On Sunday, June 4, I went to Victoria Park to light a candle. In Poland, that’s how we commemorate the dead. That’s how we pray for the dead who lost their voice, and the living. Having made friends here during my exchange, I was made aware that Hong Kong used to have a similar tradition.

Police speak to a Polish student in Causeway Bay's Victoria Park, in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.
Police speak to a Polish student in Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park, in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The symbolism of light is very important in my home country. Lighting a candle to pray is a traditional and a respectful way to commemorate those who have passed. It is believed that even a single candle can shine for a person through the darkness. On Sunday, Victoria Park appeared very dark to me – it was important that somebody went there and lit a candle, spiritually. In Poland, it’s our way of saying “you’re not forgotten,” when we pray for the dead. It’s not political. 

I never grew up fearing to speak up about how I felt. Even today, if I did this in Poland, nobody would say anything. I know many Hongkongers relate to that from the past. The similarities between us don’t end here. The date – June 4 – coincidentally means a lot to the Polish people as well. On June 4, we celebrate Solidarity’s victory in the first free elections in modern Poland. It is a very hopeful date. The Poles were sad witnesses to how, on the same day in 1989, events in Beijing took a different path.

1989 election rally in Poland
A 1989 election rally in Poland. Photo: Wikicommons.

When I entered Victoria Park, the truth is, I was scared, very scared. I thought I would be arrested, probably even deported. But if that’s what it meant – that in 24-hours I might be on the plane to the safety of home – it was a risk worth taking. My Hong Kong friends don’t have the same luxury.

In the end, I had nothing to lose as an exchange student, but the action felt important. I wanted to show that the exchange students are aware of what Hong Kong is going through. We know. We might be foreigners, but we are not foreign to Hong Kong’s struggle.

I thought, because I was an exchange student, and hid my candle in a McDonald’s cup, maybe I was the only person who could actually get to the park to shine a light. For me personally, it was important that somebody did it. It is just one spark of light that we, in Poland, believe can shine a way for a person in need of a prayer. Those are the values that are very important to the Poles, who were for so many years troubled by history. My friends at the Chinese University of Hong Kong taught me that those are also the values many Hongkongers deeply cherish in their hearts.

Personally, in the intimacy of home, I will continue to pray. In the end, one small light, even if it remains symbolically inside of me, can shine through the darkness. My thoughts continue to be with the Hong Kong people.

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