Communist Icon To Be Renamed After Reagan

'Uncle Joe' Stalin has probably turned in his grave so often now that he's given up bothering - the complete overturning of the communist system in Europe must have given the Soviet dictator enough grave-turning material to last an eternity one would think.

In this light, the renaming of the central square in Poland's communist 'ideal city' Nowa Huta, is probably fairly low on the richter scale when it comes to posthumous irritants of Russian dictators.

All the same, the news that Nowa Huta's central square will be re-christened 'Ronald Reagan Square' is not without a certain comicality.

Nowa Huta was one of only two Soviet ideal cities ever to be realized (the other is Magnitogorsk in the Russian Urals). It was built on the outskirts of Cracow and construction began in 1949. The idea was to offset traditional Cracow - 'a hotbed of reaction' as the socialists called it - with a vigorous working class community.

No church was included in the grand communist scheme of Nowa Huta, and a gargantuan steel works became the focus of the project - despite the fact that coal and iron ore deposits were non-existent for hundreds of miles.

The four main avenues that were originally envisaged to lead out of Nowa Huta's Central Square were given the hearty titles of Lenin, October Revolution, Six-Year Plan and Cuban Revolution Avenues - unlikely bedfellows for a former American President and capitalist crusader.

Ronald Reagan was one of the first to be made an honorary citizen of Cracow in the wake of the fall of communism. He is fondly remembered for his unwavering support of the Solidarity protest movement.

However, whilst 'the Gipper' may have his fans over in these parts, he was nearly denied a place in Nowa Huta's post-communist scheme of things.

Cracow councillors voted 19-17 in favour of the Gipper this Wednesday. Dissenting voices explained that the residents of Nowa Huta had become used to the old name of Central Square.

Nowa Huta itself never truly lived up to the high hopes of Uncle Joe. The city became a bastion of the opposition movement during the seventies, and Central Square was the scene of a series of anti-communist riots that have since passed into legend. The community's long battle for a church has itself become the stuff of myth.

Efforts are now being made to curtail the pollution of the old steelworks, whilst maintaining a reasonable level of employment for local families - no easy task in today's Poland.

It's a long road ahead, but Reagan himself would no doubt be delighted by the regeneration of Cracow and Warsaw, as well as Poland's recent accession to the EU. And if the renaming of the plaque in Nowa Huta's Central Square might have caused some old apparatchiks to turn in their graves, it must surely have provoked a smile in Simi Valley, California.


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