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Category: History and Memory

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

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

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