A Week in Warsaw
FROM THIS SIDE of the Iron Curtain, Communist bloc countries tend to look alike. We have all become accustomed to a model of Communism in which ideology is the single most important distinguishing mark, and perhaps such is indeed the proper model for most members of the Eastern bloc. A mere week’s stay in Warsaw, however, is enough to convince one that it does not in the least fit Poland.
When one approaches Warsaw from the countryside the first major building in view is the Palace of Culture, a monstrously ugly wedding-cake structure thirty-two stories high: Russia’s unwelcome gift to the people of Warsaw. But driving toward the center of the capital one finds the beautiful Old City, a magnificent recreation of 17th-and 18th-century Warsaw. The Polish capital was almost totally destroyed by the Nazis, and for a time it was seriously proposed to rebuild the city somewhere else in order to avoid the great expense involved in carting away mountains of rubble. The decision finally made, however-and by no one else than the tough Stalinist apparatchiki of the Bierut regime-was not only to build the city where it had always been, but to reconstruct it on the model of previous centuries rather than as it had been just before the war. Old drawings and paintings such as the works of Canaletto and other Venetian painters who had depicted Warsaw were patiently and carefully consulted, and on the basis of these, the Old City was reconstructed. All this was done during a period of great scarcity, while often acutely hungry people lived in hovels, desperate for apartments, without such minimal requirements as adequate hospital facilities. The Marxist-Leninist masters of the country saw fit to neglect the laying of its economic foundations for the sake of recreating the visible superstructure of-feudal Poland! It was not workers’ apartments, nor even housing for the new bureaucratic upper class that received top priority, but rather the palaces of the old Polish aristocracy in line with a drive to symbolize-for a country whose borderlines had changed drastically and whose capital was shattered beyond recognition-the Polish past. In this way, the fierce love of Poles for their national past imposed activities on the postwar government which from a purely economic point of view were sheer madness. Facts such as these disrupt some of our handier notions about the uniform dynamics of Communism.
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