The following letter was sent to the English language newspaper The Krakow Post today. It pulls no punches and it is not certain it will get published. For one, the newspaper being free has to genuflect before corporate sponsors and moneyed interests.
As they edit letters I can't guarantee everything will get in or anything as it might "offend" their general neoliberal corporate grovelling. As a free newspaper dependent on advertising they might want to blot me out just like the balloon blotted everything out.
Let us hope that the call for protecting the unique UNESCO listed qualities of Krakow is considered more important than craven and spineless deferrence to big globalist interests and sense prevails.
Here is the text of the letter, which I hope offers definite proof that I am not and have never been "polonophobic" but have a deep love for Krakow and much affection for a good deal of my friends and acquaintances here !
On returning to live in Krakow on a permanent basis, after having lived here from 1999-2005, I have been disturbed to witness the transformation of a beautiful, though slightly delapidated Renaissance city recovering from years of neglect under the old system, into an increasingly deracinated and far uglier one.
In 2009 Krakow is replete with ugly features that contradict the stipulations of UNESCO's decision to list it as a World Heritage site in a number of ways. UNESCO's Statement of Significance is clear.
"The value of the ensemble is determined by the extraordinary accumulation of monuments from various periods, preserved in their original form, with authentic fittings, which combine to create a uniform urban ensemble in which the tangible and intangible heritage is preserved and nurtured to the present day".
Though some sterling renovation work on old and valued buildings has occured e.g. on Kanonicza and elsewhere the main city throughfares like Florianska and Grodska have been scarred by inappropriate clutter of plastic signage and tacky neon lit kebab shops. The Rynek is draped with advertising hoardings beneath which little restoration work seems to be going on.
The UNESCO Statement of Sigificance is explicit that it is not just a selection of the parts of Krakow's heritage that add up to something that makes it a World Heritage Site but the preservation of the whole in relation to its particulars and the harmonious overall ensemble of the whole.
The UNESCO listing makes it clear that it is not just the "tangible" legacy of Krakow's past role as Poland's Royal Capital and Renaissance trading centre that makes it a World Heritage Site but also the "intangible" , which means not plastering the streets with gaudy neon kebab sign facades and tacky brand logos. I find these changes deeply depressing.
This is why in July 2009 Christopher Gray quite rightly drew attention to the hideous tourist balloon that has loomed and hung over the city and completely dominates the cityscape and utterly detracts from the lovely panorama of "Poland's Oxford", the equivanent of the dreaming spires, that can be viewed from the Wawel, Kazimierz and Lasota Hill in Podgorze.
The stupidity of the response from parochial minded nationalists claiming that a Chris, as a "foreigner", had no right to "tell" people in Krakow how they ought to develop there city was bigoted, parochial and neurotic and curious given that the UNESCO status of Krakow makes its despoliation an international cause for concern.
Christopher Gray, a long term acquaintence of mine, has lived in Krakow for 10 years and has been a member of The Society for the Lovers of the History and Monuments of Krakow (Towarzystwo Milosnikow Historii i Zabytkow Krakowa) for 9 Years and is a permanent resident.
Next, any reasonably educated person knows that Krakow's Renaissance gems were built under the influence of German and Italian craftsmen or actually by them. Veit Stoss was German. The improvements and creation of the Planty were developed by Krakow's Austrian Galician authorities.
The Protect Krakow Heritage campaign group I have now joined forces with is opposed to the despoilation of the cityscape by bad architectural decisions, not only in the historic core but lying just beyond in places like Karmelicka where just down the road from the Carmelite Church is a gaudy Strip Club in ulica Rajska the neigbourhood of the public library.
Recent architectural innovations have been seen the the erection of eyesores like the Hotel Sheraton far too close the Wawel for the obvious motive of maximising profits and not to encourage responsible new architectural developments in harmony with the surroundings.( Above. The Hotel Sheraton, just a few hundred metres from the Wawel Castle )
Many Poles I have spoken to believe the very cynical positioning of Galeria Krakowska,a hideous plate glass and concrete bunker plastered with meaningless plastic brand names, blots out the significance of the Austro-Hungarian period Dworzec Glowny and was a seminal moment in the beginning of the destruction of Krakow's preservation as an elegant mitteleuropean city.
