"Gdansk: Conflicting Fortunes"
Gdansk has had a politically complicated history. There is a clue in its name: Gdansk (Polish), Gduńsk (Kashubian) and Danzig (German). Few cities’ keys can have slipped through so many pairs of hands. It has been at the start and end of empires; it has been fought over by the Teutonic Knights and Polish nobles; subsumed into Prussia and thence Germany; featured in various wars of religion; been the jewel in the Hanseatic League’s trading empire; a traded piece in statecraft and war; a Free City; the object of nationalist fervour, and the place where the workers of Solidarity/Solidarność found that the state, founded in their name, was an incarcerator not a liberator.
The rest is history as well. Gdansk, as so often in the Polish story, came to play a vital role in the collapse of Soviet-inspired totalitarianism across the whole of Eastern Europe. It has been totemic in Poland’s history. As the first domino to fall – it paved the way for a transformation quite as enormous and far-reaching as anything in its history.
Gdansk is a rich mix of the real, the restored jand the redolent. Its destruction during WWII was the product of a war of annihilation in which cultural obliteration took many forms not least of which was the systematised destruction of the people, polity and place. In this respect it is not just a city reborn from destruction, it is an instrument and component of a renaissance – a symbol of the rebirth of a nation – Poland.
The context of the Memory of Water artists residences in Gdansk has been to prevent “progress” from carrying out a similar obliteration of its modern, industrial and shipbuilding history, albeit in a different manner to the incidental, accidental and intentional methods used between 1939 and 1945.
The city, country and people have too much invested in their sense of place and identity to allow history to be obliterated. As a consequence, much of the efforts of local artists and community groups has been in the field of conservation and preservation. Gdansk still retains its symbolic cranes, buildings and the emblematic gates that once opened and closed on the Lenin Shipyard and where Lech Walesa’s presented the Interfactory Strike Committee/Międzyzakładowy Komitet Strajkowy (MKS) charter of 21 demands on 17 August, 1980.
Fablevison founder and director
Doctoral Researcher, University of the West of Scotland Artist, Teacher and free-lance consultant specialising in cultural planning
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