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 Elżbieta Potrykus i Diana Lenart

Elżbieta Potrykus and Diana Lenart, photography by Barbara Ostrowska
 

Elżbieta Potrykus

I’d never imagined that I could leave Poland one day and become an emigrant. Yet, similarly to many citizens of the communist Poland, I’d dreamt of visiting exotic countries, and not only trips to USSR and East Germany or even Bulgaria…

And yet, life full of surprises decided otherwise for me. In 1987, with the so-called “one-way-passport, that is passport valid for entering all countries of the world but allowing its holder to cross the Polish border only once”, I left Poland and at the age of 46 I became an emigrant, a political refugee, to be exact. This status was given to me by the Security Service of the communist Poland. For them I was, after the events of August 1980, the co-creator of the Solidarity Labour Union on the plant and regional level, as well as the member of the Solidarity National Coordinating Commission, I was just number 188 to be exposed. After introducing martial law in Poland on 13th December 1981, as an activist of underground opposition I became persona non grata. As the “enemy of the system and a threat for the allies made by the Polish People’s Republic” in April 1987, I left the country together with my 11-year old son and I went to the US.

I’d stayed in emigration for over 20 years and when my son became independent and decided to stay in the US, in 2008 I came back to Poland for good. For all those years in emigration I’d always felt that I’m a part of Poland and I missed it a lot. I came back to Poland which was so very different than the country I’d left. To free, beautiful and colourful Poland… It’s no longer an enslaved country, grey and sad where all necessities can be bought only if one had ration coupons, with small Fiats 126p driving on its narrow streets. And still, there is something missing here… Maybe human kindness that I’d remembered from the beginnings of the Solidarity movement, maybe this lightness and people smiling to you in the streets. I got used to that when I was abroad...

Diana Lenart

I was born in Gdańsk. I’m an optimist/catastrophist. Until I was seven I was living with my grandparents in Gdynia. I left Gdynia for Baghdad, where I spent three years, on and off. After graduating from university I decided to go to London, where I stayed for more than a year.

After that I set off for Barcelona, where I was to stay only for a while but I spent there another 15 years of my life.

For a year I’ve been back in Gdynia, where I help to create the “Open House Gdynia” architecture festival, a local edition of the international “Open House Worldwide” festival. During the festival we open spaces and private flats that are usually inaccessible to the public. This way we want to make the residents of Gdynia get to know each other a little better and become closer to one another.

interview excerpts
: / :
Elżbieta - Running from communism
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: / :
Elżbieta - Decision to come back after twenty years
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: / :
Elżbieta - Getting used to changed homeland
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Elżbieta - My life is constant longing
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Diana - Complicated emigrant’s nostalgia
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Diana - Emigration in search of uniqueness
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: / :
Diana - Orange and red suitcase
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: / :
Diana - What did emigration change in me
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gallery