Thursday, 14 June 2012

Poland 3: Baba Pruski Scores!

The mysterious lady reproduced below is one of the more intriguing fragments of Poland's past.

I first encountered the Baba Pruski - as the figure is called - in the grounds of the castle in Olsztyn. This small attractive city is the hub of Warmia and Masuria, an attractive region with numerous post-glacial lakes, green countryside and not that many international tourists.

The region also has a history of being traded between Polish and Germanic rulers, having spent centuries under both the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Poland, later being part of the German Empire and modern-day Poland.

Baba Pruski (Prussian Woman) goes even further back than that, however, being connected with the pagan Prussian tribes who predated the Teutonic Knights' rule.


No-one's really sure what the statues were for, though one romantic theory says they were used to honour heroes who died far from home. Other explanations link the figures to legends of people turned to stone by witchcraft.

Whatever the truth, Baba Pruski has become a local icon, and fibreglass reproductions like the above are often used by Olsztyn to mark special occasions.

And what's the big special occasion in Poland right now? It's co-hosting, with Ukraine, the Euro 2012 football championship. Hence, wandering through the city centre, I happened across these figures in a park...

1. Here are the two Euro 2012 co-hosts, Ukraine in traditional garb and Poland a bit more fanciful in the national colours (and you can just see Denmark doing a Viking in the background):


2. It's interesting that the Babas representing nations which have once invaded Poland tend to be given a military theme. The German Baba is done out in the garb of the medieval Teutonic Knights, arch-enemies of the Kingdom of Poland. Behind him, by contrast, is the Irish Baba being green and cute:


3. Similarly, the Dutch are given a light, bright treatment:


4. As are the tasty Italians. You can just make out the Greek Baba behind this one, and the Croatian one in diving gear:


5. Russia is given some of Churchill's "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" treatment, rather than the expected warlike garb:


6. As is the Czech Republic (anyone know who the mouse is)?:


7. Finally, we're back to the warrior look. Sweden may make you think of such harmless things as IKEA and Volvo, but possibly the artist had as inspiration the destructive Swedish invasion of Poland in the 17th century, known as The Deluge.

And the girl is in that shot because her mother was having no luck at all in getting her to move on. When you have a Viking to point at while sitting on a beanbag, why would you?