The Capital of Pioneers

Capital of Pioneers

 © The Promised City,photo: Grzegorz Piatek

Statues of the Marszalkowska residential area (Marszalkowska Dzielnica Mieszkaniowa - MDM)

A long, long time ago, Wars the fisherman and his wife Sawa settled in a safe place on the riverbank high above the Vistula, which teemed with fish. In time, a city grew on the promontory which they had chose for their abode, and its appellation (‘Warsaw’) recalls their names.

Throughout the nineteenth century, impoverished gentry from the entire country would settle in Warsaw or send their sons here for education, ultimately swelling the ranks of the Polish intelligentsia and strengthening the freedom movements. It is they who made Warsaw the heart of Polish patriotism and the promise of future independence. Landless peasants arrived too, lured by the prospect of employment in the city’s swiftly developing industries. They kept coming, from every background; when in 1918 the promise of independence became reality, the well-educated abandoned their careers in other large towns or abroad, coming to Warsaw to take part in creating the institutions of the restored Polish state.

The years following the end of the Second World War witnessed a mass migration of people from villages and poverty-stricken small towns to Warsaw. Helping to rebuild the ruined capital and to uphold its existence, they expected the advancement of their civilisation as a result; to quote President Boleslaw Bierut and the communist poet Adam Wazyk, “the common people were returning to the city centre”; an act of historical justice indeed. The archetypes of these “common people” were the masons, proudly and energetically building their future, as shown in Przygoda na Mariensztacie, the ultimate romantic comedy of the time, sculpting the asexual statues of muscular proletarians that still decorate edifices of the Marszalkowska Housing Estate or ground floor façades of the Palace of Culture.

Today, the capital’s population structure is a memento of that last great wave of migration: only about half its inhabitants were born here, and the percentage of those brought up in a different location than their present place of residence is high, at 53.4 percent in comparison with the national average of 42.4 percent. ¹

New pioneers from the entire country continue to arrive in the capital in search of work, and, from supermarket service zones to management boards of the Warsaw Exchange companies, they lubricate the wheels of the huge machine that is the city. The newcomers are driven not only by rational motives, but also by the myth of Warsaw as the place of great opportunities. They are pulled in by the strengthening “migration chains”: already-settled friends and relatives attract and aid the new arrivals in their attempt to find their own place within the structure of the city.