Uncertain future of our past

Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Kazimierz Ujazdowski, MP, about the feeling of responsibility for the national heritage, modern museums and old-fashioned politicians.

WIESLAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – From time to time, although not too often, in the past twenty years there were questions whether we cared enough for our national heritage and historical remembrance in new Poland. Will we not lose the heritage of our culture, striving to catch up with the world?

KAZIMIERZ M. UJAZDOWSKI, MP: – It seems that there has been negligence, that the state politics has often been insensitive to this sphere… It resulted from the lack of state imagination and compliance to the conviction that what is important in politics focuses only on economic reforms. For long periods the cultural politics was beyond the interests of the ruling party. A positive change came only towards the end of the independence decade, during the second half of the rules of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) when various ideas and initiates appeared and this sphere of state politics was in focus.

- What caused that awaking?

- Firstly, there was an awaking in the sphere of political thought, to a large extent thanks to late Tomasz Merta and Dariusz Gawin, as well as thanks to the fact that in the years 1999-2000 important concepts to activate the state politics in this field were created. These were the first very concrete ideas of modern historical education programmes, the construction of the Institute of National Heritage, which was actually the first big project in the sphere of historical politics. Assuming the post of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage in March 2000 I had already been prepared to give a concrete image to that politics.

- But you had no enough time because after less than two years we faced a withdrawal…

- That's right. For the next decades we have dealt with constant flow and ebb of the politicians' interests in the fate of our national heritage. The victory of the Democratic Left Alliance in the autumn of 2011 led to a meaningful removal of 'national heritage' from the name of the ministry. Minister Andrzej Celinski openly stated that he did it for ideological reasons and that he would treat our national heritage as an unimportant sphere. He supported his conviction by concrete decisions, first of all a drastic expense reduction for the preservation of monuments, the liquidation of the Institute of National Heritage, directed by Tomasz Merta, in 2002.

- Then it seemed that this indifference towards the national heritage and our own history shown by the political saloons reached ordinary houses where it made its home. Poles stopped emphasising their identity and our national pride remained only in sports stadiums…

- And it must have been this event that evoked concern at least of some political elites. Fortunately, there was a change after the post-communist party had lost. Then Lech Kaczynski, as Warsaw's President, built the Warsaw Rising Museum (2003-2004). And then the public opinion began noticing the importance of that topic to a bigger extent, and the topic became one of the main elements of the political message of the Law and Justice Party (PiS)… More and more citizens understood that a contemporary state had obligations and tasks in the sphere of culture and they were not only forms of paying debts we owed to the past generations although that was also very essential. There was a conviction that concern for national heritage, promotion of the Polish historical experience and showing Poland's contribution to Europe's history had a huge educational and social sense. Poles began appreciating the importance of the Polish historical experience as an essential factor in building their relations with other countries.

- The complex of the Polish out-of-the-way locality was broken?

- Yes, it was. And it happened when Poland was completing her access process to the EU. It turned out that other European countries were very much eager to show their own cultural heritages, which often had smaller potentials of universality than ours, and boasted of them. At that time modern centres of history were constructed: the House of Terror in Budapest and the Germans began to create their work - Centre Against Expulsions… Modern museums were constructed in Great Britain. Suddenly we realised that historical politics was not an idea of some narrow group of cranky politicians, as this issue was attempted to be explained in Poland, but something that was extremely essential in the relationships between the EU countries.

- The Polish enthusiasts of the united Europe accepted it without astonishment and opposition?

- They seemed to do so. Our ideas to show Poland's contribution to Europe's history and the world in the forms of modern museum institutions and modern educational programmes gained an increased understanding and - although for a short time - became one of the main elements of political message of not only Law and Justice but also of the Civic Platform. It seemed that it was the national heritage that would be a subject of a wider political consensus… The idea of building the Museum of the History of Poland, suggested by Tomasz Merta, Robert Kustro and me in the year 2002, was accepted by all people as an important political task. Apart from the radical left-wing nobody questioned that project…

- And where from did we have the hesitation, that uncertainty of the future of our national heritage? From common negligence, indifference or were the causes rooted more deeply - in politicians' bad will?

- It is hard to describe it today. The fact is that the wide consent for active historical politics, promotion of the Polish national heritage, which was in the years 2004-2005, has seized to exist when the Civic Platform (PO) won in 2007.

- PO rejected completely the historical politics conducted by PiS?

- PO did not actually formulate the postulate to give up this politics but in practice it led to its neglect…

- Why? According to the rule 'I will freeze my ears to tease my mother'?

- It seems that it was not only a reaction against PiS, that indifference and negligence of this sphere by the liberal politicians of PO played a fundamental role. As opposed to the political elites of the Western European countries the Polis ruling elite does not understand the importance of this field for foreign politics. It is the fundamental reason for which all important projects of historical museums, first of all the Museum of the History of Poland, have been left at the stage of crisis.

