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Stories From The Eastern West


Little-known histories from Central & Eastern Europe that changed our world... Heard of how The Rolling Stones played for the Communist Party? The bear who fought in WWII? Or the man who single-handedly created an entire language? Each episode of our narrative podcast tells incredible stories that all have one thing in common: the Eastern West. #SFTEW

Little-known histories from Central & Eastern Europe that changed our world... Heard of how The Rolling Stones played for the Communist Party? The bear who fought in WWII? Or the man who single-handedly created an entire language? Each episode of our narrative podcast tells incredible stories that all have one thing in common: the Eastern West. #SFTEW




Little-known histories from Central & Eastern Europe that changed our world... Heard of how The Rolling Stones played for the Communist Party? The bear who fought in WWII? Or the man who single-handedly created an entire language? Each episode of our narrative podcast tells incredible stories that all have one thing in common: the Eastern West. #SFTEW





In 1967, Marian Marzyński was a popular TV show host and filmmaker in Poland. But then a seemingly faraway military clash sparked an unexpected conflict within the Polish communist party that led its Jewish members to be accused of anti-Polish sentiments. The conflict developed into an anti-Semitic campaign that affected all of Polish Jewish society and led to the emigration of the majority of the remaining Polish Jews, whose numbers had already been dwindled due to the Holocaust. Emigrating...



In 1938, Hitler's forces marched into Czechoslovakia, a country that had only gained its independence two decades earlier. A puppeteer named Josef Skupa was ready to fight back with the help of Spejbl and Hurvínek – a father son duo of wooden puppets. Because the Nazi German occupiers didn't seem to take puppets very seriously, Skupa's theatre in Pilsen was able to put on satirical performances that directly referred to the occupation and gave ordinary Czechs hope that one day things would...



Back in 2019, we got the chance to interview Anastasija Gulej. She was 95 at the time, living a happy life in one of Kyiv's suburbs. If you didn’t know her, you’d never tell be able to tell that she wakes up every day with the horrors of her past. Her past as an Auschwitz-Birkenau inmate. Anastasija was already 18 years old when she was taken there, which makes her memories especially valuable. She remembers things perfectly clearly, she understood what was going around her, she knew what...



‘Romania today is possibly the only European country where you can bump into a witch at the supermarket.’ The history of witches in Europe is a tumultuous and violent one. Always on the margins of society and in opposition to any form of hierarchy, their presence sparked fear and prejudice which led to prosecutions and witch hunts. But unbeknownst to many, their traditions have outlasted all of this. In Romania, the 21st century has turned out to be a surprisingly good time for...



In the summer of 1976, the late Polish film director Andrzej Żuławski, responsible for infamous cult classics such as The Devil (1972) and Possession (1981), was given a green light to shoot the most expensive film ever made in Poland. On the Silver Globe was meant to be a massively ambitious science-fiction epic set on the Moon, showing the birth of a new civilisation, and produced without the benefit of modern special effects. But things didn't quite go to plan. The huge ambitions of a...



After the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east in 1939, many thousands of Polish families were deported to Siberian forced labour camps. There they not only faced bitter cold but constant hunger. Then Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and the families that were now allowed to leave tried to get as far south as possible. In many cases, only their children made it all the way to safety in Iran. Some Polish orphans were resettled in places like South Africa and Mexico, but a group of...



As much as The People’s Republic of Poland may seem a distant country hidden behind the Iron Curtain, it was an open and welcoming one... towards other socialist states. Student exchange programmes were one of the many ways of building international socialist partnerships. The Vietnam War was just ending when Hai ‘Nam’ Bui Ngoc had reached university. He was one of the few lucky ones given a chance to travel to the other side of the world to study ship building. After a few weeks spent...



In August 1980, after the firing of popular shipyard worker, Anna Walentynowicz, a strike broke out at the Vladimir Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk. Suddenly this massive complex on the Polish coast, with 16,000 employees and of huge strategic importance for the Polish economy, was under worker occupation, and every day other workplaces in Gdańsk and around the country started joining in. Very soon the communist leadership in Warsaw realised that this wasn't just another strike they could...



Chernobyl had cast a shadow over our childhoods. It was reportedly the cause of all the chronic diseases we’d struggled with. In the summer of 2018, we went there. We wanted to walk into the belly of the beast, to debunk any nonsense around it. To hear about the doom, catastrophes, and everyday struggles. But what we came back with was something else entirely – a beautiful and uplifting tale about love. Love for home, love for nature, love for people. Something stronger than the biggest...


