Waking up in Gdansk and about to attend the COMECE conference, one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was an East European Communist Economic gathering from the Soviet era. Half of Gdansk was destroyed in WW2 and it still shows. The Old Town Centre is intact and fascinating with many buildings restored to their original grandeur. The magnificent churches of Saint Bridget and Saint Barbara together with the Basilica of Saint Mary all date from the fourteenth century and are well worth a visit although it will be standing room only during Mass.
Much of the new regeneration encompasses the Old Town and Harbour of this ancient Baltic seaport which was part of the Hanseatic League. Each of these ports had a Hall of Arthur. These halls were established throughout Europe as meeting places for knights and burghers, the name being derived from the Arthurian legend. Gdansk’s Artus Court was a focus for the community with banquets, concerts and theatre performances, which it still is but the modern conference complex where our conference was held is the home of the Polish Baltic Philharmonic. Ultra modern on the inside it is housed in the Royal Granary of 1606.
It is this contrast that marks out Gdansk where the old centre is surrounded by Soviet era concrete apartment blocks and office towers. Now added to this mix is Brussels style regeneration in the form of a military airfield converted to a commercial airport, new motorways, extended tram systems and shopping malls with a smattering of free-west institutions like Tesco, MacDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The KFC located in the elegant old central railway station is particularly incongruous. The Gdansk shipyard is a focus for Poland’s repeated freedom fight with events in 1970 and 1980 marked by a memorial [three crosses with anchors] to those who lost their lives in the struggle and marks the birth place of Solidarnosc.
The shipyard is in decline and struggling with this economic decline being mirrored by the usual social decline indicated by graffiti on every bridge and underpass and a couple of adult-shops. You have to ask where the economic activity is that supports the affluence indicated by the streets filled with vehicles from every European car maker. Gdansk is similar to other cities throughout the newly acceded countries of eastern and central Europe. Much needs to be done but the resources are limited. However, there is no doubt that Gdansk will survive and prosper. Amber has been processed and traded from the area since 8000BC and there was a thriving trade route with the Roman Empire. There is a whole street of amber jewellery manufacturers and shops in the Old Town and Gdansk is still an important Baltic port.
Thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair it can be reached easily and cheaply if you restrict yourself to a single carry-on bag. That should be enough for a long weekend when you can discover the delights of Gdansk. On the flight back you will also discover that the majority of passengers are Polish families returning to their workplaces in the UK and Ireland. That is the most worrying aspect of this situation. If Gdansk is to renovate and achieve its unique potential it will be its own people that bring it about. People are the answer. Families and babies are not the problem. They are the solution.
The Eurocrats in Brussels and the Northern European States in particular seem to be oblivious to this fundamental necessity. Theirs is the ideology of technology. Welcome to the New Jerusalem that is Euland or as some style it EUSSR.