By Julia Kuźma
The coronavirus pandemic started, for me, abruptly. Poland, the country I’ve been living in my whole life, gave a mere 24-hour warning about closing the borders, with only around 60 coronavirus cases discovered. Overwhelmed and shaken, I bought one of the last plane tickets and left Durham in less than 12 hours.
14th March – I landed on the Warsaw Chopin Airport, and the police entered the plane to measure my temperature. My mum picks me up and we drive through a half-empty capital. I sit in the back of the car, wearing a face mask, moist from the disinfectant, something my English friends found hilarious. Nevertheless, here, the pandemic is treated more seriously. I had only been told to self-quarantine for 10 days and no one controlled me – although there have already been fines up to £6000 for breaking the rules in place. Furthermore, the majority of the businesses have been working remotely, at the same time when the UK was slowly trying to understand what Coronavirus was. Hence my feeling of confusion by such a great response from our conservative government in Poland. How is it possible that England, the more ‘developed’ country, has had a slower response than Poland, the country I ‘ran away’ from?
Now, I’m asking myself this – did they genuinely think it was necessary to lock the country that early or was it a ruse to win the upcoming May elections by showing they can take care of the citizens even in the wildest of circumstances?
There were no open borders, no ‘one exercise a day’, no walking your dog for too long. Nothing. The official numbers were not as alarming as the one in the UK. The official numbers made me feel safer here, in Poland. The official numbers were the ones that calmed the population down. The official numbers.
April, the middle of the pandemic. The Polish Parliament brings back the anti-abortion legislation that would prohibit abortion absolutely. The legislation that has been fought by protests back in 2017 when the ‘black marches’ with hangers and black umbrellas went out on the streets and demanded this last shred of freedom in Polish abortion law. It returned during the pandemic. I started wondering who they really are protecting. Nevertheless, we weren’t stopped by Coronavirus. We protested out on the streets, with a red lighting bolt – the symbol of the movement – on our masks or with posters hanging from our cars and balconies. The legislation has not been passed; however, the fight is far from over.
The ruling party is receiving praise for handling COVID-19 whilst the presidential elections are looming on the horizon. Simultaneously, the economy is crashing. The government introduces 4 phases of unfreezing to begin 3 weeks before voting. The proposed ‘postal elections’ caused me to wonder about my right to anonymity. However, the panic across Poland led the government to postpone it until the 28th of June, after already spending millions on the first attempt.
Currently, almost everything is back to normal, even though we are one of the countries that haven’t peaked yet. I don’t have to wear a mask (although a plethora of places still want us to), I can meet my friends, I can even go to clubs, which are now transformed into ‘bars’. We can protest, go to weddings and travel abroad. The economy, although hurt, is slowly recovering. Warsaw citizens are now, more than ever, mesmerised by the idea of drinking prosecco in the Saviour Square or a beer on the Vistula boulevard and enjoy the proper Warsaw summer. I am more than happy to spend these months with my friends, all of whom have come back from across the UK. The way it has to be.
Is that good? I hope so. Am I going to the polls next week? Absolutely.
*I have only highlighted two of the issues that we have been dealing with during the pandemic and the list is, unfortunately, much longer.
Images: Julia Kuźma.