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Foreign minister calls for Warsaw’s Palace of Culture to be demolished

Sikorski says that it would be better to have a park in its place

Reigniting a debate that many in Warsaw felt was over, the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski has expressed his desire for the city’s iconic Palace of Culture and Science, a listed building, to be demolished.

Speaking on Polish radio in November, Sikorski suggested that the palace was expensive to run, energy-inefficient, and that it would be better to have a park in its place. His comments came just days after Poland’s National Independence Day and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sikorski explained that the destruction of the palace could symbolise a moment of catharsis for Poland, severing it from its communist past.

Many in Poland, however, consider it a little late to make such a symbolic gesture. The people of Warsaw are often described as having a love-hate relationship with the building, but it has undoubtedly become an emblem for the city. Its controversial status stems from the fact that it was commissioned by Stalin as a gift from the Soviet Union to Poland. Completed in 1955, the skyscraper was designed by Russian architect Lev Rudnev, and was originally called the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science.

The palace is now a thriving cultural centre, under the control of Warsaw’s municipal government. The building houses cafés, theatres and music venues, while its multiplex cinema, Kinoteka, hosts the city’s annual film festival. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Lukasz Gorczyca of commercial gallery Raster said: “I think it (the palace) works really well…it was his (Sikorski’s) private opinion, it was rather funny, nobody takes it seriously here.”

Longstanding plans to re-develop the area surrounding the palace, including the building of the new Museum of Modern Art, are now well advanced. Construction is expected to begin on the museum in 2011. In the meantime it has already established itself as an active institution, co-ordinating events at home and abroad. The museum’s deputy director, Marcel Andino Velez, said: “It was the neighbouring void which had been the real problem for the city…the construction of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw is really a great step forward.”

A spokesperson for the Polish foreign ministry confirmed: “The issue of demolition is not part of the ministry’s policy…the minister was expressing his views as a politician…but not with his ministerial hat on.”