Announcing Season III

This year, we've travelled to the far reaches of the globe for you: we went deep down into the Chernobyl Exclusion zone, visited New Zealand, and went back in time and space to deliver yet another set of stories that changed our world. Stay tuned: the first episode drops July 16th! Like our show? Get our newsletter!



How a teen's letter to a stranger in the Soviet Union led to a long-distance friendship that has lasted decades. Like many teens growing up in the People’s Republic of Poland, Ewa decided to send a letter to a stranger in the Soviet Union. Lena from Moscow wrote back to her, and they quickly found they had a lot in common, including a love of both dogs and Vysotsky records. They continued writing as they entered new phases in their lives. They began careers, started families, and of course...



How a giant communal song festival helped Estonians regain independence from the USSR. Part of our mini-series The Final Curtain. In the Estonia Kaie Tanner grew up in, learning Russian at school was compulsory, and her mother and her friends often sang 'forbidden songs' at home – Estonian folk songs that the Soviet authorities disapproved of. Music was a huge part of her life, but she didn't expect that it could help her country win independence. But in 1987, when Kaie Tanner...



How a Romanian mining town that lost its mine fought to turn its remains into a cultural hub. In our second and final episode on Ion Barbu and the town of Petrila, we learn how the mine, the town's main employer, was unable to achieve profitability in the new era of capitalism and was closed down for good. Ion had spent 15 years of his life at the mine, and for him and many others it was more than just a place of work. So when the mine's crumbling buildings were in line for...



How a Romanian miner made political caricatures at a time when making fun of the country's leadership could mean a visit from the secret police. After finishing university in 1978, Ion Barbu was assigned to the Petrila mine as a topographer. He only intended to be there briefly, but despite attempting other jobs such as local reporter and museum curator, he ended up staying at the mine for the next 15 years... How did Ion balance being both a miner and a political caricaturist?...



How a single mother in Kyiv experienced the end of the USSR and survived the harsh economic realities of life in post-communist Ukraine in the early 1990s. Part of our mini-series The Final Curtain. Iryna Tkachenko is a music conservatory graduate and journalist who became a single mother just a couple of years before the demise of the Soviet Union and the political and economic turbulence that followed the fall of the Iron Curtain. Her wage as a radio journalist wasn't really...



How East Berlin's leading political cabaret tried to get their message through despite strict state censorship... and what happened when the system they were laughing at ceased to exist. For the citizens of the GDR, laughter was often the best medicine when dealing with the absurdities of the political system they lived under. And if you were a resident of East Berlin, there was no better place than Kabarett Distel (meaning 'thorn' in German). The content of Kabarett Distel shows...



Meet the headstrong musician who's been viciously rebelling against both of the systems he lived under... and created some truly worthwhile art along the way. Tymon Tymanski came of age in the 1980s, probably the bleakest years of the communist regime. Much like teenagers in the West, he turned to punk rock and artistic rebellion as a way of protesting the stagnation of the society he lived in. He met like-minded young people at the University of Gdańsk, played in various bands, and...



How a banned singer-songwriter became an unwilling musical hero through his home-copied cassettes. Jacek Kleyff was an increasingly popular topical songwriter in 1970s Poland. But he was unwilling to bend to the demands of the communist state's censorship, so the authorities reacted by banning him from appearing in public, including radio and TV. But he didn't stop recording, and his songs, circulated through the underground on home-made cassettes, became anthems for the Polish...



How an East German cameraman filmed the first major demonstrations in the GDR from the top of a church steeple in Leipzig. A month later, East Germany would effectively cease to exist. Part of our mini-series The Final Curtain. Siegbert Schefke was officially unemployed after being fired from his job as a building engineer. Unofficially, he began to arrange for diplomats to smuggle videotapes from East Germany to be broadcast on West German TV stations. As it happens, most East...



How Polish opposition activists began transmitting their own pirate radio and 'hacked' communist-run state TV. Part of our mini-series The Final Curtain. Wojciech Stawiszyński was an opposition activist, who suddenly found himself in charge of running Radio Solidarność, a mobile radio station that would be the voice of the pro-democracy Solidarity movement. Their success depended on a sophisticated game of cat and mouse with the authorities, with each broadcast taking place at a new...