Liberal councilors have begun changing street names to celebrate communism in several Polish towns, sparking an ideological battle in the country.
Politicians from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) politicians are fighting back against the changes in an effort to keep communism out of public spaces. Their campaign branded “Save our heroes” is an effort to avoid what many other cities like Berlin feature everywhere: streets named after communists like Karl Marx, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
The cultural stakes are especially high with PiS lambasting councilors for removing famed heroes who fought against communism in the underground resistance and replacing the streets with communist slogans.
Workers of the world unite?
The campaign began after liberal councilors in the towns of Żyrardów in central Poland and Białystok in eastern Poland decided to remove the names of underground resistance fighters General August “Nil” Fieldorf and Major Zygmunt “Łupaszka” Szendzielarz from streets.
Both were tortured and executed by communists during the post-war Stalinist period.
The action in Żyrardów is particularly controversial because the streets were changed to communist slogans, including one called “Workers United”, a slogan adopted in Poland after the forced merger between the Soviet-backed Communist Party and the Polish Socialist Party.
Liberal councilors have claimed in their defense that Żyrardów was traditionally an industrial town dominated by the working class, and the concept of workers’ unity has another meaning which people there accept.
PiS politicians and many Polish citizens say they do not buy the explanation, especially when the slogans were used to repalce the names of underground resistance fighters.
Former Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, an MEP, said that young politicians such as himself and MP Jacek Ozdoba had a moral duty to remember those who gave up their lives for a free and independent Poland and ensure the country preserves their memory.
“Our campaign ‘Save our heroes’ begins. We begin by petitioning for the return of the name of Gen. August Fieldorf and the return of ‘Nil Street’,” wrote Ozdoba on Twitter.
— Jacek Ozdoba (@OzdobaJacek) November 4, 2019
The cursed soldiers
Gen. Fieldorf was deputy commander-in-chief of the Polish underground Home Army. The communist regime executed Fieldorf in 1953.
Maj. Szendzielarz was also a commander in the Home Army. After Poland was taken over by Soviets between 1944 and 1945, he and his troops continued their fight against the Soviet Army and communist authorities. After several years living underground, Szendzielarz was arrested and executed on Feb. 8, 1951.
The “Save our Heroes” campaign was first announced at The Museum of Cursed Soldiers and Political Prisoners of the Polish People’s Republic.