My Wroclaw

Rafał Dutkiewicz

Mayor of Wroclaw (2002–2018)

Rafał Dutkiewicz is a politician, businessperson, academic lecturer, and activist. From 2002 to 2018, Dutkiewicz was mayor of the city of Wroclaw. During his presidency, Wroclaw has seen the highest number of public investments in its post-war history and has won numerous awards and distinctions in Polish, European and global rankings on a knowledge-based economy and implementation of a “smart city” model. Wroclaw has also become an international city with over 170,000 foreigners from 124 countries. Further, it was the European Capital of Culture in 2016 and co-hosted the 2012 UEFA Euro Football Championship. Prior to his presidency, Dutkiewicz gave lectures on logics and introduction to mathematics at several universities for more than 10 years. During the martial law period, he was an activist in the underground movement “Solidarity” (Solidarność) in Wroclaw. In the years 1989–1990, he was co-leader and then leader of the Civic Committee in Wroclaw, which, representing “Solidarity,” won the first partially free parliamentary elections in 1989 and the first democratic local elections in 1990. He holds a master’s degree in applied mathematics and a Ph.D. in formal logics. Rafał Dutkiewiczs received numerous awards and distinctions, among others: Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Poland, 2015), Legion of Honor (France, 2013); Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Germany 2017), National Prize of Germany (2017), Honorary Membership Academia Europaea (2011).

I should—perhaps—begin by talking about the sense of freedom and joy, such as that vibrating today in Wroclaw’s town square as hundreds of guitarists set out to once again beat the largest guitar ensemble Guinness world record. We break this record year after year. Can you imagine a few thousand guitarists simultaneously playing a Hendrix song?

I should—perhaps—start off by describing the urge to explore, which has been such a nice characteristic of Wroclaw’s cultural life since the Second World War.

I should—perhaps—mention the modernisation processes in Poland, which I would like to bolster.

But I will start differently because there are a few key ideas—the reasons underlying Wroclaw’s bid for the title of European Capital of Culture—that I would like to share with you.

The first one is our desire to bring to the world an important message that flows from Wroclaw, a message I would like to amplify so it is heard loud and clear. It has to do with the fact that Wroclaw is probably the only major city where in the wake of World War II a hundred per cent of the population was replaced. The pre-war inhabitants, mostly Germans, were expelled, and new settlers, Poles displaced from the former eastern part of Poland, moved in. Thus, today’s Wroclaw is in a sense the combined effect of three criminal “inventions” of the twentieth century—Nazism, communism, and World War II. It was those causes that made Wroclaw a city of the displaced, where—let me stress this again—a COMPLETE exchange of population took place.

In 1965, the Polish catholic bishops published their famous letter to their German counterparts. The letter, authored by the Bishop of Wroclaw, Bolesław Kominek, contained the famous sentence: “We forgive and ask for forgiveness.” If one realises that this sentence was written barely 20 years after World War II, that it was written by Poles to Germans, that it was written in Wroclaw, the city of expulsions, one cannot but conclude that the city’s genius loci are a positive spirit that brings something beautiful, wise, and unique.

World War II puts an end to the Polish culture of the so-called Eastern Borderlands. This is neither the time nor the place to analyse that development. It is worth noting, however, that in the Polish consciousness the mythical eastern borderlands were transplanted to the western territories and their main city, Wroclaw. Wroclaw symbolically became a repository of memories of the former greatness of Polish national culture, a culture that was, after all, born in a multicultural, multi-ethnic melting pot. It is remarkable that it was this place—the quintessence of Central European multiculturalism over a thousand years of its history, additionally entangled in millions of private dramas of people who were driven out of their homes and cut off from their roots—from which at some point the words “we forgive and ask for forgiveness” came out.

In remembering this, I would not like to create the impression that I mean something supernatural. On the contrary, what I have in mind is our city’s very natural drive for European character. I also have in mind the fact that the twists and turns of history, interrupted by and culminating in expulsions, can also be summarised in this open and tolerant manner: “we forgive and ask for forgiveness.” A proper new beginning can only be founded on openness and tolerance accompanied by full awareness of one’s own identity. This is the message that Wroclaw wants to get across to the world. It could certainly do so more powerfully and effectively as a European Capital of Culture.

I want to tell you about three important projects in Wroclaw, which, though linked with the past, have important implications for the future.

The city once had many synagogues, including the two most famous ones: the new synagogue (second in size only to the main Berlin synagogue) and the White Stork synagogue. The former was destroyed before the war, during the infamous, brutal Kristallnacht, the unbelievable crime that heralded the wave of atrocities to come, the Nazi destruction plan. The White Stork survived World War II but was then left to dilapidate for decades. I was very ashamed to learn that as recently as the 1980s, its then owner, which through shameful decisions of the communist authorities was not Jewish community, tried to sell the tiles from the roof of the synagogue. Restoration of the synagogue was one of my dreams. Today, returned to Wroclaw’s small Jewish community, the completely renovated White Stork synagogue has been reopened, bearing witness to the centuries of Jewish presence in the city.

