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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 12. 1965.

Student life under Communism

Student life under Communism

• • • Carol Williams, a young American honours graduate of Vassar, confirmed world traveller, writes of life under Polish Communism. What does it mean to be a young person in a totalitarian state? This article was specially written for Salient readers.

A Vivacious, dark-haired 25-year-old girl who reads Kingsley Amis and Paris Match and who occasionally splurges on a jar of Yardley face cream; a shaggy-haired young man of 29 who shipped on a merchant vessel for two years before finishing secondary school, who has studied painting and is now finishing a master's degree in the conservation and restoration of works of art; a serious, somewhat pompous young man with a degree as an automotive engineer who will go on to study industrial design as well; an exuberant young lady who has just finished her first year of teaching English in a provincial high school and who is about to depart for England on her first trip abroad.

These are Polish young people of 1965, not forced to adhere to a pattern set for them by a rigid system of state control, but individuals facing many of the same problems and choices as their counterparts in other parts of the world.

Some of the choices in education are not of their own making. At the end of secondary school comes a difficult examination called the matura, which is a prerequisite for university entrance. Then the choice, always perplexing for an 18-year-old, what shall I study? What does the future hold?

A student may start studying engineering and decide after two years that he wants to change to economics. He must start over again and his first two years are, for all practical purposes, wasted.

Then what will happen to him when he finishes studying? A doctor will not be able to work in a large city hospital; there are no places available. He will have to choose among a list of provincial towns or villages which need doctors. Teachers have more choice of location but they also must go where there are openings. Engineers, who are greatly needed in this rapidly industrialising country, are often given scholarships by particular factories with an obligation to work for that factory for five years after finishing their studies.


But graduating students do not fit into readymade slots when they finish the university. They must find jobs for themselves, through someone they know or by applying directly to a school or factory. "Pull" helps. Everything in Poland runs on knowing someone in a ministry or having a cousin who is a director of an enterprise.

Education in Poland is free; medical insurance is provided; and many students receive supplementary allowances for meals as well. Dormitory fees are low for those who can get rooms in dormitories; otherwise they must live in rented rooms, which are scarce, or with their parents.

Many students help to pay their living expenses by working during the summer, as receptionists in student hotels, as interpreters, as painters of advertising posters.

And what do students study at the university? In most fields the programme lasts for five years, leading to a master's degree. In English literature and philology students cover all periods of English and American literature as well as Anglo-Saxon and Middle English grammar. For the past six or seven years American and British professors have been lecturing in Polish universities and students have access to British and American source material and the most modern manuals of language study.

A philosophy student at the University of Warsaw says, "We study all major philosophers from the Greeks to the present, including William James and John Dewey, and we have access to European and American professional journals. We are also beginning to study experimental psychology now although Poland is far behind in that field because freedom of inquiry was stiffed during the Stalinistic period."

Foreign Languages

For people who can read foreign languages, French, English and American books and publications abound. Most sizable towns have public reading rooms where one can pick up Le Monde, The [unclear: chester] Guardian, or The New [unclear: a] Times. Fashion magazines [unclear: r] also available, and Time. [unclear: ed] by Anglo-Saxon intellec-[unclear: l] is snapped up by young [unclear: s], eager to find out the inside [unclear: z] about life in the Untied [unclear: es].

[unclear: fferences]

[unclear: mi] read the foregoing account, [unclear: fe] might think that there are [unclear: of] few differences between the [unclear: n] of young people in Poland [unclear: ers] in Western countries. To [unclear: teract] this impression one [unclear: at] first say that material life is [unclear: ult] in Poland. A young person, [unclear: ing] out in a professional job [unclear: a] earn 2000 zloties a month. [unclear: is] can give an idea of the value [unclear: is] salary by saying that a [unclear: ab] th's rent for a flat would be [unclear: n] about 200 to 500 zloties; a [unclear: ly]-made man's suit costs about [unclear: a] zloties; a pair of shoes about [unclear: c] zloties.

[unclear: A] meal in a modest restaurant [unclear: s] from 15 to 20 zloties, an [unclear: olstered] sofa bed about 3500 [unclear: 90] a Polish car, the Warszawa, [unclear: t] 90,000. At this rate one can [unclear: ulate] how long one would have [unclear: ave] to buy clothes, much less [unclear: urnish] an apartment.

[unclear: ne] freedom which is denied [unclear: s] in the way that others know [unclear: s] the right to travel. To go [unclear: ad] a Pole must have an invita-[unclear: s] from someone in the country [unclear: re] he is going, certifying that [unclear: o] Pole will be given financial [unclear: port] by the person inviting him. [unclear: sh] currency may not be taken [unclear: o] of the country and it is with-[unclear: a] value in the dollar bloc [unclear: ntries] anyway.

[unclear: n] addition a Pole is granted a [unclear: sport] only after a six or eight-[unclear: k] waiting period. Sometimes the [unclear: est] for a passport is denied. [unclear: o] students who had been offered [unclear: larships] at American unlver-[unclear: es] could not accept them [unclear: ause] their government would [unclear: v] give them passports.

The only way in which I feel [unclear: rived] of freedom is in being [unclear: sed] a passport to travel [unclear: oad]," one of the students said. [unclear: he] same student got a passport [unclear: di] a different occasion to go to [unclear: eden] where he worked for several months. "Working in a capitalist country where opportunity is more or less unlimited is terribly discouraging when you have to come back to Poland where salaries are low and job opportunities are limited. After that I lost my joie de vivre for over a year."

