Culture as the moving force of history

Ireneusz Skubis and Anna Cichoblazinska talk to Dr. Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage.

FR IRENEUSZ SKUBIS: - Considering your office you can be called a custodian of national remembrance. It seemed that in free Poland all limits to discover history would disappear and school programmes would allow the youngest generation to participate in the transmission of culture, which was broken for several decades. Do contemporary times need to guard our national heritage?

DR. KAZIMIERZ MICHAL UJAZDOWSKI: Most certainly. My ministry provides care for national heritage because of the constitutional obligations of the Polish state. But this surely does not solve the whole problem. The changes that Poland underwent after 1989 make free debate on our past possible. There is neither censorship nor formal barriers, which would endanger freedom of historical research, especially the issues that were taboo in the Polish People's Republic (PRL). However, these conditions are not good enough to improve our historical memory. Throughout the last 17 years it was fashionable to repent aloud for the sins of our forefathers, both real and imaginary sins. There was some intellectual fashion to destroy national myths and to 'overcome the past'. The policy of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage should reverse this bad tendency since the tendency shows our history in a distorting mirror. We want to show especially to young people that they can be proud of Poland, of its history and at the same time they can take examples of attitudes in concrete situations of life. Using the programme 'Witnesses of History' we want to show such examples of people who proved to be heroic not only in trials, wars or uprisings, but also in their systematic persistent work and involvement, for example in the underground teaching during the times of the PRL. In turn the programme 'Patriotism of Tomorrow' (in the year 2006) we supported many valuable civil projects for the youth, e.g. historical reconstruction of the battle of Raszyn, creation of the Museum of Freedom and Solidarity in Bydgoszcz or organising the International Youth Festival of Borderland Patriotic Song in Przemysl. The success of the programme and the vivid discussions it evoked showed that the involvement of the state in that field was needed.

ANNA CICHOBLAZINSKA: - In some interview you said that the duty of your ministry is to evaluate the realisation of the mission of public television in the sphere of culture, national heritage. Does this evaluation influence the decisions of the television management concerning its programmes? Since we can often see that programmes that are important to our national identity are moved to late hours and the popular programmes are broadcast in prime time...

- If we compare the offer that was last year and that is now we can see a difference. Since Bronislaw Wildstein became president of TVP television programmes have been improved. More and more documentaries are broadcast as well as reports on various controversial themes concerning the latest Polish history. Of course, many viewers do not watch television after 10.00 pm but we should praise TVP for including such programmes. The line of changes makes us look to the future of public television with hope.

Fr I. S.: - You have gained a great ally in your work, a powerfully influential weapon. Will the newly launched thematic channel TVP History fill the gap that has been so much visible in the programming of public television?

- The history channel is properly answering the challenges of the contemporary mass culture. The present successes in popularising historical knowledge often result from the use of modern mass media, which effectively reach the awareness of the young generation. But other television channels must also undertake this task, which is what the mission of public TV is all about.

A. C.: - We know that if Polish culture is subject to free market rules it can collapse. Many cultural institutions and periodicals have disappeared because culture cannot support itself. (I do not consider mass culture, which is flourishing.) What are the ways the Ministry uses to help cultural institutions and its talented creators?

- One of my priorities is to establish a strong financial basis for development of culture. For the last 12 months expenses for culture and protection of national heritage have increased considerably. The fundamental means of financing cultural programmes are the so-called Operational Programmes. In the framework of these programmes we can spend ca. 300 million zloty this year. I want to stress the considerable increase of money for protection of historic monuments. This is justified by the fact that the previous left-wing government did not care sufficiently for this area. Within the framework of the programme 'Cultural Heritage' the Ministry granted total 48 million zloty. This embraced over 150 historic monuments, including 124 sacral ones, belonging to various Churches. These monuments were considerably neglected in the last years. In 2007 we plan to increase means for monument protection to the sum of over 100 million zloty, which is the highest sum from 1989. In 2007, we intent to support restoration of old, historic cemeteries, which is completely new. We have assigned 3 million zloty for that. Moreover, thanks to our efforts, we managed to increase EU means for the years 2007-2013 to over 490 million euros. Among other things we can finance large infrastructural investments, museums, modern concert halls as well as enlargement of institutions, which already existed.

