The year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the commence of construction of Nowa Huta—the first socialist city and a metallurgical complex, located in close proximity to Kraków, and included in the city's boundaries since 1951, even though the process of “fusion” between Nowa Huta and Kraków took much longer.
In order to commemorate this event, we decided to prepare a jubilee exhibition whose starting point is a reflection about our identity, about the contemporary residents of Nowa Huta.
In the spring of 2018, together with the curator Maciej Miezian and the photographer Grzegorz Ziemiański, we turned to the people encountered in Nowa Huta with questions concerning their identification with the district: do you think of yourself as a citizen of Nowa Huta and what does that mean to you? Our interlocutors included people of all ages, working in various professions, fulfilling diverse social roles. Some of them spoke only briefly and went on with their everyday activities, while others stopped for longer and reminisced about the days of their youth.
What does a contemporary resident of Nowa Huta look like? What do they care about? What are their concerns and worries, and what makes them happy? How long have they been here and do they want to live here? Many of the interviewed people have made Nowa Huta their home. The notion of feeling at home and “being from here” appeared in most of the statements. The process of “settling down” lasted a different amount of time depending on the varied individual cases. We also listened to new residents who are purchasing cheaper apartments in the socialist-realist section of Nowa Huta or in new housing estates built on the former runway. For them Nowa Huta does not have historical associations, and does not play a sentimental role. The dialog revealed the polarization of judgments characteristic for the myth of Nowa Huta. Some spoke of Nowa Huta with adoration, while others strongly distanced themselves (e.g. the representatives of the local Roma community, who are at risk of exclusion). Our interlocutors have all emphasized and appreciated the abundance of greenery in Nowa Huta, its secluded nature, as well as its spaciousness and proximity to the most important public offices, schools, institutions and shops.
The exhibition presents the condition of the contemporary inhabitants of Kraków's post-industrial district of Nowa Huta. The importance of the period of systemic transformation in shaping the contemporary identity of residents of Nowa Huta was marginalized for years. The contemporary sense of identity of Nowa Huta is no longer shaped by the experience of migration from the countryside, being uprooted, living in the barracks or workers' dormitories. The experiences from the period of the systemic transformation and the 1990s prove to be far more important.
The collective portrait that we have sketched out shows the contemporary residents of Nowa Huta. These are ordinary, everyday people. We haven't prepared the portraits of the most famous inhabitants of this part of the city, but decided to take a closer look at people who are not well-known at all.
In the times of the Polish People's Republic, the jubilee celebrations mainly emphasized the city's youthfulness and the manufacturing achievements of the steelworks, expressed in millions of tonnes of steel produced, as well as the modern architecture of the plant's industrial buildings and the fact that it had been the largest steelworks in Poland until the creation of the Katowice Steelworks.
In later decades, the organizers also highlighted the social costs of the first years of construction and held diary and reportage writing competitions, the most interesting of which were later published. The fate of the most famous “work leader” from Nowa Huta, Piotr Ożański (1925-1988), even became the subject of an acclaimed movie entitled “Man of Marble”, directed by Andrzej Wajda. This 1976 film, filled with scenes depicting “Edward Gierek's decade of prosperity”, became a universal story about the fate of men in a totalitarian regime.
The 60th anniversary of Nowa Huta was celebrated on a grand scale after Poland had already regained its sovereignty. It was accompanied by numerous cultural events, meetings and concerts. A nostalgic exhibition entitled “My Nowa Huta 1949-2009”, presenting the recollections of several generations raised over the course of sixty years in Nowa Huta, was prepared at the Nowa Huta branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. Jacek Salwiński, the deputy head of the Museum of Kraków stated, that “the My Nowa Huta 1949-2009 exhibition was an important voice of those who remind us, that the inhabitants of Nowa Huta can be proud of their past, both consisting of ordinary, everyday work as well as the participation in the great historical events of that period. (…). We assumed the position of a witness, a discreet chronicler listening to the voices of the participants of the epic history of Nowa Huta in the years 1949-2009”.
In the next jubilee exhibition, we once again allowed the residents of Nowa Huta to make their voice heard. We asked them about the present times, about their lives in Nowa Huta right now, seventy years after its creation.
Our reflections were focused on the contemporary residents of Nowa Huta and this approach has led us towards topics that have not been brought up in the discourse thus far, revolving around the issue of the systemic transformation. This ground-breaking period still remains untold and marginalized, although it is now being increasingly embraced by writers, curators of contemporary galleries of art and design.
The year 1989 brought enormous political and social changes not only in Poland, but in all countries of the so-called Eastern Bloc. As a result, on 10 December 1989 the Board of the National Council in Nowa Huta ordered the dismantling of the largest statue of Lenin in Poland, located at Aleja Róż (Avenue of Roses) in Nowa Huta. This marked the end of the monument referred to as the “Godzilla of Nowa Huta”. It's worth recalling, that the toppled statue had previously been defaced, pelted with paint and eggs, which was recorded in photographs documenting the event. The wave of dissent and desire for sovereignty were also expressed in the open aversion to the symbols of the despised regime.