Nowa Huta: past and future


In the two decades after 1989, many of us noticed how quickly what could be called the sphere of socially produced everyday life has changed. How is it, however, that the experiences of Polish transformations after communism have only been revealed only recently? How is it that the change becomes visible very slowly, that sometimes you have to wait a long time to see something at all? After all, there are such elements of everyday life that were not particularly visible, acted somewhere subcutaneously and could hardly be grasped in the social research network. However, let us look at the subject of the transformation itself after 1989, the transformation of reality. Przemysław Czapliński (2009) shows, for example, in his works how in the homogeneous image of the collective identity of Poles slowly appear blurriness, scratches, the starting point is therefore a certain prior homogeneity, homogeneity of the feeling “we” against “them” (communists, Soviets, power, etc.), probably also a sense of homogeneity, a certain norm. This rhetoric, this communication concealed the entire internal diversity and heterogeneity of Polish society. In a certain sense, the experience after communism appears after a certain, one way or another, order of everyday life and, at the same time, the order of stories. The sense of the experience of Polish transformations is revealed in an increasingly opaque form.

Thus, attention has already been paid (more than once) to the instability and instability of the world after the transformation that emerged after 1989: something is happening here, which still transforms it into something like the social trauma of the 1990s, i.e. the so-called social costs of transformation (see Sztompka 2000). I will want to show this two-sidedness of transformation processes in the form of a kind of continuation and experiences and rhetoric, but already as a kind of reversal – reversal of the founding acts of the post-war construction of the Polish Peerel. So let us see how these changes interpenetrate each other and how they lead to surprising results.



Great construction

As we all know, in the very beginnings of People’s Poland, the fates of hundreds of thousands of people, in a post-war, destroyed state, were particularly aggressively subjected to the rhetoric of electrifying development and electrifying changes, changes in all dimensions of everyday life that are closest to humans. In this way, the pre-war and post-war poverty or the collapse of civilization (in the technical and hygienic sense) were to be deeply hidden almost overnight. This metamorphosis had many meanings, it was both the sense of real social and economic projects, the architectural, aesthetic and hygienic sense, as well as the sense of the verbal-symbolic universe. Thus, in the fifth and sixth decades of the twentieth century, all areas of ordinary, everyday life before and after the war were to be cleared. The cities that were filling up had to be cleaned, rebuilt, modernized and sewered. Above all, poverty and the collapse of civilization were to remain secret (see Tarkowska 2000). It was this paradoxical system in which the time of scarcity, the time of “poor and overworked people” coexisted with the label of a resilient socialist country, a “bodily healthy” country.


So then a special edifice was being built. In both a literal and a more symbolic sense, it was supposed to be “secured” by wide avenues, squares, squares, waiting rooms, stations and buildings. They were to collect the post-war, sick social tissue and form it into a resilient body, a body devoid of poverty and decay, a perfect body. In this painting, the city becomes a kind of well-oiled machine and it is obviously a typical image of fulfilled socialism, socialism formed – as Wojciech Tomasik wrote – into the shape of the city of peace, which shines with harmony between people and machines. It is this metaphor of clearing up poverty or the “social swamp” of Polish cities is described by Tomasik in his work entitled Soul Engineering. The literature of socialist realism in the plan of “monumental propaganda” (1999). It shows, at the level of verbal-pictorial reality creation, that in the first stage it is a process of demolishing, leveling the enclaves of poverty and all stagnation with the surface. The rhetoric of “drilling” or “drainage”, a certain violence, appears in the occasional works, it is subjected to “slippery corridors” and “stuffy fumes” from the backyards of Praga and Powiśle. These pictures depict the modernizing road across the social swamp (presumably pre-war), or in other words: across the sea, bearing down on everything. The drying of the water substance is actually one of the strongest symbols of communist modernization: one of the poets who worshiped the great post-war construction of the building wrote in those years, “Za Morza Ruin” – Socialism.


After Eighty-Ninth there is a violent shock. First of all, I am thinking of a strong decoupling of a relatively permanent structure of everyday life developed on the basis of the Polish People’s Republic. It was not – I emphasize – some uniform mask of everyday behavior, but a certain tame ability to maneuver between what is real and what is untrue. Leading such a double life, different at home, different e.g. at school or at work, however, became a well-tame principle, a stable rule, and in effect created a world that provided basic social needs. And it is only from this structure, strong, above all at the level of everyday life, that the texture of the world, so far invisible, begins to emerge after the transformation. And this is this moment of chaos, the moment of a sudden break, something called a cultural and social trauma: at this moment in history, the already learned knowledge of social rules was suddenly suspended. Complaints and social lamentations – farmers, unemployed, former miners – already registered, even by anthropologists and linguists, are a clear sign of this disturbance of everyday life (this social lamentation, verbal rebellion has already become a well-established communication ritual). And it is from this fracture, from the fracture of the communist tissue of everyday life, that a new, incomprehensible experience of the years of transformation emerges.


