This is an excerpt from the mail we have received from our colleague from Warsaw and it is about the Łódź, the city where our conference (www.csrtrends.eu) will take place:
For me Łódź is a MARVELLOUS, MAGICAL city. It should be a UNESCO site as a monument of socio-economic European history. Let me say a few words about it.
In around 1820 German weavers were invited to a very small village of Łódź (Polish, but until 1918 under Russian occupation) to create textile industry. They succeeded, starting from scratch with time built large factories and in 1860 Łódź had around 13 000 inhabitants with 100% employers being German (the Russians supplied a minimal government, a night-watchman). Then the industrial boom began, Łódź became a Polish Manchester with 600 000 (sic!) inhabitants in 1914.
Employers were 50% German, and 50% Jewish (Jews constituted 1/3 of the population). This was the capitalist Łódź, with about 100 rich palaces (still to be seen, since the city was not destroyed during any war) and many slum areas.
Until 1945 the German-Jewish upper class disappeared and the communist Łódź began. Communists created there, by then the second largest city in Poland, a kind of a model classless society with, an opera house, theatres, many universities and fine arts/music academies and endless rows of blocks of flats. On the whole, the project was quite successful given the circumstances (poverty of the post war Poland).
Throughout the whole period after 1820 the main market for textile goods from Łódź was Russia and then the Soviet Union. It gave the city stability. And suddenly it all collapsed in 1990 (end of the Soviet Union, free market liberalism, globalization, imported textile products from China). The industry went bankrupt overnight, the city, still the second largest in Poland, was left without money and, to be frank, any prospects for great development.
And yet it is magical. Created, changed and destroyed by socio-economic waves that went through Europe. Nowadays many things in the world are mild, mediocre, superficial. The history of Łódź is characterful, almost like an ancient tragedy. I do not think there is any other similar city in Europe. And most its architecture survived (although huge factories were turned into shopping centres or lofts)!
But to get a better picture, you should see a film by Andrzej Wajda, Ziemia obiecana (the Promised Land / Das gelobte Land). It is a bitter and overblown criticism of capitalism, Germans and Jews based of a novel by a Nobel Prize winner Reymont (but the last scene was changed completely by the Zeitgeist). The film, made in 1970 under the communist regime, who at that time disliked exactly those three (capitalism, Germans, Jews), can hardly be considered politically correct nowadays. But incidentally it is one of the best Polish films ever made and it is a must for everyone visiting Łódź. It is not family cinema. But it is a great work of art and a peculiar testimony of two eras that shaped Łódź - 19-century capitalism seen through the communist eyes. A treat for those who love history, like myself.
Warsaw School of Economics