Sara Naumann blog post independence day Poland

November 11 was Poland’s Independence Day. This is to mark the anniversary of 1918, when Poland resumed independence from Russia, Prussia and Austria.

Anna and I went out in the evening—not much was open all day except for our “downtown” area, a pedestrian street called the Monte Cassino, which leads past the church to the longest wooden pier in Europe. Night comes on fast nowadays and it was pitch dark at 4:00, which made the various candle displays especially lovely. Crowds of people headed to the sea to watch paper lanterns take off in the wind and float over the Baltic, carrying tiny flames like little hot air balloons. A band played by the Sheraton hotel, which at one point was a school during the Second World War. We felt the crisp November air and the feeling of somewhat muted celebration.

Later in the week, I watched from the treadmill at the Sheraton (it now also houses a popular gym and spa): Televised news of a nationalist group of demonstrators in Warsaw, setting fires to cars, throwing firecrackers, marching and shouting and throwing fists. They say this happens every year on Independence Day: Groups of militant All-Polish youths take over the march in protest against anything vaguely “liberal” or “non-Polish”, according to their own definitions. They burn, destroy, tear down and rage.

Yet this power of our more gentle celebration is what remains with me: The bowl of fire burning in front of the local town hall, commemorating those who died in concentration camps; the candle displays set out by ordinary citizens; the sweep of the little hot air balloons over the Baltic. I can’t begin to understand what urges a group of people to destruction, what frustration and anger or alcohol or false bravado makes young men put on balaclavas and torch cars. On that evening, it was just me and a little girl on the street on the Polish day of independence, watching the fires and trying to understand a story from a place we do and don’t call home.

Happy Friday!