Some time ago, I received a letter from a woman born in Wroclaw who was forced to leave Poland in 1968 and became an American citizen. She wrote that her class of Wroclaw’s Sholem Aleichem Secondary School was planning a reunion here. I am glad they will be able to see the rebuilt White Stork, which is once again a place of worship, study, and meetings. I am glad that right next to it they will be able to see vibrant city life: numerous pubs, shops, office buildings, and theatres, and that a magnificent concert hall being built next to the opera house will soon come alive with music.

In the early 1990s, I was visited by friends from Germany. They wanted to visit their grandparents’ grave. Unfortunately, the grave had disappeared from the face of the earth, like other German graves and cemeteries. Regardless of historical circumstances—which may justify some human actions—the destruction of cemeteries is, and always has been, disgraceful. When I became mayor of Wroclaw, we bought out all tombstones from the destroyed cemeteries that were still in the possession of local monumental masons. We invited bids and built a unique Common Memory Monument. The monument, incorporating some of those headstones, commemorates all the former residents of Wroclaw. What is more important than the erection of the monument, however, is that the day after its ceremonial unveiling, people of Wroclaw came here in large numbers, solemn and filled with undisguised emotions, and lit hundreds of candles.

The Pan Tadeusz museum, soon to open its doors to the public in the heart of Wroclaw, on the Rynek, will be a modern cultural facility with a tour starting with the display of what is probably the most treasured artefact relating to the history of Polish literature—the original manuscript of Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz. Visitors will be able to “touch” its virtual pages, turn them over and print them out. However, the core idea of the museum concerns something much more important. What we want to show there is the great extent to which Polish nineteenth-century literature, from Mickiewicz to Sienkiewicz—we really have a lot of manuscripts from this period, by these and many other writers, in the collections of Wroclaw’s Ossolineum Library—played a role in shaping our present-day attitudes. All of the Polish twentieth-century pro-independence insurrections, from the Warsaw uprising to the fall of communism, which was defeated by the Solidarity movement, were in fact rooted in romantic and post-romantic ideas. Our national pride and our attitudes to the outside world have largely been formed by these readings and the culture and tradition that have grown around them. Without a doubt, this is what defines the Polish thinking of my generation and older generations. And this is the story that will be told by the Pan Tadeusz museum.

Wroclaw’s development is founded on a strong economy, which has been growing at an amazing rate of 13% a year since Poland’s accession to the European Union. This rapid growth is a result of numerous projects aimed at creating new jobs. During just the first two years of participation in the common market, 125,000 new jobs were created, an impressive achievement for a city with a population of 650,000. The vast majority of the new jobs were created by local entrepreneurs, but the impulse for their creation came from foreign direct investments, of which Wroclaw attracted a fair share, running in the billions of euros. Before making their final decisions in favour of Wroclaw, the foreign investors were interested in all kinds of issues, including… the repertoire of the Opera House.

The idea behind our efforts to secure the title of European Capital of Culture is to create a high quality of life by expanding our cultural offering, both in terms of infrastructure and in terms of content, and to emphasise a broader concept: that the liberal (in terms of business) and the social facets of a city must be closely interlinked because modern times do not tolerate dichotomous contrasts between liberal and social approaches. This is particularly evident in urbanised areas, which require a large degree of economic freedom and high levels of citizen participation, including—perhaps primarily—in culture.

One aspect of this is the need to broaden and strengthen social capital. It is no secret that Poland—especially at the municipal, or local-government, level—has mastered the development mechanisms relating to the physical and the human capital. However, in these areas, direct reserves have been all but exhausted. Of course, additional sources of both kinds of capital will continue to emerge. However, true growth potential is linked to social capital, which is becoming an increasingly scarce asset. Participation in culture, which is usually a combination of interwoven individual and collective experiences, can be an excellent tool for developing social capital.

Another aspect of this issue, seemingly economic, relates to the following simple observation: the amount of money circulating in a certain space, such as a city, can be represented as the product of the number of jobs and the average pay. Development—at least in material terms—always entails financial needs. To increase the quantity of money circulating somewhere, the above-mentioned product must be increased by increasing the factors. This is why it is so important to generate new jobs. The process of creating new jobs cannot be equally rapid at all times. We will, of course, continue to create new jobs in Wroclaw, but it is unreasonable to expect that we could repeat the feat of adding another 100,000–200,000 new jobs. For this reason, pay levels are becoming crucial. These, however, must grow in a manner acceptable to the economy. What it means is that with regard to both services and manufacturing there must be an increase in quantity or quality. An increase in quantity means improved efficiency; an increase in quality (better products) means innovation, the latter being a buzz word used in the European Union in all kinds of contexts and configurations.