So at the beginning we are dealing with a new, already rebuilt world – the post-transformation era. As in the 1940s and 1950s, the “new world” was created out of the ruins and putrid fumes of Powiśle backyards, an example analogous to “drilling” through the city is the construction of the key and exemplary industrial complex of the 1950s – Nowa Huta, which was to lead the country’s industrialization plans. Nowa Huta is the realization of a socialist and socialist realist form – the construction of a new society and a new man. There is a laboratory for a socialist building, a socio-metallurgical combine. – These were structures typically placed outside the confines of old, cramped, pre-war cities – this was where a new society was to be born, in a suburban belt facing outwards, open to space.


The essence of the development of a socialist city is therefore the world of building an industrial paradise. In the 1960s, they were carried away by a violent wave of construction – cities begin to emerge, spilling out into the suburbs and suburban fields. This phenomenon is characteristic of the urban policy of the People’s Republic of Poland and the activities of local authorities. Old, pre-war buildings in most cases were actually planned neglected, while the entire impetus of construction, especially the later construction of large-panel housing estates (the so-called functional savings geometry) was transferred to the suburbs, one might say more figuratively, to an open, unlimited space, where blocks and plants grew. The outskirts of towns, Leszek Dziegiel wrote, were gradually surrounded by boring rings of identical housing estates. A good example is the policy of the industrial authorities of Wałbrzych, in which the former German mining estates were neglected, while the rapidly growing mining housing estate of large-panel blocks was built, in a functional and geometric style. However, in a letter sent to the then magazine “Architektura”, a girl living, according to the editorial office, in one of the districts of Wałbrzych, proudly writes: to be proud of the new construction, which is the Piaskowa Góra estate. The estate is beautiful and colorful. There are lots of greenery, flowers and young trees. The construction is very colorful and clean. I live in Piaskowa Góra, which I am very proud of and with satisfaction I see new blocks growing day after day like mushrooms after rain ”. Nowa Huta near Krakow was thrown onto the unlimited space in the same way. After all, cities or housing estates were located around heavy industry centers, around expanding conglomerates, steel mills, rolling mills, and coking plants. So – new buildings and apartment blocks were adjacent to them – everyday life in the 1950s and 1960s was life in new, “fast-paced” cities, which were to finally function perfectly, without barriers, on sufficiently spacious grounds. Therefore, plants are growing, Nowa Huta is growing (such a strategy caused some inconvenience, but there are still, for example, with water supply – heavy industry – steel mills, rolling mills, blast furnaces and plants need no less than more for their life and operation. huge amounts of water – the industry uses it during the steel smelting process, cools the incandescent slags and cells, and absorbs all its supplies).


Nowa Huta estates were designed from scratch, in a series of photos from the years of construction – you can see the momentum of construction – it is a kind of aesthetic and architectural idea, a kind of gigantomania related to the constructivist belief in the possibility of creating a new environment for the human species – a new engineering form (productivism). what Michał Murawski writes about; he even puts forward the thesis about the originality of what is aesthetic and monumental, against the economic and industrializing character. Nowa Huta – if we look at the collection of photos from the years of its creation – you can see that there is an excess of space and air there, the scale seems to be too large for a human being. In the photo from the opening of the new store, you can see figures crowded under the windows – large windows from which you can see the space and wide, monumental streets. In yet another photo you can see a small field of mowed land in no-man’s (“state”) land between the new mixed-use buildings. It was supposed to be a housing estate for people – designed from scratch, on a concentric plan, inspired by Renaissance European city plans – but maintaining its monumental dimension. After all, it was a housing estate accompanying a large metallurgical conglomerate, raised outside the city of Krakow, into open spaces, into new centers – places of formation of a new man.


I will come back to the beginning here, to the construction of the people’s state building, which was based on the power of modernization. The power of new conglomerates, chimneys and mines, the power of melioration are, as Wojciech Tomasik shows, an image of a reality in which machinery absorbs everything human: private life, love and hate, ambitions and cares. The dominant motif in propaganda stories such as Coal by Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski or For example Bogdan Hamera’s Plewa is precisely – as Tomasik shows – the theme of the victim (the victim appears very clearly in Hamera’s story: here is the secretary Nieglicki, who is dying at the hands of saboteurs, hears the first trigger of pig iron, it seems then that his death brings life to the metallurgical machinery). The building of the new order is therefore accompanied by a certain awareness of the sacrifice or, more broadly, the memory of some vague violence of modernization. Perhaps this image is also present at all in the social memory of modernization, already established in a cliché.

After the transformation of the 1990s, Nowa Huta was completely empty. A small part of the workers remained in the former privatized plants – at present, there are about 4-5 thousand people employed there. employees. The city itself gives the impression of being empty, the architecture of the 1950s makes the spaces difficult to fill (for example with cultural activities or interventions), and other Nowa Huta estates – with separate, alternative numbering – have not grouped people working in Huta plants for a long time. The Nowa Huta Cultural Center is a large, but very traditional, conservative cultural institution, carrying out workshops and activities related to very traditional and perhaps a bit ‘facade’ understood artistic or cultural education compared to other cities, for example, Lublin and the Engaged Art Workshop Socially “Rewiry”, where the most courageous, progressive social and artistic interventions are carried out in neglected spaces of the city (socially engaged and progressive activities, however, are carried out in Nowa Huta, the theater and social center “Łaźnia Nowa”, run by Bartosz Szydłowski – but as already non-state institution).


