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Category: History and Memory

Ultranationalist utopias and the realities of reconciliation (part two)

Constantin Iordachi and Ferenc Laczó discuss the aftermath of the Second World War and Romanian–Hungarian relations.

March 4, 2021 - Constantin Iordachi Ferenc Laczó

Ultranationalist utopias and the realities of reconciliation (part one)

Constantin Iordachi and Ferenc Laczó discuss fascism and the Second World War in Romania.

February 25, 2021 - Constantin Iordachi Ferenc Laczó

International law and the Soviet wild-goose chase

Soviet political proposals from before the war and the legacy of the United Nations established as a result of the Soviet victory over Nazism are often recalled in the Kremlin’s contemporary narratives. Yet, a look at the historical development of the Soviet understanding of international law reveals a chaotic and political, rather than legal, approach.

The 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the proclamation of the United Nations was a topic intensively exploited by Russian diplomacy which attempted to highlight the Soviet input into the triumph over the Nazis and the creation of an international organisation. The Kremlin’s rhetoric was expressed directly by Vladimir Putin twice last year – once thanks to an article published in The National Interest in June and then, via a speech delivered virtually during the annual summit of the United Nations, in September.

February 3, 2021 - Grzegorz Szymborski

An unambiguous legacy. Women and Solidarity

During the 1980s, I witnessed the momentous events in Poland from afar and worked with human rights groups to lend support to pro-democracy activists. By 1988, I prepared for my first research visit to Poland to examine Solidarity’s gender dynamics. What stood out was that Solidarity was a democratic movement that did not advocate gender equality.

In mid-November of 2020 I participated in a roundtable at the annual conference of the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) on the theme, “Polish Solidarity: A Glorious Revolution and its Unexpectedly Tortuous Aftermath.” Joining me virtually were Timothy Garton Ash, Ireneusz Krzeminski, Jan Kubik, and David Ost. We were to reflect on the trajectory of this once enormous social movement in the post-communist reality. I, in particular, was invited to reflect on my work initiated by Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland, which I had published in 2005 and again in 2014. By the time of the academic roundtable, the world was riveted on the third, exhilarating week of wildly audacious, feminist-initiated, grassroots nationwide demonstrations across Poland in support of reproductive rights, democratic rule of law and separation of state and church. The euphoria of revolution was palpable.

February 3, 2021 - Shana Penn

The Galicia Jewish museum’s permanent exhibition. From Kraków to Japan

The exhibition, "Traces of memory. A contemporary look at the Jewish past in Poland", offers a completely new look at the Jewish past in Poland. It includes several unique features that distinguishes it from other exhibitions dealing with Jewish Poland and the Holocaust, making this project truly remarkable.

December 16, 2020 - The Galicia Jewish Museum

The fleeting memory of December 1970

In December 1970 violent riots broke out in the Polish cities of Szczecin and Gdynia, while in Gdańsk strikers surrounded the seat of the Polish United Workers’ Party. Clashes with militia erupted and the central committee of the communist party decided to brutally quell the rebellion. These events became an important founding myth for the struggle against the communist authorities. Fifty years later, how are these events remembered?

In December 1970, 14 years had passed since Wiesław Gomułka became the first secretary of the communist party in the People’s Republic of Poland. At that time, both the thaw of 1956, which allowed Gomułka to return to power, and hope for reforms that he promised (the so-called Polish way to socialism) were already a fading memory. It was not the right moment for a nostalgic journey to the past. And with Christmas just around the corner, everyone was busy stockpiling goods that were hard to come by.

November 16, 2020 - Piotr Leszczyński

The challenge of commemoration. Cases from Poland and Germany

The Second World War remains one of the most painful and conflicting episodes of the European nations’ memories. Present conflicts are embedded in history and in the use of history as a political tool. The cases of Poland and Germany illustrate how challenging it can be to commemorate history, especially in a politicised environment.

In Poland during the communist period and until 1989, it was nearly impossible to openly talk about the Second World War. First, due to friendship with the Soviet Union and later, after the fall of communism, Poland was busy creating its own government, introducing the democratic culture and fighting with an economic crisis in order to transform the country it became between 1989 and 2000. After this period, history and commemoration events started to play a very important role for the national and political identity of the country. Like in other Central and Eastern European states, Poland is an example of how history is used as a political tool in the museum narratives and exhibition forms, which also trigger conflicts.

