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Category: History and Memory

A tale of two cities? Gabriele D’Annunzio in Rijeka and Fiume

To ask whether Gabriele D’Annunzio was a fascist or not is to pose the wrong question. Much more important is to ask why he marched in 1919 under arms into a contested city, and why did he brazenly insist on the political and cultural superiority of only one of that city’s ethnic groups.

In the early morning of Thursday September 12th 2019 a group of young Italian men in black t-shirts unfurled a large Italian flag in front of the former Governor’s Palace in the Croatian port city of Rijeka. They took a few group selfies and then quietly disappeared, their photos appearing on news sites throughout Italy and Croatia a few hours later.

November 12, 2019 - Jonathan Bousfield

German-Polish cultural dialogue in former East Prussia – a success?

The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 allowed new memorial works to begin for both Polish and German population groups in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship in Poland. Today, German heritage is present again, and perceived positively throughout.

My grandmother Cilly never spoke badly about Poland and the Poles. When she spoke about her home in former East Prussia she never specifically mentioned the nationalities there, maybe because she came from a family with a dual identity where both Polish and German languages were spoken. Or maybe it was because nationalities never really played a role in everyday life in the region of Warmia before 1933.

November 12, 2019 - Marcel Krueger

Russia’s historical amnesia

How can we understand how Joseph Stalin, one of history’s most notorious dictators, is not only tolerated, but oftentimes defended in present-day Russia? Is this a failure of history? Who or what is fanning the flames of this modern Stalin-cult?

Recent months have witnessed some important anniversaries in the history of the Second World War. On January 27th 2018, the city of St Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad. The Nazi siege of the city, which lasted some 900 days, intended to starve the city out of existence. Though ultimately unsuccessful, over one million of the city’s residents died as a result, whilst many more experienced over two years of pain and suffering.

November 12, 2019 - Joshua Kroeker

Germany’s Weimar Republic: A narrative of ambiguity

Modernisation appeared to spell economic deprivation for large segments of the Weimar Republic’s society. They felt threatened by uncertainties; in fact, hopes and expectations about the future were disrupted. Aggression turned against democratic institutions and minorities depicted as scapegoats.

On October 15th 1929, the Fritz Lang film Woman in the Moon premiered at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin. The cinema’s façade had been redesigned for the event. Launched from a skyscraper silhouette, a spaceship replica shuttled back and forth to the moon against the backdrop of a starry sky simulated by hundreds of light bulbs. Offering tantalising visions of future technology – not quite unlike Bauhaus architecture with its twin promise of functionalist building and re-styled urban life, it conveyed the impression of epitomising a cosmopolitan republic that eagerly embraced modernity.

November 12, 2019 - Rainer Eisfeld

Hostage to the generals

Had it not been for the huge effort of the German military who carefully considered the experiences of the First World War and a wide support for Reichswehr military concepts in the Weimar Republic, the Nazi regime would not have transferred into an effective military machine. One that posed a serious threat to Europe’s peace.

On November 9th 1918 a republic was established in Germany. It was one of the unintended outcomes of the First World War. The Hohenzollern family, which ruled Germany since 1871, lost power as a result of the war. It is difficult to fully understand the 14-year long history of the interwar German republic without looking at the causes which brought it to life. The same factors, in fact, are the ones which brought it to an end. Had it not been for the madness of Emperor Wilhelm II, Germany would have probably remained one of European constitutional monarchies. The sudden and unexpected abdication of the emperor in 1918, as well as his unexpected call to make peace with the Allied Forces, truly shocked the German public. Its citizens experienced four years of sacrifice to face a disgraceful capitulation in the end.

November 12, 2019 - Andrzej Zaręba

The short-lived Weimar cultural scene

From today’s perspective, the Weimar period should not only be seen as a time of vibrant artistic life but also as a warning of what can put democracy at risk. The experience of the Weimar Republic teaches us that democracy’s enemies can be found within the system, while politics can help to both stimulate artistic expression and constrain it.

