Gdańsk clashes with government over Westerplatte

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) is introducing legislation to take control of Westerplatte, an iconic site which witnessed a defence of a Polish post office by a small garrison of troops in the first days of the Second World War.

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As the war broke out in September 1939, a small garrison defended a Polish outpost in Gdańsk, at Westerplatte. It was a hopeless battle but the soldiers held out for days. The fight for Westerplatte has, therefore, become an iconic struggle of the 1939 campaign.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) has proposed legislation that would take control of the land away from the Gdańsk local authority. The ruling party argues that the terrain is to be a site of an important museum built by the state and that the legislation will simplify the processing of the investment.

The Mayor of Gdańsk, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, accuses the ruling party of attempting a “political land grab”. The legislative draft follows disputes over the commemoration of Westerplatte between the City and the government.

The former Mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz, sought to limit the participation by Polish troops in favour of scouts, because of his objection to a former defence minister wanting to mention the Smolensk tragedy at a Westerplatte commemoration a few years ago. The current mayor, Ms Dulkiewicz, has criticized the government and the President for failing to answer Gdańsk on the issue of the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Westerplatte.

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Conflict over history

The ruling party’s Joanna Lichocka MP argues that Westerplatte is a national site which cannot fall victim to a historical narrative that may not be Polish. Ms Lichocka is alluding to the fact that the present city authorities have also commemorated the history of the Free City of Gdańsk, a period of history in which the city was effectively under German control in the run-up to the Second World War.

PiS is opposed to any resuscitation of sentiments for making the city autonomous of Poland, seeing that as a dangerous precedent for fragmenting Poland as a unitary state. The ruling party has also been displeased at the city’s performance in developing the Museum of the Second World War and the International Solidarity Centre. The former has been accused of being too willing to take on board the German narrative about the Second World War.

The party suspects the Civic Platform (PO) dominated ruling city elite in Gdańsk of being too ready to accommodate German narratives with regard to the history of Gdańsk and the events at Westerplatte. A narrative that, in its view, plays down the heroism of the actions of the Polish troops and puts the desire of reconciliation ahead of the documentation of the scale of German crimes.