Grażyna Gorski

Leaving Communist Poland: A “Vacation”

Image 2.1: Map illustrating Grażyna’s pathway from Poland to Italy, through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the former Yugoslavia. Victoria Byers © 2016 

Tourism: A Way to Escape Communist Poland

When Grażyna decided to flee communist Poland in 1987, she was young and in love. She wanted to leave behind Poland’s poor living conditions and see the world with her partner, Ryszard. Up until 1989, however, Poland would not allow its citizens to leave permanently. Issuing passports and exit visas was a tedious and involved process, and applications had to be firmly “justified” since officials regarded emigration as a crime (Korcelli, 1992, p. 294). Like many of the political refugees before her, Grażyna had to be strategic in her migration. She decided to travel under the pretense of a vacation in order to bypass Poland’s restrictive emigration regulations (Korcelli, 1992, p. 294). In remembering the process, Grażyna recalls that it was “kind of hard. They took our passports, and gave us a hard time.”

Image 2.2: Image of Grażyna’s Polish passport. Courtesy of Peter Gorski © 2015

Choosing Italy: A Strategic and Romantic Decision

The young couple made an informed decision when they chose Italy as their “vacation” destination. Italy’s open-door policy to tourists and general lack of formal entry controls made it an attractive destination for the couple. They could arrive on tourist visas and work illegally until they were able to migrate legally to the Western world. The couple had also heard that it was easy to find work in Italy, since the country’s economy had been restructured in the postindustrial era, creating a flourishing secondary labour market (King, 1993, p. 288).

With this in mind, the couple bravely surrendered their identification papers in order to obtain their passports. Together, they drove by car, passing through Hungary and former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia before finally arriving in Rome. The couple was excited to escape communism and see the world together, but they also felt anxious knowing that resistance at any of the borders could end in their return to Poland. Grażyna recalls having to bribe many border officials along the journey in order to continue on their path to Rome.

“It was communism. The economy was bad and we were young and liked to move.”

Grazyna Gorski


How can love and the desire to discover new opportunities and places motivate migration?

With few opportunities in Poland as a young couple, Grażyna and Ryszard decided to find and create opportunities elsewhere. Would you have chosen to do the same? What would make this decision difficult?

A visa is an official document, usually stamped or glued inside a passport, giving permission from a foreign authority for a traveler to enter a country. Travelers receive entry and exit stamps upon arriving and exiting destination countries.

Refers to one who leaves their home country or country of residence and is unable to return due to fear of political persecution.

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