After Ukraine, Serbia and Romania, this is the latest in our series of five unpopular opinions on Central and Eastern European countries.
This week it’s Poland.
It’s not as Catholic as it used to be
Poland has been described as the last Catholic stronghold in Europe, and you don’t need a lot of knowledge about the country’s history to realize that the faith is deeply rooted in its culture. Faith was undoubtedly a source of comfort, and the church played a central role in the struggle against communism, the birth of the Solidarity movement and finally the fall of the regime.
However, the events of the past few years have changed national sentiment towards the church.
First of all, numerous pedophilia scandals involving priests have come to light, revealing a rather ugly side of the Polish Catholic Church and which has severely affected its right to claim moral authority.
Second, the tightening of already strict abortion laws in 2020 led to mass protests that, for the first time, directly pointed the finger at the church.
There have even been protests in front of churches, sometimes during mass, demonstrating that many ordinary Poles no longer regard criticism of the church as a taboo.
The results of a national census now underway will likely confirm that fewer Poles than ever identify as devout Catholics.
Perhaps it is time to let go of the oft-cited stereotype that “97% of Poles are Catholics” for good.
Poland is multicultural
You don’t have to read many Polish comments on Facebook and Twitter to come across some rather appalling hate speech targeting all kinds of minorities: Jews, migrants, refugees, the LGBT + community.
But like almost everywhere, social media does not reflect the country as a whole.
While there are undoubtedly problems – even occasional violence – the streets of Polish cities are safer today than at any time in history: safer for everyone.
Migrants of all origins and races are now part of our community (and many of them speak better Polish than I do), while pride parades take place in towns big and small, with more and more participants. than those who protest against them.
Another problem is the famous “LGBT + free zones”. Yes, they have damaged Poland’s international image, but this week a number of local authorities disbanded them fearing they would lose EU funding.
Not all Poles are raging carnivores
According to the Happy Cow World Ranking, Warsaw treats vegetarians as well as London, Los Angeles or Tel Aviv.
With over 50 purely vegan and vegetarian bars and restaurants in the capital, the city can offer those of us who avoid meat a fabulous dining experience.
Now it’s no longer a problem to find vegan versions of schabowy (a typical Polish schnitzel), pierogi (dumplings) or pączki (donuts) as restaurants increasingly seek to revolutionize (and, if you ask me , to improve considerably) Polish cuisine.
And it’s not just the capital that is vegan: vegan food is widely available throughout Poland.
Due to growing customer demand, even large supermarket chains (like Żabka, for example) have introduced their own herbal brands, while on PKP’s InterCity trains you can enjoy vegan food in the wagon. -restaurant.
Trains are not great
After the collapse of communism in 1989, Poland had virtually no highways but a relatively well-developed rail network (albeit with poor customer service).
But the Poles wanted to drive on the highways, so that’s where the money went.
It took a while, but Poland now has a decent motorway network. Some still complain that Polish highways are too few and too expensive, but if you count expressways, Poland has the fifth most extensive motorway network in Europe. This network which is always expanding, and it has never been so easy and fast to travel the country.
Sadly, the rail network which three decades ago was the backbone of travel across the country has been largely neglected, especially in the eastern part of the country.
Yes, there are a few relatively fast connections between the big cities, but there are less and less reliable trains serving small towns, while in the big cities the commuter services are generally appalling.
No wonder the traffic is still so terrible.
Not all Poles are unilingual
According to official statistics, Poles do poorly in foreign languages. Eurostat figures suggest that almost 50 percent of Poles between the ages of 26 and 64 speak only one language.
But the statistics can be misleading.
Foreigners who pass through the big cities of Poland will find that they can communicate easily without going back to sign language. In some places, English is as widely spoken as Polish. We may not be a nation of linguists, but we are doing our best.
And how many countries advertise trains and buses in English as well as in their own language? We do.
Even staff in government offices at local and national levels are now likely to speak English, and often another foreign language as well.
Of course, the flip side is that people who live here in countries that really have trouble with foreign languages (yes, I’m looking at you Great Britain and the United States) are less motivated to learn some Polish.
Come on, if we’ve made the effort, so do you.
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