Troubles not over, Warsaw’s Communist Era and Stalin’s “Gift”

Stalin had seen the Poles as a pawn and stabbed the Polish people in the back twice within a few years of the war. In 1939, he did a deal with Hitler and carved Poland up for his own purposes then in 1944 his Soviet machine encouraged the Polish people to rise up against Germany but refused to support these insurgents using them as human sacrifices to thin the German lines. Stalin wanted to march in as the liberator of the Polish people, and now that the Polish Home Army was crushed, the Red Army wheeled into Warsaw with propaganda blaring as the saviours of the Polish people from the German horror.

The entry into Warsaw signaled a turning point to the war. Nazi Germany would not have long left, Hitler too would not have long left. And as he was once quoted as saying that the Third Reich would exist as long as he was alive. That was true, the Reich collapse soon after

Peace however was still long in coming, for the end of the World War would give way to the start of the Cold War.

Europe was an utter mess. People may have stopped dying from state-sanctioned bullets, but people were still dying from starvation and hunger and crime. London was unable to respond and Washington was not near enough. The Communist influence in the East was beginning to grow. To combat a rising Communist threat the United States the Americans started the Marshall Plan (European Recovery Program) aimed at assisting Western Europe recover from the War. But Poland, because it was under the political ambit of the Soviets was not given any funds under the Marshall Plan.

The newly liberated Poland was governed by Poles, Poles who were controlled by Moscow. Poland was officially governed from what was ironically called the Warsaw White House, although it was a open secret that the Kremlin had full control.

The Warsaw White House today, once the headquarters of communist Poland today a shopping area for the rich

This was the sad beginning of the 45 years of Communist Poland under the name the Polish People’s Republic, ended only in 1989 with the democratic election of Solidarnosc and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But the people in Poland were not sympathetic or supportive of the Communist. This was still the same country that once was home to the  Paris of the East and that established forms of elitist democracy and elections when Western Europe was still stuck in monarchies. These were not people given to the mantra of Communism: From each his best, to each his needs. An unsupportive environment was difficult for the Soviets to operate in, a downright hostile one was a lot worse. So the first thing the Communist government had to do was to gain the support of the people, or at least decrease the hostility and the best way was to rebuild the capital city.

The Marshall Plan was out, and Stalin was not going to help so the Polish people contributed money and manpower – blood, sweat and tears to rebuild the city, guided along of course with Soviet Propaganda, like the one written on the walls of the building below exhorting the people to rebuild the city.

People did not think this was possible. Most commentators said the city was so devastated it would not be possible to reconstruct the city, and yet the Poles did.

Out came the beautiful Old Town, loving reconstructed to look like a 17th century old town. A job done so well that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.

Wanting to “contribute” to the Poles (to show them how powerful Mother Russia was), Stalin offered the people a gift in 1952. Did they want a metro system, an palace or a park? The people voted for a metro system and so naturally Stalin built an imposing Palace of Culture and Science.

It was humbly called the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science (the name of the man was removed later on after the collapse of the Soviet Union).

It was from this imposing tower, meant to impress and inspire (or depress and devastate depending on how you look at it) at military parades and annual address to the Polish people.

A side note, but the way the soldiers stood at parade and inspection is so similar to the Chinese one especially with the head turning part and the repetition of common lines from the leader to the soldiers. Is it because of the common Soviet training at the start of both militaries?

The Palace is still used today for Culture and Science with theatres, musuems, universities and exhibitions all located inside.

Soviet art was to be found all over the city, art that promoted the “worker” and “farmer”. These communist era pictures still adorn the buildings today but ironically are situated as accoutrements to big business outlets in the city.

Things began to look up for Poland, construction and the reestablishment from a complete whip out helped the Polish economy and the lives of the people to improve, peaking in the 1970s. But it did not last long. Things started to get bad, crazy laws were put in place including punitive taxes on livestock and agriculture, leading to a thriving blackmarket and a lack of food on the main market. Bakeries had barely any bread,

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and pigs were traded in cars.

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To improve the food shortage situation, officials introduced more Bar Mclezny or Milk Bars into the city. They would have first bite of the small amount of produce arriving in the city and would then be subsidised to sell the products at low cost.

  Bar Mleczny today from sustenance to cultural experience

Corruption was rife and the Communst officials themselves had no intention of changing the system as they benefited more from corruption that they did from the system itself. The world was reporting about the big problems in Poland.

The official constitution of Poland promised Freedom of Speech, but that was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. People were free to think what they thought, they weren’t free to speak about what they thought. To be sure, propaganda is something ALL governments use. Every government has its own official, government-approved version of things the difference is if other different views are allowed to be expressed. And those were in Communist Poland.

  The Free Speech Memorial in Warsaw, just outside the former Propaganda Office of the government

To try to show the world that Poland was different, three international hotel brands were invited to build hotels and people from the free world (or the political First World) were welcomed to visit Warsaw. Their trips were not unlike those in North Korea today – guided, watched and choreographed.

The three hotels in Warsaw were the Novotel, Sheraton and Sofitel Victoria.

Life in these hotels was what you’d expect in a resort, a large spread of food, casinos, booze, but obviously no one bought the illusion – you’ve have to be quite a useful idiot if you did.

The years of communist rule could not last, and by 1980 a protest in a Shipyard in northern Gdansk began. This protest soon led to the formation of a workers trade union in Gdansk – Solidarnosc.

The gate at which the protest was held in Gdansk

Solidarosc would soon become a massive political movement and would grow from a local shipyard union to a huge political party with 10 million members. At its peak the Communist party of Poland only ever had 5 million people.

Martial Law was introduced in 1981 and lasted for 2 years, with leaders of the Solidarity movement put in jail for subversion among other crimes. But the situation again became untenable and the government was forced to negotiate with the Solidarity movement. The communist government tried to stimulate the economy through a system called Market Socialism, that didn’t work. The last few communist leaders of Poland knew that the fall of their regime was imminent, it was merely a matter of time and their job was to come to terms with the inevitable. In 1989 a growing Solidarnosc movement won the general elections.

The era of Communist Poland was over. Warsaw would be the capital of a democratic Poland instead, and the people of Poland would be very sensitive to protecting their constitution, to ensure that their independent country and their hard-fought independence would be protected.

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