What the past is for. Polish-Ukrainian memory politics and Putin’s war

Despite contentious differences in memory, Polish-Ukrainian relations have remained close and notably strong in important national moments. This reflects two aspects of Polish society: a generation of youth acclimated to supporting Ukrainian sovereignty with compassion, and a national memory politics which allows humanitarianism, but only when it fits into a politically suitable narrative.

In 2003 the Polish philosopher and historian of ideas Leszek Kołakowski gave a speech at the American Library of Congress titled, “What the Past is For”. Kołakowski believed that history serves not to predict the future nor to gain technical advice on how to deal with the present, but to discover the values constitutive of human identities. He told his listeners that “to say that [the events of the past] do not matter to our lives would be almost as silly as saying that it would not matter to me if I were suddenly to erase from my memory my own past personal life … The history of past generations is our history, and we need to know it in order to be aware of our identity; in the same sense in which my own memory builds my personal identity, makes me a human subject.”

December 7, 2022 - Daniel Edison