Fr I. S.: - The authors expect the Ministry to support efforts aiming at discovering talents but when these talents are subject to market rules they expect to have their copyright laws ensured. How can we defend the interests of Polish artists in the times of virtual piracy when you can hear any piece of music or watch any film?

- The Ministry works in the interdepartmental team to sue operators for copyright and related rights infringement. The document, which contains the guidelines for the fight against piracy, is called 'Strategies to Protect Intellectual Property in Poland for the year 2006'. Many of its objectives are well thought over and continue the guidelines of the Strategies that were prepared in the previous years. The very well prepared model is based on long-term activities. The new objectives refer first of all to civic education, especially education of the youth, as well as to monitoring and countering copyright infringement in the Internet. Other countries that are involved in the fight against piracy got interested in the solutions of the Strategies. We are still discussing new legal solutions in this respect. The solutions are not that simple after all because rapid technological development makes us face new and new challenges. At the same time, we should stress that protection of intellectual property cannot be an obstacle to common access to cultural goods.

A. C.: - Numerous outstanding works of Polish culture are outside Poland. In what way does the ministry support the ruined monuments of Polish culture in the territory of Ukraine, Byerussia or Lithuania?

- At the beginning of 2007 the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage established the Department of National Heritage, which is a continuation of the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad in 1991-2001. The tasks of the Department include registration of war losses and co-operation with institutions of Polish immigrants. Its main task is to make documentary works of the monuments and cemeteries and conservation of selected monuments. The Department collaborates with institutions in Lithuania, Byerussia and Ukraine to provide documentation for the collections, to improve the conditions of their preservation and to make them available to the public. It also provides factual knowledge by making expertises and conservation evaluations as well as drawing up renovation schedules. The collaboration with Lithuania, Byerussia and Ukraine is carried out within the framework of the agreements, which were signed in the 1990s. The budget of the Ministry embraces the projects concerning renovation and preservation of Polish, or connected with Poland, monuments abroad as well as conservation of historic cemeteries and conservation, protection and preservation of places of remembrance and martyrology abroad. In 2006, the support was given for renovation of the 17th century Baworowskis' palace in Lviv, for conservation works in the cathedral in Lviv, making an inventory of Polish gravestones in Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine.

Fr I. S.: - These territories are inhabited by Polish people who are hungry for Polish words, newspapers and books. These are very often poor people. How does the Ministry support the relationships of Polish people, living in territories of the former Polish Kingdom, with Poland? Could 'Niedziela' help in maintaining culture-making relations with Polish people in the East?

- The above-mentioned tasks fall within the competence of the Foundation 'Help Poles in the East' and the Association 'Polish Community', and they are mainly financed from the means of the Polish Senate. But the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is an important partner of the Foundation. Last year the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage financed numerous publications about borderline subjects. As far as the weekly 'Niedziela' is concerned its important role in maintaining culture-making bonds with our countrymen in the East is a fact. I mean both Polish people living in the former borderline lands of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania and people whose Polish ancestors were transported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. The latter group embraces many people who lost contact with Polish. The Russian edition of 'Niedziela' performs first of all the function of evangelisation. 'Niedziela' as a paper edited by Poles and a paper discussing Polish problems gives chances to restore relationships of these people with the country and culture of their ancestors.

Fr I. S.: - 'Memory and identity are the most important values for the nation', said the Holy Father John Paul II. He referred to our history, culture, and pride of being a Pole. How does the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage pass down the teaching of this great Pole?

- Within my power I support many initiatives that promote the teaching of John Paul II. One should remember the role of the Museum of Polish History, which was called into being last year, its main task being to represent the Polish historical experience. The teaching of the Pope will be especially exposed in this context. Exercising my office I try to follow such an understanding of culture that is found in the thought of John Paul II. It is about a wide view of culture as treasure of spiritual values that make human life go beyond the sphere of desires and material interests. Hence we have the basic significance of culture for the development of social relationships. In this perspective culture means more than only contemporary artistic creativity. Culture is all that is sublime in man. As George Weigel, the most outstanding biographer of the Pope, claims that in the thought of John Paul II it is culture, and not politics or economy that was the most important moving force of history.

"Niedziela" 2/2007

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