FIGHTING BACK FOR HISTORY
Wieława Lewandowska talks with dr. Andrzej Anusz about the role of politics in passing historical truth and a process of regaining history for the society
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – What is historical memory for the nation – I am asking you as you are a historian, sociologist and politics expert – what is it for the new generation which was brought up at the time when history was neglected, considered as unnecessary?
DR ANDRZEJ ANUSZ: – It is always the same for all generations – an essential condition for existence of the nation. Great Poles – from Józef Piłsudski to cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and John Paul II – reprimanded us that the nation without memory has not got a right to exist. When Poles were in captivity by invaders, and later by the communist authorities, historical memory somehow replaced the functions of its own country.
– And this ‘private escape into history’ has always been more important than every official historical message?
– Time has proved that it was so. In the years 1944 – 89 the whole pre-solidarity political opposition emerged mainly from a fight for real history of Poland. There appeared books of the so-called second circulation unmasking lies and returning this real history. An extremely important role was played here by Polish emigration – activity of the London government and Paris ‘culture’, and the institutions were aiming at making this Polish historical message present in the nation all the time. It was thanks to this ‘second circulation’ that the ‘Solidarity’ movement could base on historical memory and that is why, to a large extent, it was a movement of moral character.
– However, after the year 1989 Poles put aside history by their own will for the first time….?
– Unfortunately, they did. A big part of opposition and the society concluded that at the moment of regaining sovereignty by Poland, it was not necessary any longer to be interested in history, and that one could leave it to specialists – ‘let them clean it out of lies’.
– Whereas the nation began to lose its historical instinct?
– It can be said so. It was very painful for John Paul II who expressed it in his message addressed to his compatriots during his pilgrimage to Poland in 1991. Unfortunately, Poles did not understand it – they could not or did not want to understand this message.
– Probably because a big part of the society after 1989 choked on happiness because of getting closer to an ‘ideal’ western world with its story about ‘the end of history’. Poles began to believe quickly that they should leave their old history, their burdens, their identity, because liberal democracy solves all problems and there would not be a better political and economic system in the history of humankind.
– It is strange that Poles, experienced in earlier fights for history, rejected it so easily and got succumbed to new unknown fantasy…
– They might have got succumbed because they needed a particular vision of the future which would break the bad past….The fact is that in the eyes of Poles the communist historic narration lost. A story about martyrdom of the Second World War lost, which had emphasized that for a great sacrifice of blood of the Red Army, Poland had to remain in an inseparable relation with the Soviet Union. It also lost with German revisionism – mainly thanks to a Letter of Polish bishops to German bishops from 1965, which initiated a completely new historical process and brought good results not earlier than in 1989. The fact that at the end of the XX century the ‘Solidarity’ movement was established, that in 1989 the communist system was rejected, results from a slowly developing process in which the historically aware society rejects interpretation of history imposed by communists.
– In the Third Republic of Poland this historically aware society, however, seems to reject its own history…
– Especially in the first years after the year 1989 one could observe a kind of a crisis; beside infatuation with liberal democracy, one could also notice a kind of tiredness of the society with that earlier attitude to history, tuned to a high C….Informative voices of intellectual groups that some issues from our history, our identity can be an obstacle now for a good functioning in the modern world, so they are falling onto the fertile soil.
– Is it the moment when the notion of parochialism of Catholic Poland appears?
– Yes. In addition it results in a very essential political dispute. The alliance between a part of the previous democratic opposition and the Church ends quite suddenly. The widely understood group ‘Solidarity’ is internally divided, among the others, also on the basis of the attitude to history. Groups which are still faithful to the idea of history importance and opt for judging the communist system, are shouted down and ridiculed by the ones which say that ‘economy is the most important’, that contracts of the Round Table should be treated nearly as a constitution of a new Polish country. This trend of ‘concealing Polish history’ began to dominate in the beginning of the 90s of the last century and had been dominating for years before there appeared an attempt to fight back for history…
– Can we define exactly the moment and direct causes of this ‘fighting back for history’?
– It seems that the process of regaining history for the society is connected with establishing the National Remembrance Institute in 2000 – after a serious fight and political disputes. However, soon after the post-communist Democratic Leftist Alliance gained the authority, we have an attempt of a counter-revolution again – that is, a postulate of liquidation of the National Remembrance Institute, removing historical narration. About a half of the first decade of the XXI century in Europe and all over the world intellectual climate has already been changing – analytics and politics experts are beginning to say that this is the end of ‘the end of history’ Fukuyamy, that we have rather a ‘clash of civilisations’ described by Huntington at this time. And also Poles started missing emphasizing their identity, which was strengthened by historical politics, undertaken by the government of the Law and Justice party in the years 2005-07. At that time the notion of historical politics appeared in a Polish public debate. Then for eight years it was suspended – during the governing years of the Civic Platform and the Polish Peasant Party it even caused restriction of history teaching at schools. Now it has returned in its all powers, the government of the Law and Justice party is compensating losses.
