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Waiting for Goulash

If someone comments that goulash is Hungarian, so help me...

For those of us who haven’t lived it, it’s almost impossible to imagine what life was like under Soviet rule. In Poland, once the last political opposition was eliminated in 1947, once the last resistance fighters were killed in 1963, once private entrepreneurs were ousted from the economy in favor of state administrators who emphasized military preparedness and national industries over individual comfort, times got lean. And when I say “lean,” I’m not talking about a shortage here or there. I’m talking about the long hunger of the 1970s and ’80s, when the demand for everything from meat to soap wasn’t even close to being met. These were the years of the endless queues lining Polish streets, when families would buy up whatever was available when they finally reached the front of the line. Even if it wasn’t something they could use themselves, at least they could barter it at one of many semi-legal outdoor markets.

Kolejka — or Queue, in English — is about those years when even the ration cards had ration cards. And that isn’t a joke. To prevent people from using too many ration cards, the communist authorities issued new IDs that tracked how many ration cards you used. That’s how bad things had gotten.

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