The ripping out and destruction of the elegant Kaplicy Loretańskiej Gardens was a total act of vandalism, as have the process of facadism in which Austro-Hungarian buildings and tenements are stripped, gutted and have their stonework and masonry ripped off to make way for bland, blank and faceless office blocks.
Such renovation is nothing but vandalism dictated by greed and will wholly ruin the sidelong profile of back streets such as Mostawa Street in Kazimierz as it already has started to on Karmelicka, something set to get worse with the building of a ghastly multiplex cinema opposite the Camelite Church.
Vulgar facadism has occurred in and around the Ghetto Heroes Square in Podgorze and the side streets like Ulica Kacik in the vicinity of the repellent Hotel Qubus whose design obliterates and blots out the Austro-Hungaran back street tenements with their careworn and homely charm.( Above the Hotel Qubus in Pogorze)
Indeed in Pogdorze too increasing numbers of Austro-Hungarian buildings are being "renovated" by having their their original fittings ripped off and interiors gutted out as well as having additional office space added, on the "model" provided by the appalling crate like extension mounted on top of 68 Karmelicka Street.( Above :68 Karmelicka Street )
It seems that this deeply Catholic and traditionalist city no longer cares for Pope John Paul II's remark on his beloved city that it was one "in which every stone and every brick is dear to me"
How ironic that the PO and PiS, supposed "conservatives" have no respect for the Pope's wishes in preserving it and in dominating Krakw's government think that a fitting tribute to the Pope is to construct a huge ugly football stadium right next to the Blonia where he gave his epochal speech to Krakow and the Polish nation.
The outrage of attempting to cut down the trees on Blonia on ul. 3 Maja was prevented only by Preserve Krakow Heritage's liason with another group Save the Trees on Blonia (Ratujemy Drzewa na Bloniach) and demonstrates our first victory in one battle which will be a long campaign. But we are here and growing in number, support and strength.
But much is being still lost. Krakow's waning charm is is also seen in the location of the HiFlyer balloon near the Pauline Church and Monastery at Skalka. And in strolling along the Wisla one can now also view another hideous piece of self-advertising kitsch in the form of the "Disco Chimney" at the Bonarka City Centre shopping mall.
The utter stupidity of having this lighted up beacon blazing out jigging multicoloured lights over Podgorze and Plaszow is not only a symbol of the way Krakow is being made uglier but also tasteless in beaming its searchlights in the dark vicinity of where the Plaszow concentration camp was.
The Disco Chimney must be unplugged immediately and this is but one aim of the PKH campaign.
For at least the Disco Chimey and Balloon are mistakes that can be altered. Yet the plans for a large hotel right at the foot of the Wawel is now one example of idiotic planning that must be opposed by all concerned Krakow residents opposed to the way the council is destroying the city for pure commercial gain.
To that extent the PKH campaign led by Martin Taylor, Christopher Gray and Dr Monika Bogdanowka is dedicated to preventing any more attacks on Krakow's unique character by rapacious property developers and the incompetant Krakow municipal authorities.
The PKH campaign has 639 Facebook members and we are liasing with existing conservation groups to substantially document the way Krakow is being blighted by artificial and cosmetic implants by egotistical architects whose buildings are works of mere engineering and not of public art.
To this end PKH is sending it's dossier of what we consider violations of the UNESCO declaration to both UNESCO itself and to the Krakow Municipal government in the hope that reason will prevail. It is important Krakow's municipality wake up to the fact that its UNESCO status is not a given right for perpetuity but can be revoked.
Yet a seperate dossier will also contain examples of neglected buildings in Podgorze, such as the old inn towards Wieliczka,and elsewhere as the city of Krakow extends beyond the showpiece which is the Rynek and example of which we will also be presenting to the council and seeking advice on the duty the municipality must have to protect all these buildings.
What architect Leon Krier wrote, on criticising modernist architecture and whose words has a seminal importance to Krakow at this very depressing time, are directly relevant,
"By creating cities, we create ourselves. When we despoil our cities,we despoil ourselves. Our most cherished memories will henceforth generate the poison of regret, of irretrievable loss, even of hatred of what we prized most. We then flee from the world and from ourselves."
Karl Naylor, Bronowice, Krakow