This past weekend I spent in Warszawa, Polska. Poland was one of the worst victims of the Second World War and the 20th Century. Blitzkrieged by Deutschland, and "liberated" by the Russians, Poland lost 6 million people, half of them Jews. Today the Jewish Polish population is virtually extinct. Warsaw was over 85% destroyed by the end of the war. Afterwards, oppressed by insanely inefficient Communist rule, Warsaw made some recovery. Today it is a bustling national capital in one of the largest EU member states. The city is clean; the people are very good hearted; there are many modern buildings and the economy is developing rapidly. Polish emigrants are among the hardest working and most productive. Fortunately their EU membership gives them labour mobility.
Poland is intensely Catholic. During my visit, the new German pope Benedict was still on his tour of the country. I stayed on Aleja Jana Pawla II (Pope John Paul II Avenue). I was impressed by the number of churches and cathedrals, statues of 'their pope,' Vatican flags flying all over the city, and posters and tabloids with Pope Benedict's face that probably frightened many small children. Poland will likely join the rest of Western Europe after several more generations with a fading of Catholicism. For now, Poland is a very positive example of the strength and healing that religion can have on traumatised societies.
I was only there for a few days, but I now have a deeper appreciation for this country and its people - reminders of pain, disaster, and the absolute worst of human capability, but a deep source of dignity in the present and hope for the future.
Economist Briefing, CIA Factbook, BBC Profile.