Polish anti-communism has gone too far

Poland's handling of communismResistance to street renaming

Marian Buczek was a communist in Poland before World War II. The Communist People's Republic of Poland, which emerged after 1945, honored him as a hero, although he fought against the Polish state at the time and wanted to join the Soviet Union.

Streets bearing Buczek's name are to be renamed by the Polish municipalities by tomorrow. Even if many residents disagree. At a citizens' meeting in Zamosc, in the far east, an elderly lady came to the lectern:

"We wrote a letter that we don't want any change. That only incurs costs. I know that this Buczek was one of the first Polish communists, but he didn't hurt me. Besides, he is part of our history. Soon you will also order to paint the sky at night because the stars are a symbol for the Soviet Army. "

In Zamosc, the citizens were not heard, but in a municipality in Pomerania: There, the MPs simply reinterpreted the name "Buczek" - after all, "Buczek" is also the word for a small beech. Against this, the voivode appointed by the government vetoed: he considers "Street of the Little Beech" to be pointless.

City of Warsaw changed six of 30 street names

There are many such disputes. The "decommunization" of the cities, as it is called colloquially in Poland, is therefore far from over. But it is urgently needed, believes the government. Jan Zaryn, Senator of the right-wing conservative ruling party PiS says:

"We did not succeed in decommunization after the democratic turnaround, because many old communists helped to shape the democratic system. We can now at least make up for that with regard to the symbols in public space, by changing the names of streets and squares."

The PiS had introduced the law into parliament. The Polish opposition supported it. For many city and local councils in which opposition parties have a majority, however, the government's plans went too far. In Warsaw, which is governed by the right-wing liberal "Citizens' Platform", the local MPs have only changed six street names. The state "Institute for National Memory", whose leadership is close to the ruling party PiS, had requested over 30 renaming.

Changes are dictated

There were also communist functionaries who had achieved important things, says Marek Wojcik, member of parliament for the opposition "Citizens' Platform":

"I am a member of parliament from Katowice. Take Jerzy Zietek, for example. On the one hand, he was an apparatchik, on the other hand, he is still respected in Upper Silesia today. Many important buildings were built thanks to his commitment; he was considered a highly decent person. I don't want his name to disappear from our cities. "

But that is exactly what the state "Institute for National Memory" demands. In Katowice, Warsaw and many other cities, the government-appointed voivode of the respective administrative district will therefore become active in autumn. He will try to dictate the change of further street names to the respective city.

Monuments should disappear from the cities

The Polish law also made headlines internationally. Above all Russia protested: There it was said that street names that recall the Red Army and its fight in World War II should be preserved. Valentina Matviyenko, Chairwoman of the Federation Council of Russia:

"Anyone who forgets his story will be judged by history. How can one mock the memory of those who liberated Poland from the occupation. Who knows how many Poles would have died without the Soviet Army and whether there would be a Polish state at all today . "

What Matvijenko does not say: It was also the Red Army that attacked Poland in September 1939, 16 days after the attack by the German Wehrmacht.

The decision of the Polish parliament that monuments that glorify a totalitarian system, including the Soviet Union, should also disappear from public space met with particularly great protest in Russia. It is still unclear exactly how this will take place.

In France, the actions of the city of Waldenburg, in Polish Walbrzych, caused a stir in Upper Silesia. The city wanted to remove the street signs with the names of Polish communists who fought against the German occupiers in France during World War II. After protests by veterans associations in France, the city of Waldenburg decided to keep at least three of the street names affected.