The history of the transformation of Nowa Huta is, however, something completely different than the transformation of industrial monocultures such as Wałbrzych, Nowa Ruda or Krosno (research by Ewa Charkiewicz). Contact and communication with the city, Krakow, universities, and the labor market in Małopolska in general were maintained – hence the collapse and unemployment related to the dismissal of almost the entire workforce, even in the unemployment level indicators indicates a limited range – official unemployment rates were only slightly higher than in Krakow and incomparable to other places affected by the decline of industry. (see documents from the 2008 Local Revitalization Program for Stara Nowa Huta – the unemployment rate is 5.3% in 2008). Hence, a certain absence of closing the central workplace is noticeable, if it is in the space, emptiness, nostalgia and the creation of a semi-ironic open-air museum of the People’s Republic of Poland, with old-style premises – be it a milk bar or an elegant place in the style of the 1950s and 1960s, The “Stylowa Restaurant” (near Plac Centralny) or the invisible “Piastowska Restaurant” located next to the block of flats, where, due to local needs, Saturday dance evenings with a redeemable “consumer voucher” are still alive and up-to-date.


The steel plant itself, now Arcelor Mittal plants, is becoming more and more invisible, badly connected, and as if out of the way. It is closed, tightly guarded, the entrance is through the gate only with passes, the security aggressively dissuades people approaching the gates. Inside, only certified tours are possible, which is at least strange – post-industrial or even active, industrial areas are very often open to visitors and interested people, such as the huge KWB “Bełchatów” or new mining industry museums in Wałbrzych or Upper Silesia. At the main gate of the Steelworks, there is an old kiosk with a pensioner working there selling “Nowa Huta’s voice”, with a large, old employee’s newspaper sign, completely inadequate. Huta, a private, globalized business of ArcelorMittal (headquarters in Luxembourg) is therefore separated from the city and does not seem to function in public, there are trams to the empty, rarely visited Wanda Mound, from which there are no paths leading to Huta and – for pedestrians – there is nothing like get to it, get through the expressways. At the same time, in the interior of the Huta train, the largest and clearly visible steel plant itself was completely dismantled, cut and scrapped in just over two months – Łukasz Trzciński was surprised to discover that this well-visible plant suddenly disappeared, and we did not understand why from Wanda’s mound you can see almost nothing, no traces of a huge industry. Interestingly, the Steelworks, as an industrial area, is clearly dying out, an office and industrial center was built at gate No. 3, which is clearly not developing – there are new office buildings with advertisements encouraging people to rent – some of them from new, from building on the wave of the idea to create there, something like a “special economic zone” was hardly used. What is left is therefore a large plant separated from the city, a conglomerate that increasingly remains a separate place, a fading part of this complex.


Nowa Huta itself, however, is a separate city. Once created to create new, social forms of living, it has now become a separate part. This new housing estate-city was once supposed to create a new man, a new, ethical, strong personality – hence the cult of work leaders, work fulfilling their lives. It is more understandable in the context of the dangers lurking in the background of building a new city, in the open, next to a large conglomerate, such as what happened along with human energies. The problem of drinking was particularly problematic, combated and concealed – many instructions and posters on health and safety at work during real socialism and the People’s Republic of Poland were devoted to it. It was then that the “human masses”, leaving the steelworks after the changeover, several thousand workers drank in woods, parks and thickets to relax to work and returned home drunk. It was alcohol (“alcohol – your enemy”) that was the opposite of the new moral world of work as it was designed together with Nowa Huta. The remains of this game and a certain “style” of manual labor, historically associated with drinking, are completely new advertisements and boards hanging on the gate No. sobered up. Similarly, right next to it, there is a board informing about the association of severe and fatal accidents at work with being drunk. These are the still ongoing principles of creating a moral working man – formerly a new moral city.


The city itself, Nowa Huta, is gradually changing and heading in a surprising direction. It is a place built to preserve the monumental, constructivist style – lots of wide streets, avenues, housing estates and urban greenery. How much in nearby Krakow we constantly deal with pollution and smog alerts, with the air settling inside the city, Nowa Huta, going out to the meadows and meadows near Krakow (the cultural center “hung” over the green meadows of Nowa Huta and further – the Vistula valley) – is located outside the old city quarters of cramped, historic Krakow. Wide streets, 4-5-storey housing estates, lots of greenery, everything that was supposed to create a new, ideal and moral man, a new social form now paradoxically creates an ideal, “windward”, effectively ventilated city – this is where they are more and more willing to rent and buy apartments Krakow employees of new, usually office jobs. Nowa Huta becomes a place of Nowy – a place where former utopian modernization assumptions, lined with gigantomania and monumentalism, now create a very open city on a human scale, although local communities are slightly excluded from these changes (apart from the Łaźnia Nowa theater – rather conservative cultural institutions), and Steelworks – a workplace, disappearing and moving away more and more, and actually being relegated from everyday life (a certain form of implosion of the city’s previous, industrial existence).