September 3, 2020 - Kristina Smolijaninovaitė

From the Great Patriotic War to the Second World War: Decommunisation of Ukraine’s memory politics

The EuroMaidan Revolution and Russia’s military aggression set in motion radical changes in Ukrainian memory politics. Ukraine’s decommunisation laws condemned communist and Nazi totalitarianism as morally reprehensible and the country replaced the commemoration of the Great Patriotic War with Ukraine’s contribution to the European-wide defeat of Nazism in the Second Word War, emphasising the human tragedy of war.

July 7, 2020 - Serhiy Riabenko Taras Kuzio

The brief alliance, short memory

For a brief moment in August Poland will celebrate the centenary of the victorious Battle of Warsaw when Józef Piłsudski’s army managed to stop and push back the advancing Bolsheviks. Earlier, the Soviets were faced with an unexpected alliance of Poles and Ukrainians, which liberated Kyiv under the leadership of Symon Petliura. In light of this surprising development, what is the history behind this military alliance?

At the end of 1919 the Ukrainian People’s Republic was almost defeated by the Tsarist forces of Anton Denikin. On November 4th, some detachments of the Ukrainian Galician Army (UHA) switched sides and joined the “White General”. This event severely weakened the position of the Ukrainian Directorate, whose representatives were simultaneously negotiating with the Polish authorities in Warsaw.

July 7, 2020 - Grzegorz Szymborski

Poland becomes a convenient target in Putin’s memory crusade

An interview with Ernest Wyciszkiewicz, director of the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding. Interviewer: New Eastern Europe

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: On December 20th 2019 Vladimir Putin delivered a speech where he blamed Poland for the outbreak of the Second World War. These remarks caused outrage in Poland. The ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement in which it blamed the Russian leader for undermining joint efforts to find a way to truth and reconciliation in Polish-Russian relations. As director of the Polish-Russian Centre for Dialogue and Understanding in Warsaw, what was your institution’s response?

ERNEST WYCISZKIEWICZ: First let me start by saying that I was not outraged because what took place in December 2019 was actually nothing new. In the past ten years Poland has often been under historical – sometimes a bit hysterical – pressure from Russia. Periods of peaceful coexistence were rare and were quickly followed by stormy exchanges. So we have been there before. Yet, what we have been witnessing since Putin’s infamous comments in December is a new level of aggressiveness in Russian historical propaganda, as well as the fact that Poland was specifically chosen as enemy number one in this domain.

April 6, 2020 - Ernest Wyciszkiewicz

Evolution of memory policy in Germany

When it comes to memory of the Second World War, Germany is regarded as the world champion of reprocessing. Yet German memory politics has never been free from controversy. This is especially true for the past few years which saw national-conservative parties questioning the consensuses that had been worked out in the course of the past 75 years.

Prior to Germany’s unification in 1990, the official memory of the Second World War developed differently in the two German states. The first period that marked a divergence in memory was that of the Allied occupation which lasted from 1945 to 1949. This was followed by a long period when both states built their own narratives of the Nazi past, and created their own response to the guilt for the committed crimes. With unification came a consensus that is now at risk of being undermined.

April 6, 2020 - Christoph Meissner

Mostly annihilated…

Recently declassified sources of Soviet Military Archives give a better insight into the attempted escape of the German-Hungarian defenders of Budapest on February 11th 1945. Estimates have put the number of Germans who attempted to escape the siege at around 20,000-22,000. Most of them ended up being captured, wounded or killed.

The siege of Budapest of 1944-1945 and its tragic finale – the so-called “breaking-out” [of Buda] – is a very popular and well-researched topic of modern Hungarian history. Several books and articles have been published not only in Hungarian, but in many other languages as well. However, the research of this period was difficult until the very recent years – as the Russian Military Archives (more precisely the CAMO) did not allow anybody to research the classified materials. Because of that, research findings were quite asymmetrical, mostly based on German and Hungarian archive sources and reminiscences, but lacked the other half: the Soviet point of view.

January 27, 2020 - Krisztián Ungváry Márton Ványai

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