Poland left with broken promises

US scraps missile base project which residents hoped would bring jobs to Redzikowo.

The town of Redzikowo is two hours drive from the city of Gdansk. Here, in the north west corner of Poland, they were getting ready for a bonanza. 

This was where one of the main components of US President George Bush’s missile defence programme was to be housed.

In an old airbase on the edge of the city, they were planning to build 10 missile silos.

Deep underground would sit the weapons that would be the first line of defence on any attack from Iran.

Hundreds of millions of dollars would have been poured into the area, transforming it from a run-down base to a hi-tech missile defence silo.

Now, the sign by the front gate warns people not to enter, while a hundred metres inside sits an old and rusting Mig jet fighter, a reminder of when this area was the front line in the conflict between east and west.

High hopes

Just a short drive away is the town of Slupsk. With a population of around 100,000, it is the commercial centre of the area – a town that had high hopes and has been left with broken promises. 

“We could have new schools, better roads, a better hospital. We have to come up with an alternative plan.”

Norzej Kacmarczyic,
deputy mayor of Slupsk

Norzej Kacmarczyic is the town’s deputy mayor. A former airforce pilot, he loves days like this, crisp and clear where cotton ball clouds hang still in the blue sky. He wanted the Americans here. He wanted the investment. He wanted the jobs. 

He tells me: “The base would have supported the local economy, shops, entertainment and employment.

“We could have new schools, better roads, a better hospital. We have to come up with an alternative plan.”

Unemployment in the area is higher than the national average.

I asked one young man what provides the jobs here: “Nothing” he says with a shrug. 

Chemical plants are the major employers and some tourists come to visit the pretty square and the imposing town hall,  but many people had hung their future on America and its missiles.

Scrapping a ‘blessing’

Tadeusz Krajnik lives in the apartments just outside the base. He understands the financial arguments but believes the scrapping is a blessing.

“This is the best news I’ve had this year,” he says. 

“The people of Redzikowo were afraid when the Russians said rockets would be fired towards us if this went ahead. If they were sent from Kallingrad, they could arrive here in one minute and six seconds. That threat has now gone.”

The people of Slupsk know the decision by the Americans does not make them less safe in the future, but they face a future that is less financially secure.

The rundown airbase was once in the front line of the cold war.

Soviet bloc aircraft sat ready to take to the air if the West attacked. Peace brought its dividend, but not here.

With its passive guard dog and desperate air, it may still play some part in the new missile defence programme being planned by the Americans.

For the moment it remains a relic to a time when two enemies eyed each other warily – rather than a hi-tech version of the same thing.

Source: Al Jazeera

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