Wroclaw wants to be a city of innovation. In fact, even now we are carrying out large-scale business and research-and-development projects, possibly the biggest in Poland. In the process of establishing the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, a quarter of the Internet respondents of the European Commission came from Wroclaw, and the proposal to set up the headquarters of the Institute in Wroclaw was supported—although, unfortunately, without success—by 250,000 residents of the city. Thus, Wroclaw is on the innovation path, especially as it already has a knowledge-based economy, according to Eurostat data. Sustainable innovation creation necessitates the satisfaction of certain social conditions. Innovative communities must be educated, creative, and open; ideally, they should be international. There is no doubt that a high level of participation in culture, creating, watching, and consuming even disconnected cultural phenomena, helps to form the requisite social fabric. In other words, without a high level of participation in culture it is impossible to foster proper pro-innovation attitudes.

I have just touched upon issues discussed by the American urban science theorist Richard Florida, who points out that the social pillars of development are founded on three Ts: talent, technology, and tolerance. It is true. It is also true that they can only flourish where free, and sometimes disconnected, thinking is cultivated, i.e. those places where culture can and will thrive. In my opinion, Florida’s three Ts might usefully be supplemented with a fourth one—true sense of identity. An open and creative community may still be hollow if it is not based on a true sense of identity. The secret of success lies in ensuring that the identity-forming process is open and tolerant. The four Ts are to define the foundation of Wroclaw. Its identity is and will continue to be shaped and enhanced by culture—both the culture we discover, which is our heritage and the culture we create, which is our contribution to the world.

In this regard, Wroclaw has had—and, I hope, will have—very much to say, and not just on a local scale. It was here that Jerzy Grotowski developed his theatre, the fruits of which we continue to enjoy today. Without its celebration of the Grotowski Year, Wroclaw would not have been granted the privilege of hosting the International Theatre Olympics. Also, in Wroclaw, Henryk Tomaszewski established his Pantomime Theatre, the greatest mime theatre, which for decades was the only artistic phenomenon of its kind worldwide. Theatre of Nations productions was staged in Wroclaw, which also hosted the Open Theatre festivals and was the scene of numerous other artistic phenomena, unique in Poland and beyond. Someone will say that it all belongs to the past. True, but it is a past that strongly influences the present, a past which we continue to draw upon and which imposes on us the duty to ensure further development. That is why we are building Poland’s, and possibly Europe’s, most modern concert hall, the National Music Forum (located right next to the Opera House, together with which it will host the most important festival of contemporary music, World New Music Days, in 2014), why the decision has been made to build the modern museum, and why we treat both the Teatr Pieśń Kozła with its Brave Festival and the WRO New Media art festivals with such great care. We endeavour, with considerable success, to develop the broadest possible, modern cultural offering. We see this as an extremely important element of building a true sense of identity and fostering the development of social capital, which we consider so important.

Faced with the nature versus culture dilemma, cities are often pushed by civilisation towards culture, which may even be blooming, but “green” thinking is frequently neglected. It is a cliché that people will always be fonder of the colour of trees than that of concrete. This also applies to our attitudes to urban ecosystems, which are co-created by people. Wroclaw is a city of five rivers, over a dozen parks, and a nature reserve covering a system of ponds and canals designed—yes, designed by man—many years ago to serve as drinking water sources. In striving for the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture, Wroclaw would like to make environmental issues one of the centrepieces of its efforts. We deliberately want to inscribe the Green Wroclaw programme into the agenda of citizen-driven development of our cultural metropolitan role. The point is to emphasise that issues like low emissions, environmentally-friendly energy, or energy consumption involve more than just taking a position in the dispute over whether climate change is a reality or a phantasm. In fact, what is involved is the deeply human desire to control, control oneself too. It is part of the cultivation of nature, which needs to be both supported and respected.

So much by way of general deliberations prefacing Wroclaw’s application.

In this piece, I have tried to avoid too many references to existing and planned cultural projects in Wroclaw. The level of funding for culture in our city has increased several times over in recent years. When I took up the post of mayor of Wroclaw in 2003, I said we would be building roads and cultural life. Today I would say: we will build culture and roads leading to meetings between people, those from here and those from the world over.

I invite everybody to come and meet with others—in Wroclaw, a European city of culture.

Figure 1. Rafal Dutkiewicz with 2019 Nobel Laureate in literature Olga Tokarczuk who received the highest medal of merit from the city of Wroclaw, where she lives.

doi: 10.18278/aia.4.2.3