Answer the Poll: What to do with the Palace? ☞ ☞
Warsaw’s iconic (but not necessarily loved) Palace of Culture once again faces the threat of bulldozers after a series of high-ranking Polish officials were quoted this week as saying they would like to see it torn down.
The Palace of Culture and Science, to give it its full name, has towered over the Polish capital since building was completed in 1955 when it was unveiled as what had been intended as a gift from Joseph Stalin to, well, himself we would imagine. Stalin, who died in 1953, didn’t live long enough to see it and his name didn’t last much longer as signs and tributes to him around the building were erased during a period of de-Stalinisation in the late 50s. That hasn’t stopped the colossus being referred to as Stalin’s present to the Polish people or the Russian Wedding Cake ever since, and while there are few Poles who would embrace its significance, it is not without its fans. To many younger people it is a permanent feature of their city and even those who resent its presence admit that the best views of the city are to be found from its viewing platform (you don’t see it towering over the city when you’re stood on top of it of course).
There was speculation about the building’s future long before In Your Pocket first published here in late 2000, but the addition of clock faces to the four sides of its tower on New Year’s Eve of 2001 (not to mention its classification as a listed building in 2007) seemed to signal that, love it or hate it, the Palace was here to stay. For foreign visitors it has become a must-see sight while the Ghostbusters style building serves as a landmark and a handy marker in a city with no discernible centre. But this week its future was again put in doubt with some of the country’s most powerful politicians making it clear that they’d love to see it go.
Professor Piotr Gliński, Minister for Culture and National Heritage, told RMF FM radio that he had nothing against seeing the palace demolished. When asked about that on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Development Mateusz Morawiecki went further when he told an audience that he had dreamed of the palace’s demise for 40 years.
“I am in favour of this relic of communist rule disappearing from the centre of Warsaw,” the deputy prime minister said, adding “I have been dreaming about it for 40 years”.
“I think in a couple of years standing there will be beautiful townhouses and buildings” he said but in what might be seen as a temporary stay of execution he added “This is not a priority for us, but I would like something more beautiful, something more important in this place”.
The discussion about the future of the palace achieved something quite remarkable in modern day Poland. It gave politicians on both sides of the huge divide in Polish politics the opportunity to agree on something. Minister Morawiecki’s comments echoed those of Radoslaw Sikorski, who had told Polish Radio back in 2009 that he thought the palace needed to be pulled down as it would be much better “to have a park, with a pond, where the inhabitants of Warsaw could go for a picnic.” Mr. Sikorski took up the theme again on Wednesday when he tweeted that not only were there historic and patriotic reasons to want to see the palace demolished, but also practical reasons too.
“The cost of demolishing the PKiN (the palace), minus the recovered stone and equipment, would be many times lower than the cost of its modernisation, even if just the power, and a general renovation. In any case, I think many of us would gladly offer our hands to this civic cause.
Mr Sikorski, with tongue firmly in cheek no doubt, even went as far as to suggest a solution that would achieve the demolition, keep costs low and do wonders to promote Poland.
“As far as I know, not one scene of @007 has ever been filmed in Poland. But if we were to offer them a chance to destroy a monstrosity in real life … that would be publicity”.
Those who are already looking forward to seeing the new James Bond diving off an exploding Palace of Culture might be pleased to discover that it wouldn’t be the first time the Poles have decided to blow the bejesus out of something left to them by departed Russian occupiers.
Author: Martin Kitson
Martin is a native of London who has lived in Europe for close to 20 years. These days he calls Sopot home from where he writes the Gdansk In Your Pocket guide, among other things. He is married with three children and enjoys history, sport and exploring new places.