That’s where we’ve been today. New Steelworks. It’s the name of a town, now part of Krakow, that was part of the post-war dream of the communist regime. Krakow was seen as too bourgeois, too intellectual. It needed a healthy dose of industrial work. Steelworks.
There was no coal or ore nearby. No matter. Bring raw materials in from miles away. The site proposed for this industrial powerhouse was fertile agricultural land that had been productively farmed since the Middle Ages. No matter. Destroy the villages and evict the farmers and labourers.
Nova Huta was born. In its heyday it employed more than 100,000 workers. They benefitted from good facilities for their families, and cultural opportunities, at the same time as they and the Krakow region choked under catastrophic industrial pollution.
Today the pollution is sorted, but the town of Nova Huta lives on. It was a model of Socialist Realism. Monolithic concrete blocks of flats flank broad grassy tree-lined boulevards, interspersed by parks. We expected to hate it. But we didn’t. The massive blocks of flats are medium-rise, and grouped round communal lawns. Shops and community facilities form the ground floor of blocks along the main boulevards. The parks are spacious and seem to be home to lots of – yes – red squirrels. And groups of tables with inlaid chess boards where we came upon gaggles of men playing cards. Honestly, I’ve seen much nastier social housing all over Europe.
When the Solidarity movement began in Gdansk under Lech Walesa, the workers of Nova Huta, aided by the priests of the churches they had struggled to have built, and by the monks of the nearby Cistercian monastery were eager to join in the fight against communist oppression.
As is now clear. The main streets of Nova Huta are now named after Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Solidarity itself.
What a day. Such a contrast from historic down-town Krakow, and from the local Cistercian Abbey and ancient wooden church of Saint Bartholomew, which we also called in on. As well as the 1970s church of Arka Pana, which was such a struggle to have built. Luckily for the parishioners of Nova Huta, their bishop was on side. A certain Karol Wojtila, later Pope John Paul II.