Young people, nevertheless, manage to take trips abroad. Some visit relatives; others get letters of invitation and work while living abroad; others go on organised student excursions or, like the young English teacher, are given scholarships by the government to study during the summer.

Independent travel abroad as Western Europeans know it is more or less impossible for Poles, even in their sister socialist and people's republics. Visas are necessary to travel in other Eastern European countries and currency may not be exported or imported.


An American visiting Poland for the first time is struck by his own preconceptions and lack of knowledge about, people in this part of the world. Poles have a fairly good idea about what is going on in the United States. Western Europe, and the rest of the world and they know how to evaluate sources of information; but we are woefully ignorant and prejudiced in our views about Eastern Europe.

A Polish girl who spent a summer studying in England was asked by a woman from West Germany whether Poland had its own stamps and currency or whether it was part of the Soviet Union. The same woman, a teacher, wouldn't believe that the attractive clothes the girl was wearing were really her own. "The government outfitted you for the trip," she insisted.

The same kind of naive views exist in the United States, making one wonder where the Iron Curtain really lies. While Eastern Europeans avidly devour whatever sources of information they can find about the outside world, the people of the so-called free world are content to live with their 15-year-old stereotypes of Eastern Europe as a great air-tight prison, rigidly controlled by the Soviet Union.

One imagines people speaking in whispers, secretly trying to listen to radio broadcasts from Western Europe and walking the streets in ugly, ill-fitting clothes. On the contrary, Polish people are outspoken in their political and economic opinions although they caution Western visitors not to write anything until they leave Poland; Radio Luxembourg, the BBC and the Voice of America come in loud and clear and American films and serials are shown on Polish television; and the young women of Warsaw and Krakow are attractive enough to make a man turn his head when they pass him in the street.


The young people of Poland are friendly, curious and undoctrinaire. If young people of other countries can free themselves of concepts like "cold war" and "behind the Iron Curtain," a meaningful exchange of opinions can begin to take place. We speak glibly of "the war of ideas," but in the words of Daniel Aaron, an American professor who taught in Poland. "Why not think of ideas as 'bridges,' as points of integration and reconciliation, links between disparities "

The bridges must be built by people of goodwill and intelligence who are prepared to relinquish prejudices and stereotypes and who are curious enough to seek new and authentic sources of information.

Beatles Subversive

The Beatles are subversive— at least this appears to be the view of one Sukarno.

The Indonesian authorities have confiscated hundreds of records and tapes with songs of the Beatles from a large number of shops in Jakarta. The confiscation was made in mid July on direct orders from President Sukarno.

Sukarno feels that the country must get rid of the menace of "crazy western dances" such as twist, rock 'n' roll and chacha cha. All these dances are now officially banned in the universities. The police also seized records of Beatle-like artists such as the Shadows and the Rolling Stones.

Sukarno has also called the youth of Indonesia to identify themselves with what he calls "National Culture." In an interview the police High Commissioner Dradjat Hadeli remarked to Antara News Agency:

"Songs by the Beatles and their imitators are harmful to the future generation of Indonesia, so that preventive measures against them must be taken."

The Indonesian authorities have also come up with an official solution to satisfy the craze for dance: a new dance called the Lenso, which President Sukarno recently worked up himself. There have been reports of dissatisfaction, and unrest among the students of these governmental measures which restrict their freedom in many ways.—Asian Student Bulletin, August 16, 1965.

page 13

Indonesia [unclear: tudy] Tour

[unclear: here] will be a study tour [unclear: o] Indonesia in January, [unclear: 966], said John Troughten, [unclear: ZUSA] Travel Officer.

[unclear: T] his report, Mr. Troughten said [unclear: t] NZUSA's limited resources had [unclear: tricted] his organisation of study [unclear: d] work tours.

The tour to Indonesia will be a [unclear: dy] trip and arrangements have [unclear: en] made to accommodate mem-[unclear: rs] in Indonesian homes.

[unclear: ZUSA] is co-operating in an [unclear: hange] scheme with Australian [unclear: dents]. New Zealand agricultural [unclear: d] engineering students will leave [unclear: r] Australia earlier than the main [unclear: up] this year, enabling them to [unclear: dertake] practical work. Group A [unclear: es] on November 16 and indi-[unclear: ual] members may return when [unclear: ey] choose. This study trip will [unclear: st] £49.

The Fiji study tour will be [unclear: ilar] to last year's tour, but some [unclear: or] improvements have been [unclear: ade]. It leaves New Zealand on [unclear: ovember] 29 and returns on December 31. The total cost is £44.

Student Salaries

French college students have begun a drive to gain adoption of a national system of salaries for all persons pursuing regular university studies.

The drive is expected to culminate in a debate this month when a Socialist-supported bill will be brought before the National Assembly.

The National Union of Students, Fiance's largest student organisation, is calling for a monthly salary of 450 francs (about £35) to be paid to every student taking courses towards a degree.

The National Union thinks students should be paid to continue their education because their studies constitute "an apprenticeship of the country's economic and social life."

The cost of the proposed system is estimated at £NZ124,000,000 a year, but the students contend that half this sum could be made up by eliminating scholarships, tax exemptions and family allowances for parents of college students, and subsidies for student restaurants and dormitories.

Official reaction to the proposal has been cool.