Culturally speaking, the Weimar Republic was an extremely vibrant period in German life. It was a time of new artistic trends which included the works of great artists like Marlena Dietrich, Thomas Mann and Gerhart Hauptmann, to name just a few. This was also the period of the theatre of Max Reinhardt and Bertold Brecht, who’s Threepenny Opera was enriched by the music of Kurt Weille. In addition, this period saw a rapid development in the visual arts, including film and photography.

November 12, 2019 - Kinga Gajda

Forgotten tales of Germany and Ukraine’s past

Ukraine and Germany are linked together by a long and complicated history, one with Poland in the background. Unfortunately, knowledge of this shared heritage is still not well known, particularly in Germany.

No other nation brought as much damage to Ukraine as Germany in the 20th century. During the First World War, and especially the Second World War, millions of people who then lived in Ukraine were murdered by the Germans or died because of famine, disease and exhaustion caused by the German invasions. Ukrainians and Jews were those who primarily perished. However, it is also true that not many other nations had such a positive impact on Ukraine’s civilisational progress as the Germans.

August 26, 2019 - Adam Balcer

Eighty years later: Under the map of Europe

Maps are more than just visual aids for understanding the land around us. They give valuable insight into history as well.

July 12, 2019 - Tomasz Kamusella

The poverty of utopia revisited

In 1989 massive protests erupted from an increasingly restive population. The language of the intellectuals finally reached the people. The regimes found themselves unable to use tanks and bullets to maintain their utopian blueprints. Disenchantment with Marxism was a cathartic experience for Eastern Europe.

The story of Marxism in Eastern Europe begins with Stalinist fanaticism and ends with liberal revolutions in 1989. As the ideological determination of the elite faded through the second half of the 20th century, intellectuals advocated for human rights and dignity. Eventually, the wider populations revolted against communist totalitarianism, and the regimes found their pillars of terror and propaganda insufficient for ensuring continued domination. But with nationalist and fascist ideologies rising today, the journey of humanism in Eastern Europe goes on.

May 2, 2019 - Jordan Luber Vladimir Tismaneanu

The circle of hope: Samizdat, tamizdat and radio

I left Poland in 1970 with no hope that things would ever change for the better. Back then, would you dare to hope that Soviet communism could implode with just a little outside help?

I first got involved in dissident activity with a group of friends in high school during the early 1960s. During my studies at Warsaw University, my engagement with the movement grew. However it was all rather innocent then – mostly discussions about the past, present and the future, and some attempts to unnerve communist activists during public meetings at the university by asking awkward questions on issues such as the Katyń massacre or the exploitation of Poland by the Soviet Union. It was innocent until Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski were imprisoned for three years in 1965. After that, our group – built around Adam Michnik – started to be harassed by the secret police.

May 2, 2019 - Eugeniusz Smolar

The Polish Round Table. A bird’s-eye view

Today, the 1989 Round Table is still a topic of an important discussion in Poland, one that in the last years has become more intense than before. Many participants of the discussion are still active in Polish political life, including former presidents and prime ministers. A majority of them stress the positive aspects of the negotiations. Yet the Round Table has always had fierce critics.

The Polish Round Table negotiations, which started in February 1989, were one of those events whose meaning was not clear from the very beginning. In a way, we can compare this moment of Polish history to Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC, after he ignored the order of the senators who were well aware of his high ambitions and wanted to keep him away from Rome. It marked the beginning of the end of the Roman republic, while from that moment on, the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” refers to a decision, or a historical event, which brings about irreversible consequences.

May 2, 2019 - Paulina Codogni

The bodies of the Velvet revolution. Remembering 1989 in the Czech Republic

During the 1990s, the commemoration of November 17th 1989 was dominated by the generation of witnesses and former dissidents. Today, it is mostly in the hands of the younger generation that did not directly participate in the events of 1989; they must find other ways to formulate the significance of the commemoration.

Národní Street in Prague has become a place of commemoration of the last Czech (Czechoslovak) great historical turning point – the fall of the communist regime. On November 17th 1989 a student march was violently repressed here. This event triggered nationwide social changes leading to the fall of state socialism. The two authors of this article do not have the events of November 1989 in their living memory, yet in our teenage years, the surge of our parents’ generation was the closest one can get to the so-called “great history”.

May 2, 2019 - Čeněk Pýcha Václav Sixta

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