emotions are palpable. ‘EU and America both need Poland as much as it needs them’ aphorizes a Polish student. Wandering around the Freta street in the old town Warsaw, where Madam Curie was born and grew up, a pensioner from Seattle Bob Jankowsky declares, ‘I love coming to Poland. It’s my ancestor’s home. I am glad that Poland today is America’s reliable partner.’
Poland still faces many challenges. The transition from Communism to EU integration and the unemployment hit the people very hard. Thanks to the EU and flexible labor laws, many people flocked to the Western Europe and the UK looking for work and better life. A young Polish girl who worked for a year in London and came back vents her anger on the dismissive tone of the western Europeans, ‘People in Western Europe are unknown of our potential and importance in EU. Due to our huge unemployment problem, we have had to go there and find work. They were not benevolent to us. Now thanks to the Financial Crisis, even erstwhile economically well-off countries are having huge unemployment problem. Laid-off Spanish pilots are working in Irish Pubs in Dublin. This might turn things over.’
Far away north in a Baltic Sea coast, in a monumental medieval city of Gdansk, a bunch of Spanish students- ERASMUS generation-hop on into a local tram and chirp in English with a noticeable accent about shopping options available in the city, where many international retail giants and hypermarkets like IKEA, Carrefour, Tesco have already got a foothold . In Gdansk where the Polish struggle for freedom and Justice against Communism first started, beautiful medieval monuments are juxtaposed with the modern malls and complexes only to make the town more pleasant. Streets are flooded with exquisitely cut Silver-Amber jewelry, yes the Amber-the real ones from Baltic sea-unlike the fakes back home at Kathmandu Durbar Square where persistent hawkers tempt tourists with dirt cheap price and the Italian and Spanish women come out on a shopping spree to grab ‘em all.
The young European generation is transcending the individual national identities. The youth now travel around Europe virtually visa free, speak multiple languages and intermingle into a broader European society. ‘The United Polyglot States of Europe’, as a New Neighborhood Policy expert in Vienna notes, ‘Integration and Expansion let us all grow together as Europeans.’