Polish Street Name Shame

We all remember those seminal events: The Berlin wall being pick-axed; or Saddam’s statue being rudely toppled to the ground. But what happens to the detritus of fallen regimes that have imposed their yolk on a people for so long, when the rulers are eventually thrown off?

An article in Polskie Radio Dla Zagranicy tell us that no less than 1400 Communist street names remain in Poland, and the Polish Senate has drafted legislation to ban them (http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/149062,Polish-senate-pushes-to-ban-communist-street-names-). Apparently the draft legislation is proving controversial, not least because of the cost.

It’s strange how memorabilia of even the most brutal regimes goes in and out of fashion. I remember remarking in Polska Dotty that a bunch of statues and other relics from the Communist era in Poland had been formed into a bizarre-sounding exhibition in Lublin (Zamoyski Palace & Museum, Kozlowka). It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the 1400 street signs ended up there. And, of course, you can take a tour – in an old Trabant – of Nowa Huta, the sprawling factory town built on the edge of Krakow to “calm” the city’s intelligentsia. I did it myself a couple of years back, and recommend it. You get a good feel for the monolithic architecture of that period, and even take in a Soviet-era tank.

All of which begs the question, what should Poland do with its remaining Communist street names? I have sympathy for those who wish to remove them. When all is said and done, this was an evil regime responsible for the deaths of many Poles, as well as the stagnation of a country, during a full 40 years. Maybe a project to remove the signs could be staggered to spread the cost, but if there’s an (understandable) will to bring these street names down – even 25 years after the removal of the Communist regime – then down they must come.

But equally, seems to me, housing some of this paraphernalia in a museum is no bad thing. Rather like the preservation of the Nazi death-camps. On first thoughts, one might wish to erase every trace of these. But on second thoughts, preservation of artefacts that evidence when human beings went most bad is at once a record of, and warning against repetition of, the past. And, sad but true to say, these objects hold a fascination for many of us which, at least, helps make their preservation commercially viable. Not a totally bad thing… as long as we learn the right lessons.

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4 Comments

Filed under Communism, Holocaust, Krakow, News, Poland, Poles, Polska, Polska Dotty, Russia, Soviets

4 responses to “Polish Street Name Shame

  1. Different era, similar dilemma, there was a movement a little while ago to remove the names of those merchants who had amassed a fortune from the slave trade from Liverpool’s streets (which would have included, I understand, Penny Lane).

    I totally understand why but my view is that it would be rewriting history to an extent and that should never be done – you miss the lessons that need to be learned from it that way.

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    • charliebritten

      It seems very strange that the Polish government should do this, when they have maintained Auschwitz (quite rightly, in my view) as a museum since 1947.

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      • Tks, Charlie. I’m not sure the two cases are readily comparable. Auschwitz called out for preservation as the scene of possibly the greatest crime of all time. You preserve it, and that way don’t forget – but it doesn’t confront you every day, as 1400 street signs might. That said, as I mention in my response to 1537, I suspect there’s a political angle as the populist Law & Justice party tries to eradicate the last scintilla of Communism, even names of those who did more to help than hinder Poland.

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    • Tks, 1537. I broadly agree with you. But my point is putting these street names in a museum achieves a deterrent effect without causing daily offence. Imagine a member of your family died or was deported during Communist times, and to this day you had to walk down “Stalin street” on your way to work! That said, I think there’s a political motive to this draft Bill, as I understand most offending street names were already removed.

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