– Looking at ‘the history of history’ in the Third Republic of Poland, we can see – on the example of Lech Kaczyński – how significant for history actions of one man can be.
– Yes, we do. And it is shame that in the Third Republic of Poland - than ever before! – those who were fighting for history, were called cranks! When being created thanks to determination of Lech Kaczyński – regardless of really powerful opposition of leftist-liberal groups – the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising turned out to be a big success, there was a ‘historical’ breakthrough. A surprising awakening of the young generation of the Third Republic of Poland also appeared in relation to celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising organized just by the president of Warsaw at that time, Lech Kaczyński…
– …..because the round – 50th anniversary, when Lech Wałęsa was the president of Poland passed without echo….
– Unfortunately, it is true. However, it was when the museum was supposed to be established!
– It is seen that exterminators of Polish history knew that it was a dangerous constitution for them!
– Indeed, the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising definitely helped young Poles to break this aversion to history implanted in them. Its success had an example-creating character for other institutions of this type. One can also say that it was the time when new narration in culture began, which is proved by a TV series ‘Time of honour’.
– Different from other films about the war?
– One can speak about it as a social phenomenon although professional analytics did not notice it…This TV series has been extremely popular for years, it has been repairing what was destroyed by popular communist hits: ‘Rate higher than life’, ‘Four tank soldiers and a dog’. The last TV series was watched by the youth so willingly because it showed fates of people at its age. As a co-producer of the film ‘Stones on the rampart’ I can confirm that today’s youth like also historical-martial movie – they are looking for themselves in it.
– One can even say that it is just the Polish youth who were first to be missing history….
– Indeed they were. Suddenly it turned out that the young generation of free Poland, however, wants patriotic contents, that it begins to look for them, which was shocking for everybody who were aiming at removing history from education.
– And then they simply strengthened their campaign of devaluing history and patriotism…
– This ‘other side’ could not resign from having influence on the young generation, it had to take on an attitude to those new, worrying social-cultural phenomena for it. So, it was trying to give them its own interpretations, sow doubts, even question historical facts. The newspaper ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ contradicted the Warsaw Uprising with the Uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, there was a discussion on Disavowed Soldiers, etc. However, it was not a total opposing to historical narration any longer, as before, there were no attempts of removing some facts from the modern history of Poland any longer, their significance was diminished and shown from a negative side.
– Indeed, it has only been a year when we started to make up arrears in the sphere of historical politics and we would like to show the world historical merits of Poland. How to do it as effectively as possible?
– Images speak the best to contemporary people. The chairperson Jarosław Kaczyński spoke about the need of making Polish historical films even in the Hollywood style. The Culture Ministry has already written out a contest into scenarios. I hope that in a few years also a few films will be made which will be about a phenomenon of ‘Solidarity’ movement, about martial law and about what was happening in Poland in 1989.
– We are going to celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence regaining in 1918.
– I am afraid to think only about the anniversary…We do not know the details of ceremonies planned by the government. It is known that a special proxy for ceremonies of the 100th anniversary of independence was appointed, that the Museum of Józef Piłsudski will be opened in Sulejówko. It is known that there are also various civic private initiatives. In the publishing house ‘Access’ we have recently published a reprint of ‘Collective letters’ of Józef Piłsudski, which after 1989 have never been re-published; they were published during the times of the Polish People’s Republic, certainly, with tendentious and malicious comments. Now, one can hope that our reprint will raise interest in cultural institutions, schools.
– Soon also the 100th anniversary, important not only for Poland, the Warsaw battle. Isn’t it a good occasion to show the world the significance of the Polish military effort?
– The film ‘The Warsaw Battle’, directed few years ago, was a kind of a swallow, but – I hope, we will have films connected with this anniversary, the phenomenon of Józef Piłsudski, with the phenomenon of the Second Republic of Poland, which, as the 20-year-old country, reborn after the 123-year-old captivity, was able to create the National Army during the Second World War and an underground country against two totalitarianisms whose ethos allowed us to survive the years of communism later. I see a clear continuance between the National Army and the ‘Solidarity’ movement. Yes, everything needs to be shown.
– What obstacle has today’s Poland got to show the whole history in the truth?
– The biggest problem are difficulties in judging the modern history. When we speak about the need of showing a particular role of the ‘Solidarity’ movement in the collapse of communism, what is a trouble is the issue of Lech Wałęsa. It is difficult to show the role of the ‘Solidarity’ movement in the whole truth, without referring to the ambiguous past of its leader, but it is also difficult to speak about it, especially outside Poland… This is the best example how much the engagement of politicians and politics in the historical process may make it difficult to show the historical truth. So, undoubtedly, it is necessary to judge the most difficult issues of history. Only then will it be a pride for us to show them to the whole world.