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Exhibit Recalls Poland’s Long Road

Twenty years ago, few people could have imagined that the third of the world’s population living under communism would have it so good today.

Two decades out from 1989, all the fuss about the fall of the Soviet Union’s satellite system is well warranted. Even as 2009 edges to a close, the spotlight continues to shine on Eastern Europe, where just 20 years ago Communist control crumbled throughout the region in places like Eastern Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Today, perspective on what life was like in the region is easier to come by, as well. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is launching the photo exhibit “People’s Republic of Poland. So Close and So Far Away— at 3 p.m. today.

The event represents a joint effort between the Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project and the Institute of National Remembrance, an organization chartered by the Polish government to preserve the memory of Nazi and communist rule and prosecuting crimes during those eras. Under that charter, the Warsaw-based institute originally compiled and released the exhibit in Poland in 2007, using photos from the Soviet era from a variety of collections.

Christian Ostermann, the Wilson Center’s director of European Studies, and Agnieszka Rudzinska, the deputy director of the Public Education Office at the Institute of National Remembrance, will speak at the opening ceremony this afternoon.

The exhibition features panels of photos that cover the establishment of Soviet rule in 1944 to its end in 1989. The panels run alongside English and Polish text to explain the accompanying historical events. The exhibit begins with the Poles’ struggles under Nazi rule, with special attention paid to the bloody Warsaw Uprising in 1944, which attempted to overthrow Nazi rule. From there, the long slog of communist control is featured. Everyday struggles under a collectivist food distribution as well as the role of the Catholic Church are captured to reveal the most moving and human aspects of the exhibit.

Mircea Munteanu, a historian with the Wilson Center, said the Washington, D.C., exhibit wouldn’t disappoint on the 1989 front. Four previously unseen panels have been added to illustrate events surrounding the Solidarity movement’s successful overthrow of communist rule.

The exhibit is a two-pronged effort. The launch of the photos immediately precedes the annual Ion Ratiu Democracy Lecture, which will also be held at the Wilson Center from 4 to 6 p.m. Now in its fifth year, the lecture aims to recognize the accomplishments of individuals working internationally on behalf of democracy. In a fitting tribute to the theme of the exhibit, this year’s lecture will be delivered by Adam Michnik, a prominent activist in the Solidarity movement and the editor in chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest daily newspaper. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter, will offer introductory remarks.

The exhibit will be open to the public and housed in the Wilson Center until the end of January. The Wilson Center is located in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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