• Where Pawilon Sztuki ERGO Hestia
  • Date 30 November 2019

Anna Shimomura “Infiltration”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, on the 4th of June 1989, communism ended in Poland", announced Joanna Szczepkowska excitedly on the state TV after the first, partially free, elections. This TV announcement was a signal of a radical change and the end of a certain era. The actress' enthusiasm was shared by many people who hoped that living in a free Poland would be rewarding and much simpler. Time verified these expectations, and the 1990s. quickly made it clear to the inhabitants of the former Eastern Bloc that nothing is really as easy and unambiguous as it might seem. Although communism formally ended in Poland in 1989, this did not mean that the former regime, together with all its appendages, suddenly disappeared from the surface of the Polish Republic. For too long had homo sovieticus shared the living space with homo sapiens to go to forced emigration into oblivion overnight (yet, to this day, you may encounter a representative of the first species, not to mention the crossbreeds of the two primates, still commonly found in our society).

The spirit of the USSR had been hanging over Poland for too long, permeating it, haunting it, feeding on its fears to suddenly to leave its prey on a sunny Sunday in June. In fact, to this day it dwells in some corners of the country unable to come to terms with its failure. The building at 100 Sobieski street in Warsaw is an example of how hard it is to remove and effectively exorcise the ghost of Stalin and his successors. The modernist body intrigues, definitely standing out against the background of the surrounding landscape. Two interconnected cascading blocks of flats, designed in the 1980s by Piotr Sembert and Janusz Nowak, evoke extreme emotions. Monumental, clearly cut off from the grid of urban blocks, lay a shadow over the Warsaw's area called Sielce.

In the early 1980s, the Soviet building was a symbol of luxury. Freshly painted wooden floors were intended to serve diplomats and employees of the USSR Embassy in Poland. Tasteful and modern, for that time, the interiors also served as a hotel for the citizens of the Soviet Union on western formal trips. For these and other reasons Warsaw residents began to call the building a "spy scraper", and the whole settlement was soon known as the "KGB zone". Residents of the "spy scraper", both permanent and temporary, had access to a sauna, beauty and hair salons and to the internal telephone system, which reportedly was equipped with signal jamming. In 1989, however, the history took a turn, and the former officials with their families had to return quickly to their Soviet homeland, although not for long— the USSR ceased to exist two years later, transforming into the Russian Federation.

The building at 100 Sobieskiego street was deserted; only the old glory, covered with dust, was left behind along with ghosts of the past with no intention of moving beyond the eastern border. The brutalist building stopped in time: no one is renovating it, but neither demolishing it. Instead, it is surrounded by a thick layer of urban legends: after all, the "spy scraper" is the perfect breeding ground for the craving sensation minds. Even more so, as the building is under constant police surveillance. Why? Formally, it still belongs to the Russian Federation, so it should be under the same protection as the embassy. Russia, however, has no intention of demolishing the building, renovating or paying for it — because the plot at this address belongs to Poland. The eastern neighbours should pay for all the years of lease. "Russia has to pay back 7.8 million PLN to Poland!" shouted the headlines in Polsat News in 2016. Not really — Russia, being Russia, does not return money, waiting patiently for the problem to solve itself.