• Poland's "Fountain of the Future"

    By Maryna Polataiko for postcommunistmonuments.ca

    Right now, many post-Soviet states are in the midst of a sculptural demolition derby. Numerous countries are trying to wipe communism from their public spaces by removing monuments of a bygone era. And while Poland is certainly participating in this trend—think the ‘Four Sleepers’ debacle in Warsaw—artists near Krakow have put their own spin on distancing themselves from Russia.

    As part of the Grolsch ArtBoom Festival in Krakow, artists Małgorzata Szydłowska and Bartosz Szydłowsk produced a little, bright yellow Lenin. Standing where a Soviet-era Lenin once was (and was removed in 1989), the miniature’s fountain water doubles as a urine stream.

    While the ‘Fountain of the Future’ is meant to be temporary—stimulating discussion on what should really be taking its place—a permanent residence for the peeing figure would not be so bad either.



    Denver Nicks. “Polish City Erects Statue of Peeing Lenin.” Time, June 12, 2014. Accessed June 22, 2015. http://time.com/2867197/polish-city-erects-statue-of-peeing-lenin/.


    Max Nesterak. “Krakow Erects A Bright Yellow Statue of Lenin Peeing.” ArtSlant Los Angeles, June 13, 2014. Accessed June 22, 2015. http://www.artslant.com/la/articles/show/39841.


    “Big Boom in Nova Huta.” Grolsch Artboom Festival in Krakow, June 9, 2014. Accessed June 22, 2015. http://www.artboomfestival.pl/en/4/2/10361.

  • Putting the Sleepers to Sleep

    • May 28, 2015 - 11:08 pm
    • Poland, Russia, WWII
    • Comments Off on Putting the Sleepers to Sleep

    By Maryna Polataiko for postcommunistmonuments.ca

    War on What?!

    On November 18th 1945, a statue depicting seven soldiers was raised on Wileński Square in Warsaw. On a tall, tiered base: Three Soviet soldiers stand ready for combat. Below, four Polish soldiers—the ‘Four Sleeping Soldiers’—stand guard. Celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany, the monument recognized the Soviet Red Army’s contribution to Poland’s independence. More broadly, the monument stood as a symbol for Soviet-Polish friendship. Yet the sleeping soldiers were not taken down following the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

    Only in 2011 were they taken down temporarily due to construction work being done on Warsaw’s metro system. In line with a 1994 intergovernmental agreement concerning war memorials, Warsaw officials agreed to return the monument post-construction. Its return, however, was met with public opposition. Today, the soldiers represent an outdated and unwanted Communist presence, coupled with the reminder of Poland’s involuntary friendship with Russia.

    In late February, Warsaw’s city council voted to hide the monument in a storeroom instead of returning it to Wileński Square. Amidst Polish-Russian tensions over Ukraine’s annexation, the decision to hide the monument is anything but apolitical.

    Russia has accused Poland of a disrespectful attitude to the monuments to Soviet soldiers. Warsaw asserts that the conflict draws on different understandings of memory about WWII. An expert from the Polish Council says that in Poland, people commemorate the memory of those fallen in the war (there are 630 Soviet soldiers’ cemeteries in Poland, all of them maintained by the state), while Russia honors the monuments, which he calls “the monuments of fraternal arms,” fixtures erected during the period of Soviet control.



    “Soviet Monument Banned From Returning to Warsaw Square.” The New York Times, February 27, 2015. Accessed March 15, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/02/27/world/europe/ap-eu-poland-soviet-monument.html?_r=1.


    Filip Lech. “Comradeship of the Sad and the Fighting: A History of Vanishing Monuments.” Culture.Pl, February 17, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2015. http://culture.pl/en/article/comradeship-of-the-sad-and-the-fighting-a-history-of-vanishing-monuments.


    “Soviet-Era Monument to Disappear from Warsaw Praga District.” Radio Poland, February 27, 2015. Accessed March 15, 2015. http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/198554,Sovietera-monument-to-disappear-from-Warsaw%E2%80%99s-Praga-district.


    Юрій Савицький. «Шанування пам'яті померлих чи культ радянських пам'ятників?» Радіо Свобода, May 3, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2015. http://www.radiosvoboda.org/content/article/26987441.htm.

  • Poland Pays Tribute to Wikipedia

    • May 28, 2015 - 10:54 pm
    • New monument, Poland
    • Comments Off on Poland Pays Tribute to Wikipedia

    By Maryna Polataiko for postcommunistmonuments.ca

    In October 2015, a monument to information-sharing site Wikipedia was erected in Slubice, Poland. Director of Collegium Poloncium—a university located in Slubice— Krzysztof Wojciechowski came up with the idea to construct it. The $14,000, 2-meter brass-like version of Wikipedia’s logo is held up by four human figures, honouring the Wiki community, whose work is integral to the website’s widespread dissemination of knowledge.

    The small-town attraction accurately represent’s Poland’s enthusiasm and involvement with the website. The country’s Wikipedia page contains over a million articles, ranking it the 12th largest Wiki site in the world.




    Neuendorf, Henri. 'Wikipedia Gets A Monument... In Poland - Artnet News'. artnet News, October 16, 2014. Accessed May 4, 2015. https://news.artnet.com/in-brief/wikipedia-gets-a-monumentin-poland-131107.

  • Controversial Rainbow Sculpture in Warsaw

    • March 23, 2013 - 5:47 pm
    • New monument, Poland
    • Comments Off on Controversial Rainbow Sculpture in Warsaw

    The New York Times reports on the controversy over a rainbow sculpture in central Warsaw seen as symbolic of gay and lesbian rights. See the link here for the full story and a top-notch photo of the half-burned sculpture.


