A Polish farmer and his wife
of nearly 50 years were slopping the hogs. With their golden anniversary
gathering coming up later that week the wife suggested they slaughter a sow to mark their long time together.
The farmer turned to his bride of half a century and said, “Why take it out on
If you survive 50 years of
marriage in Poland, that is reason enough for a presidential medal.
To qualify, you have to put
in over 18,000 solid days of work. Other medals require less, so it really is a
considerable feat to have spent the last half century together.
The tradition is regularly
played out in cities across the heavily Catholic country, with a hefty average
of 65,000 medals awarded each year according to the president's office.
No other country honors
marathon marriages with a presidential medal, something more often associated
with military feats for example.
Some countries have awards
for raising large numbers of children. Socialist-era Romania for example had
what they called the Order of Mother Hero, which was awarded if you had 10
Medals offer an indication of
what a country finds important, whether it be a particular profession or trade
or churning out enough children to fill factories and armies.
Poland's marital medal was
introduced in 1960 under Communist rule and is very much a product of its time,
according to social historian Marcin Zaremba.
“It’s a reflection of public
sentiment and the power elite's stance after Stalinism,’’ says the University
of Warsaw professor.
Stalinism had promised to
topple the old world order and that vow also applied to family life, with women
encouraged to enter the job market. But starting around 1955, press accounts
showed a reversal of the trend.
“You could call it a
conservative revolution. One specifying that in fact women shouldn't drive a
tractor or work in mines, that a woman's place is at home with the kids and we
should value her for it,’’ Zaremba says.
He adds that Poland's
communist party leader at the time, Wladyslaw Gomulka, was himself happily
married and frowned upon divorce and sexual debauchery. So this medal is also a
reflection of his mindset.
The marital scene has changed
quite a bit since then. Today fewer and fewer young
people are deciding to marry, choosing instead to be in informal unions. Those
who do marry, do so at an ever later age, and if unsatisfied, more and more of
them opt for divorce.
According to Poland's Central
Statistical Office, 13 per cent of marriages ended in divorce in 1980, while in
2012 that number was nearly 32 per cent.
That is still low compared to
say Latvia or Portugal — both topped 70 per cent in 2011 according to Eurostat
data — but it is a far cry from Communist Poland, when many unhappy couples
stayed together solely because of the era's perpetual housing shortage.
Traditionally, divorce wasn't
in style in Poland. The Church didn't accept it, communities didn't accept it,
and nearly all families were divorce-free.