This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily representative the views of The Euroculturer, the management and editorial staff of The Euroculturer or contributors to The Euroculturer
The Czarny Protest- Women in Poland don black to protest the loss of their dignity and security in rallies held outside of parliament buildings and in town squares across major cities in Poland.
They are wearing black to protest the introduction of new abortion laws which would see victims of rape and incest forced to give birth to the result of their violations, whilst those whose fetus has severe or permanent impairment, those who would be at risk of long-term health complications from carrying their child to term, will have no choice in the matter. Soon Poland may see a law passed that restricts abortion in all but the most clear cut life and death situations.
The abortion law in force now, was passed in 1993 and restricts abortions save for cases of risk to the mother’s life, impairment of the fetus, and children conceived through rape and incest.
Women are being told by the Polish Parliament that their life, their place in Polish society, the fact that they are theoretically equal citizens before the law, matters less than what their womb can produce.
Pro-life activists, backed by the Catholic Church, were the ones who submitted this new law for the consideration of the Parliament, asking for the complete restriction of abortions save for life or death situations and gathered half a million signatures, four hundred thousand more than was necessary for submission.
The Law and Justice Party (PiS) who is currently in power and considering these further restrictions, are a national right-wing conservative party but even the main opposition party Civic Platform- a liberal-conservative party, has refused to consider liberalizing abortion laws.
If the anti-abortion bills become law, women and female children who do undergo abortions for any reason short of life and death situations will risk between three months and five years in prison. Whilst doctors who seek to perform these unauthorized abortions will face increased prison sentences. The Gazeta Wroclawska quotes one protester stating that:”It’s a cruel and inhuman law. It will endanger all of us. We do not want to live in a country where the bed of a pregnant woman is surrounded by armed police officers and a prosecutor, where every abortion ends in investigation, where raped girls are forced to bear the children of their rapists ” (Translated from Polish)
Pro-choice activists have tried to counter with their own initiative by producing a bill called ‘Save the Women’, which would allow abortions for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.Within a very short time the bill had collected215,000 signatures but has since been ignored by the Parliament.
The reasoning behind the Black Protest movement is described by the organizer of the Lublin branch, Catherine Babis, as – “(We) organized the protest, because we are tired of being treated like objects in the ideological controversy. It is easy to talk about sacrifice and holiness of life, if it applies to sacrifice someone else. We do not agree with forcing women to be heroic in the name of someone else’s ideology and someone else’s beliefs. We can see how it ends in countries that have introduced similar laws, countries dealing out sentences for miscarriage, and the doctors looking idly on the death of women who could be saved. We do not want Poland to be turned into a hell for women. We want dignity and security for us and for our families.”
In Goettingen I was one of approximately twenty Euroculture students, in Krakow that became one of nine, in Indianapolis I couldn’t sit in Starbucks on campus for long without someone I knew walking in, so when I made the decision to return to Krakow for my fourth semester, as one of three I knew it was going to be a shock to the system.
For the first two semesters, my closest friends had been those fellow MA Euroculture 11-13 students, who I studied with, lunched with, cooked with, drank tea with, ate copious cookies with, stressed over deadlines with, partied with and later lived with… you get the picture.
In Goettingen, lunch in the Mensa was a regular daily occurrence and coffee breaks had the potential to be of greater frequency than that of productivity in the library. During my second semester in Krakow all the Euroculture students had lived in the same building, we were in and out of each other’s flats with alarming regularity. You wanted strong coffee – see Penelope. You needed chocolate – go to Sarah. You wanted custard – only Larisa understood that one! We wanted to visit a bar – just run up and down the stairs knocking on doors and you’ll soon have company.
So, at the start of the fourth semester, as I sat in my temporary room, suitcase on the floor, rain drumming against the window, having just arrived in Krakow from the UK, with the knowledge my fellow Euroculture classmate would not be arriving for another two weeks, I wondered, had I made the right decision for my final semester?
“Krakow was a city in which I felt I could really live, it was fun, affordable, stunning…”
Everyone makes their decision as to where they are to spend their fourth semester based upon their different priorities, with many different things being important only to themselves. For me, it was the city; Krakow was a city in which I felt I could really live, it was fun, affordable, stunning, there was always something going on. However, as the rain fell and I knew I had some flat-hunting to do to find the right apartment; I thought back to all my friends in Goettingen and questioned the decision I had made. I was tired from travelling, and therefore grumpy – I’ll admit it, and running with the assumption that in fact Goettingen was as though it had been exactly in my first semester. In my mind, I would be visiting the Mensa, having coffee, chatting in the library. It didn’t take me too long though to realise that just as Krakow for fourth semester was going to be different, it would be the same for the Goettingen students.
