Although a Londoner born and bred, Poland loomed large in my childhood conscience. That’s because one of my very first memories involved a goalkeeper described as “a clown with gloves”.
Back in 1973, the great Jan Tomaszewski stunned the football world by single-handedly holding England to 1-1 draw against Poland, diving left and right, saving shot after shot, in front of 100,000 screaming home fans at Wembley. Tomaszewski’s outstanding performance – a triumph of athleticism, guile and, above all, self-belief – stopped England, then a footballing superpower, from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.
We’ve just seen history made in Poland. Following last week’s Parliamentary elections, a single party is now in power for the first time since the 1989 communist collapse. According to most Western analysts, though, it’s the wrong party.
To many UK citizens, Poland is significant mainly as a source of courageous Second World War fighter pilots or modern-day au pairs and plumbers. There are now well over half a million relatively recent Polish immigrants living here – making them the third-biggest migrant group after the Irish and Indians.
Sunday marks 25 years exactly since the Berlin Wall fell. Probably the most important political event of the second half of the 20th century, the collapse of that ghastly concrete and barbed wire divide across the German capital, and the broader Cold War schism it represented, is a subject close to my heart.
Normally a conscientious student, I heard a radio report from Germany in November 1989 and absconded from university. Leaving a flurry of scrawled notes for tutors, I raided my bank account and hitchhiked from the UK to Berlin. It was one of those truly life-changing moments.
It’s 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Billed as the most important political event of the second half of the twentieth century, the collapse of Communism has been much commented upon but rather less widely understood.
Far from marking the “end of history”, the demise of state-planning in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the subsequent dissolution of the Warsaw pact, ushered in an era when history significantly sped-up. Developments that took decades or even centuries in other parts of the world, have been compressed into just a few tumultuous years.