    March 21, 2013

    Rainbow Becomes a Prism to View Gay Rights


    WARSAW — The 30-foot-tall rainbow sculpture in downtown Savior Square here is looking somewhat the worse for wear these days, half covered in patches of artificial flowers and half bare from being set on fire. What was intended as a work of public art without an overt political message beyond the need for inclusiveness, according to the artist behind it, has instead become part of a culture war over homosexuality that has been brewing in one of Europe’s most Catholic countries.

    Since its June installation in the square — a busy crossing place for trams that also has a famous church and a buzzing bar and cafe scene — the rainbow has been set on fire four times and come under attack from right-wing politicians and Web sites.

    Stanislaw Pieta, a member of Parliament from the conservative Law and Justice Party, the main opposition faction in Poland, called the placement of the rainbow on a grassy circle in front of the church a “disgusting gesture, offensive to Catholics.” He added, “It’s a provocation.”

    Although city officials and the artist, Julita Wojcik, say the rainbow is not a monument to gay rights, both its supporters and opponents find they can agree on what the rainbow symbolizes.

    The debate over gay rights has gathered steam in Europe over the past year. France’s lower house passed a bill last month that will grant the right to marry to same-sex couples if the upper house approves it in April, as expected. Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court last month expanded adoption rights for gay couples.

    Poland’s first openly gay and transgender members of Parliament were elected in 2011. But their reception, even from the most prominent members of society, has been anything but a universal embrace. Lech Walesa, the former president, revered anti-Communist opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, surprised many here when he declared that gay lawmakers should be sitting in the back rows of the Polish Parliament, “or even behind a wall.”

    Dorota Chojna, 39, a volunteer who has helped repair the burned rainbow, said in a telephone interview that she felt uneasy. “As a homosexual person, I don’t feel safe in Warsaw,” she said. “I became involved in the rebuilding to oppose pervasive homophobia, among other reasons.”

    Poland’s economy has thrived in recent years, avoiding the deep recessions that have plagued its neighbors in Eastern Europe as well as the stagnation that has set in among countries to the west. But like many societies in the former Soviet bloc, Poland is divided between those who have benefited from the dynamic economy and those who feel left behind by rapid change, social as well as economic.

    The rainbow was not the first work of public art to receive criticism here in Poland’s capital. While the city has long featured statues of kings, saints and the beloved composer Chopin, a 50-foot artificial palm tree by the artist Joanna Rajkowska caused confusion and no small amount of consternation when it was erected in 2002. A work about the city’s lost Jewish population — referring to the warmer climate in Israel — the palm tree has slowly been accepted as part of the city’s skyline.

    “If the city is to develop, it needs new symbols,” said Ms. Rajkowska, who supports the rainbow.

    Known as Plac Zbawiciela in Polish, Savior Square takes its name from the 19th-century Church of the Holiest Savior, whose twin spires tower over it. But the square is also known as Plac Hipstera, or hipster square. While older residents in overcoats and berets go to Mass at the church, minor celebrities and affluent teenagers sip lattes, all within sight of the damaged arch.

    The structure was first installed in front of the European Parliament in Brussels in September 2011, to honor Poland’s turn at the rotating presidency of the European Union. Ms. Wojcik, its creator, said in an interview at the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw that the rainbow was intended as a symbol of tolerance.

    “In 2011, Poland was seen as a homophobic country,” she said. “I wanted to show that we’re not closed, but open-minded.”

    Ms. Wojcik brought the rainbow back to Poland last June, in time for the European soccer championships that Poland hosted with neighboring Ukraine. Then the trouble began.

    Originally covered with some 16,000 artificial flowers, the rainbow quickly turned into a giant Rorschach test for residents. To some, the rainbow is just a rainbow. “I think about the happiness in life,” said Jadwiga Wilczynska, 78, smiling as she looked at the sculpture.

    To Wlodzimierz Paszynski, the deputy mayor of Warsaw, “It’s a sign of unity; it evokes warm feelings.”

    Ms. Wojcik, 42, said: “The rainbow is not a pro- or anti-gay declaration. It’s about tolerance, diversity, openness.” She said her goal was to strip the rainbow of all its political meaning, leaving the interpretation open and making it a bridge of mutual tolerance. She apparently did not succeed in that goal, since the one reading of the sculpture has overshadowed any others.

    At least one of the four fires has been deemed an accident from New Year’s fireworks. In another fire, the perpetrator was inebriated and, according to the Warsaw police, he did not disclose his motives. The other two fires remain unsolved.

    Some insist that there is no larger goal behind the attacks. “It’s just vandalism,” said Maria Klosinska, whose sister owns Charlotte, a bistro on the square.

    But the critic Roman Pawlowski wrote on the Polish online news site gazeta.pl that calling the arson “vandalism” was a euphemism. “Actually, we’re dealing with an act of terror,” he wrote.

    The Rev. Dariusz Kowalczyk, a Jesuit priest, reminded readers of the Roman Catholic weekly Idziemy that rainbows have other connotations. “When we see a rainbow in the sky, we shouldn’t think about gay activists, but about Noah’s covenant with God,” he wrote.

    The rainbow was meant to be a temporary fixture, but city authorities agreed to push back the date of its dismantling several times, and in February they decided to leave it there for another year. At night it becomes a jungle gym for adults, many of whom have been enjoying time in a nearby bar, who climb on top and even crawl inside the steel frame.

    For a planned refurbishing, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, a publicly financed organization that sponsored the rainbow, is looking for flame-resistant materials. But some feel that for a city scarred by war and Communism, the tattered, slightly charred version of the rainbow is fitting.

    “It’s a testimony of sorts,” said Marcin Malenczyk, the owner of Karma Coffee, one of the cafes on the square. “It’s good that it’s had its adventures.”

    Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting from Berlin.