One of the great things about Euroculture is the ability to explore a new place and culture within and (occasionally) outside of Europe. However, the fourth semester is different, there are less classes, there is a thesis deadline looming in and you are living in a city you’ve experienced before. It’s easy to assume it would be the same, some of the same people will be around you, you’ll know the streets, the market days… It was not.
“In our second semester we knew very few Polish students, I hoped my fourth semester would not be the same…”
In our second semester we knew very few Polish students, I hoped my fourth semester would not be the same. In fact, some may say that was a challenge I set myself… I quickly realised, however, how much that challenge would affect my whole semester. A friend and I were invited on a trip with Polish European Studies students to Warsaw. Thankfully, neither of us actually spoke much Polish, as such, when decisions as to where to go, where to eat, even during a press conference, we could shrug at each other awkwardly, solidarity in our ignorance. However, in the evening, with the help of a beer or two, gone was the initial shyness and it turns out the Polish students were happier to speak their fluent English and we were happy to give them a laugh with our faltering Polish skills. When twelve students share a hostel room for a weekend, friendships quickly emerge and there wasn’t a week which went by without some kind of Warsaw trip reunion, friends bringing friends of friends, snowballing in to a great group of friends giving us an insight into Polish culture. Of course, there were also always the second semester students in Krakow to hang out with, drink with, and have dinner with. In my tired (I’ve just arrived in Krakow and my suitcase was really heavy) haze, I’d forgotten that with fourth semester comes the opportunity to meet the new students of the second semester. There was always the opportunity to talk about Euroculture, internships, the run up to the IP (at my end – without the worry), and to smile at the things we found new and interesting in Krakow.
“I made many Polish friends and finally felt like I was getting some ‘inside’ knowledge on the city…”
Over the semester, I made many Polish friends, I spoke more Polish than I ever had in my second semester in Krakow and I finally felt like I was getting some ‘inside’ knowledge on the city. I visited my friends’ bakery for an afternoon coffee hit, was cooked lunch, I was even educated as to which Polish cheese (and many other food niceties) to try by Beata a fellow MA Euroculture 11-13 student and Pole. I followed the news stories in Krakow more. As the semester progressed, I realised how ignorant of Polish news I had been in my second semester and how by following the news, chatting about current Krakow events with my friends, it changed the way I understood the city.
As a fourth semester student, our Eurocompetence III class had become the writing of a grant application which we actually planned and implemented during the IP, as the Urban Challenge. At the first class, with Luc and Karolina, Euroculture Krakow Staff, running the class, out-numbered the only student, me, I learnt that when it’s a small class, there is no one to hide behind. However, I didn’t need to hide, it didn’t feel like a class, it didn’t feel like on one side there are the staff on the other the students, it felt like a collaboration and a friendship. Working with the staff on the IP, seeing the other side of the IP, was a unique opportunity, the gala dinner was somewhat bittersweet and emotional as it began to hit us that this was our final semester, in fact, by this point, I had written and defended my thesis, it was a celebration but also, we knew, the end.
If you had said to me in advance of my fourth semester in Krakow, I would have scoffed that initially I would have questioned my decision of Krakow. I had told myself it would be different, I knew that. I wanted it to be different. In America, I surrounded myself with American students and found out how much of a difference it made, being invited into many American homes including at Thanksgiving, to see how they lived. In Poland, it made the world of difference, I felt at home, I made friends who I have already seen in London this summer and will meet some more in Manchester this week. I learnt about Krakow and other polish cities through the stories and tours of friends and residents.
“So, second time a charm?”
Euroculture was an incredible experience and opportunity for me, living abroad in places I hadn’t contemplated living in before. No one semester stands out to me as being better than others, each was a unique opportunity, I can’t compare them, each one was different and if I had chosen Goettingen instead of Krakow, I know my fourth semester there would have been different again. The fourth semester felt like a bridge out of Euroculture, I felt like I was preparing for ‘real life’ within the safety net of Euroculture.
So, second time a charm? Absolutely, yes in fact, as much as I’m excited about not having to pack my life into 20 kilos for four months for a while, I wouldn’t mind hitting rewind and doing it all again.
Heather Southwood, Chief Copy Editor
Heather is from Manchester, completed her undergraduate in Law before studying MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, Jagiellonian University, Krakow and IUPUI, Indianapolis. Her research interests include human rights, religious rights and inclusive citizenship. Currently, she is living back in the UK, working with suppliers in Europe and the Far East, constantly challenging her intercultural communication skills every day.