- And what does it actually mean?

- The most visible expression of this crisis is putting off all projects concerning historical museology, and first of all, the unserious treatment of the fundamental project, which is the Museum of the History of Poland. To tell you the truth, if it were not the fear of public opinion and media, the Museum of the History of Poland would have shared the fate of the Institute of National Heritage long ago…

- What is the situation of the Museum of the History of Poland now?

- The museum is being created more slowly than it should be. Because in his first months of office Minister Zdrojewski caused this investment to be removed from the list of projects financed from the EU funds. However, a real mess was caused when the minister rejected his own decisions: he undermined the verdict of the international architectural contest and the localisation agreed on with the authorities of Warsaw, i.e., the construction of the museum in the vicinity of Na Rozdrozu Square, near Trasa Lazienkowska. It means postponing the realisation for at least ten years and actually, the danger of giving up this project… Moreover, other important projects, even those accepted by PO, e.g. the European Centre of Solidarity, have come to a deadlock.

- Why?

- It is hard to answer this question. Perhaps because of the lack of determination and consistency that is needed in state politics… Many elements point to the fact that we will not have any single modern museum, apart from the Warsaw Rising Museum, and the only museum that will be created is the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews…

- But there is some rational explanation of the mess concerning the creation of the Museum of the History of Poland?

- One cannot really justify the Minister's decision logically. Perhaps we are dealing with a politics of subtle Pinocchio who skilfully uses lies, half truths even when he undermines his decisions…In fact, he sows disorientation. And the truth may be that… the Minister has not cared for even small money to make a detailed design. As result of his own neglect he led the whole project to crisis and now he is undermining its localisation only to cover up his own passiveness.

- Don't you formulate too severe evaluation of your successor? It is said that Minister Zdrojewski managed to keep the expenses on culture at the same level in the savings budget for 2012, which the government has just accepted…

- Well, so what? We have heard such assurances for three years. Speaking about concrete things, we can see a drastic decrease in the expenses for the protection of monuments, i.e. for the task that even the most liberal governments in the West treat as worth financing by public means… But during the rules of the Civic Platform in Poland, i.e. since 2008, the expenses on the protection of monuments have been decreased three times! Now it is only ca. 55 million zloty. If Zdrojewski boasts again of saving the budget on culture one should evaluate the reduction of expenses on monuments worse…

- What are the concrete effects of the reduction of expenses on the protection of monuments?

- The effect is that some necessary conservation works are not possible to be realised and these works will be prolonged in time. And additionally, this increasing lack of money within these three years has been caused by the bigger VAT for preservation works. Now the preservation of monuments is simple trouble after trouble!

- Since perhaps repairing the budget holes is more important than repairing monuments?

- It seems to me that in this case the problem is not the desire to gain money but common negligence and not watching its own interests by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The Minister has not simply watched properly his interests while the project of the change in VAT was discussed by the government!

- Common oversight, neglect and perhaps a policy of this government?

- Hard to say. It is only known that, unfortunately, they are not the only expressions of neglecting the sphere of national heritage. A classical example is the destruction of the programme 'Patriotism of tomorrow' that was my fist programme announced on 11 November 2005, which enjoyed great interests of social organisations. So I have the right to judge that since the beginning it has been a policy of declaring continuity of concern for national legacy but in practice it has neglected this matter in a cynical way…

- The reason for that may be that the state and patriotism are not important to the liberal electorate of the ruling party…

- Yes, that might be it. But we lack this sincerity that Minister Andrzej Celinski from SLD had, admitting that he would change the name of his ministry since the term 'national heritage' was ideologically hostile to him… Now we have actually almost the same effect.

- So we are dealing again with an ideologised treatment of the term 'national heritage'?

- Most likely. One can clearly see the expressions of ideological aversion of the PO politicians. Why, the creators of this party presented a vision of politics submitted to full economisation in which the sphere of culture is included in the market game. And moreover, I have the impression that PO is behaving as if it did not know what a modern state is for. As if it did not see that each big European country has a strong sense of responsibility for its own cultural heritage. None of them hesitates to show its own heritage, its own point of view; only the Polish government of the Civic Platform is behaving as if they wanted to adjust to some imaginative European political correctness.

- And in addition, they are trying to convince us that we must adjust to the modern world… Young Poles are repeating more and more that they prefer future to the past…

- PO is instilling a primitive and old version of liberalism into young generations, liberalism that is actually not valid in the world of real European politics. No other European country has economised so severely the sphere of national heritage, the form of economisation that the ruling heads in Poland have conceived. Paradoxically, the rules of the party that declares its modernity to all and everywhere will cause the most anachronistic and backward effects.

"Niedziela" 21/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl