City and Power – Postmodern Urban Spaces in Contemporary Poland

by Katarzyna Kajdanek (Volume editor) Igor Pietraszewski (Volume editor) Jacek Pluta (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 160 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface: Wrocław, a City of Success? (Katarzyna Kajdanek / Jacek Pluta / Igor Pietraszewski)
  • The Power over Collective Memory (Barbara Pabjan)
  • To Leave a Trace on Urban Walls: Youth Cultures in the Third Circulation of Memory in the City (Grzegorz Kozdraś)
  • Transformation of Architectural Space in Wrocław (Iwona Borowik)
  • Bike Power: Emergence of the Cycling Movement in the Urban Public Sphere (Katarzyna Kajdanek / Jacek Pluta)
  • Artists and Power in the Field of (Subsidized) Urban Culture (Igor Pietraszewski)
  • The Football Paradigm in Wrocław Urban Policy: the Municipalisation of Śląsk Wrocław (Mateusz Błaszczyk)
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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Katarzyna Kajdanek, Jacek Pluta & Igor Pietraszewski

Preface: Wrocław, a City of Success?

The idea of writing an anthology of texts devoted to Wrocław – a large city in south-west Poland – emerged as a result of a longer process. Its main subject – the nature of social transition in Poland from the perspective of local politics – stemmed from observations of urban movements that are now on the increase. By positioning themselves in opposition to the local government, urban movements have become an important player in the local public sphere. The local government elections in 2014, in which urban movements in Poland achieved the best results in their history, demonstrated the political significance of this process. In many big cities, long-standing mayors lost or, as in Wrocław, won only in the second ballot and with great difficulty1. This situation was only partly rooted in voter apathy and a jaded approach from the incumbents. Most of all, it was related to the dynamic of the social changes that accompany the current Polish political transition.

In the initial period of the transition (from 1989 to the beginning of the 21st century) the most crucial problems for the authorities were related to the construction of a new political, economic and social order. Solving these problems was necessary to overcome developmental delays. On a local level, it was necessary to establish democratic rules in the form of self-government. It is important to note that the construction of self-governmental order in Poland was clearly divided into two stages. The first stage began in 1990, when territorial self-government was restored at gmina (municipality) level. The second level of local and regional self-government (counties, Polish: powiat) with both self-governing bodies and a structure representing the state administration (voivodships, Polish: województwo) was established in 1998 and became operational as of 1 January 1999. Between 1989 and 2004 the narrative about Polish towns and their problems focused on economic transition, particularly the shift from an industrial to a service sector, as well as social problems such as unemployment. This narrative was accompanied by a quite universal political discourse that referred to historical heritage, which was related to the need to build an attractive image of Polish cities in Europe. However, somewhere around 2014, a change could be observed in these narratives. Problems ← 7 | 8 → related to the political, economic and social transition were gradually giving way to new challenges, rooted in global economic processes and cultural changes.

The processes of reflective monitoring of the public sphere were gradually forcing the local authorities to modify their narrative. This alteration can be described as the change of the political,2 i.e. a narrative method that introduces locality in place of statehood. At first glance, this change seemed attractive to local politicians who like to emphasise the increasing role of cities and their autonomy in a globalised world. On the other hand, the discussed changes may also be unfavourable to the local authorities, as the reflexivity of the public sphere undermines their authority and their narrative. As a result, the public sphere is revitalised as a space of articulation for local advocacy groups who object to the narrative and activities of the authorities. All these phenomena display the changing rules of the public sphere: a process in which power is being gradually distributed among different actors of the public sphere.

This book discusses events that are direct or indirect examples of the political in the urban public sphere; they involve relations between the local authorities, other local actors and the ordinary citizens. To offer a broader context for these analyses, we will now provide a short profile of Wrocław.

Wrocław, a city with a population of 636,000, has been undergoing a process of transition since 1989 that is typical for all cities in Poland, that is, from a socialist city characterised by:

no self-government on a local level;

a limited urban public sphere, controlled by the central government;

limited economy based on industrial production;

dysfunctional and often degraded public space, unsuited to citizens’ requirements concerning the quality of life;

to a post-industrial city, in which:

local governments are autonomous from the central government;

in addition to production, consumption has an important role in the city’s economy; as a result, the urban system of opportunities and satisfaction of needs develops, particularly in the sphere of leisure;

the logic of growth is increasingly based on competition for resources on a national and global level; ← 8 | 9 →

with the increasing potential for development of urban advocacy groups, the importance of quality of life issues related to urban resources is also growing;

the public sphere becomes important as a moderator of urban life.

The post-Fordist model of urban development in developed countries, widely discussed by researchers, emphasised that cities are subject to macrostructural conditions (Błaszczyk 2015; Castells 1989, 2011), which leads to predictable and inevitable consequences (demographic, economic, social and cultural). On the other hand, many researchers share a view that postmodern cities are important centres for moderating social-economic processes, which, when used by local politicians and businesses, can bring them considerable profits (Florida 2005). However, there are also critical voices about negative consequences of development processes in cities that are based on unsustainable consumption (Zukin 1993, 1998, 2003; Clark et. al. 2003), financial speculation and domination of neoliberal ideology, which lead to social destruction (Harvey 2008).

Regardless of the debate about the uncertain future of cities, in the case of Wrocław the consequences of changes seem positive. For example, Wrocław was ranked 87th of 141 world cities in Mercer’s Quality of Life Index 2016 Mid-Year, ahead of Milan (88th), Saint Petersburg (119th) or Beijing (128th) and with only two Polish cities ahead of it: Warsaw (72nd) and Cracow (84th).3

Thanks to a positive net internal migration rate, the population in Wrocław remains constant despite the negative demographic processes observed in other Polish cities. Over the past years, unemployment has significantly decreased and it is now below 3%, making the city an attractive labour market in the region as well as on a national scale. A new phenomenon is a mass influx of migrants from Ukraine. In 2006, 38,000 work permits were issued (Karabon and Karabon 2016: 4). The majority of employees work in the following sectors: industry, trade, education, healthcare, administration, science, insurance, information and communication. In 2012, the GDP per capita in Wrocław was equivalent to 155.2% of Poland’s average.4 The GDP growth between 2004 and 2012 in Wrocław was 45%, which was the second best in Poland (after Rzeszów). Poland’s big cities average at 34%.5

Wrocław’s rank depends on the indicators and criteria for measurement. From a demographic perspective, Wrocław is the fourth most populous and the fifth ← 9 | 10 → largest city in Poland. Its size is similar to Riga, Oslo or Copenhagen. According to a typology based on spatial planning, such as the ESPON project (Possible European Territorial Futures),6 Wrocław, alongside Cracow, Katowice, Tri-City (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Sopot), Poznań, Łódź and Szczecin, is classified as a Weak MEGA – a city more peripheral than a potential MEGA (large metropolitan centre). GaWC, another ranking that classifies world cities (based on their integration in the global economy), categorises Wrocław alongside 41 other cities (e.g. Lille, The Hague, Nurnberg, Poznań, Bilbao and Dresden) as a “high sufficiency city”, i.e. cities that have a sufficient degree of services so as not to be obviously dependent on world cities (Karabon and Karabon 2016: 7).

Table 1: Potential of Polish cities

Source: PwC and GUS data from 2012**, 2013*, 2014*** The concept of 7 capitals include the following: human and social capital, culture and image capital, quality of life capital, technical and infrastructure capital, institutional and democratic capital, investment attractiveness capital and sources of finance capital. ← 10 | 11 →

The nationwide perception of Wrocław as a successful city is related to the so-called Base effect. In 1990, the developmental potential of Wrocław was estimated distinctly lower than that of other Polish cities, e.g. Szczecin, Łódź or Poznań. Today, the situation is quite the opposite. The success of Wrocław is due to the character of the changes the city underwent. Wrocław is perceived by experts as a city that created its image in a most spectacular way. Importantly, on its path to post-transitional revival, Wrocław managed to avoid the Shrinking City phenomenon (Martinez-Fernandez 2012) – a significant population loss that was experienced by Łódź, for instance. Wrocław also expanded its economic base by developing business and consumer services.

This positive image of transition, however, should not obscure the problems Wrocław is facing. They are related to macrostructural as well as local risks. The most crucial are:

These factors are an increasingly important element of a narrative that has a considerable influence on public opinion, which the social study conducted for the design of development strategy for Wrocław 2030 confirms.8

To conclude, in the second decade of the 21st century, Wrocław is commonly perceived as a successful city. On the other hand, studies on the strategy for Wrocław 2030 clearly demonstrate that the actions regarded as sufficient by the authorities show a decreasing level of respect for the citizens’ interests. How is this possible?

Local politics in Poland is in many respects the opposite of politics on a central level. It is characterised by structural (financial, political, social) autonomy. There ← 11 | 12 → are no limits on the number of terms of office for a mayor. Local government is to a large extent independent from the context of national politics. In contrast to the central government, the distance between politicians and citizens is shorter and their relations are more empowered and direct. Alongside political parties that are governed by pragmatic interests there are other intermediary structures, which are based on values. Therefore, the role of NGOs, the activity of citizens and their social representatives and individual authority of a mayor are more important than membership of a political party.

Although it would seem that there should not be a discrepancy between the local authorities and the citizens, it is still observed. One source of this discrepancy is the stability of power (unlimited number of terms of office), which can lead to failure to recognise citizens’ problems. Cultural and social sources of the discussed discrepancy, however, such as different attitudes and values, are even more important. The first Congress of Urban Movements in 2015 proposed a new model for urban development policy based on the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities. The most highlighted premises were: citizens’ right to make decisions on urban matters, urban democracy with social participation as its core, the role of the city budget in improving the citizens’ quality of life and the idea of a community: social integration as opposed to marginalisation and social exclusion.9

Relating these ideas to the context of the local public sphere and its condition, one may conclude that the premises of the Congress undermine the institutional mechanisms of the local authorities and they redefine the conditions of the political. However, it is important to realise that local politics and expectations of them regarding their aims and strategies are not exclusively the domain of the local authorities. They also include the activities and narratives of other collective actors who act in the urban public sphere.

All the discussed processes compound a general picture of the emergence of a new urban public sphere in Poland in the times of the decline in the narrative of transition and the increase in the narrative about a city’s residents, identity and future. This picture provides a necessary background to understand the relationship between the authorities and the city and the factors that will influence this relationship in the future. The anthology of texts in this book compose a study of this relationship. It is presented from the perspective of the local authorities and their prerogatives as well as from the perspective of the urban public sphere ← 12 | 13 → in which these prerogatives are the subject of a critical narrative by other social actors: urban movements and the citizens.

In the first chapter, which opens a discussion about the power-city relationship, Barbara Pabjan analyses power-knowledge in urban politics. Referring to rich literature, particularly to Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger, Michael Schudson, Richard Sennet and John Bodnar (all inspired by Michel Foucault), the author presents an empirically based study of power-knowledge in local politics of memory, including its social reception and the political motives of the Wrocław elite.

Grzegorz Kozdraś reveals another aspect of non-institutional understanding of local power as symbolic violence, which manifests itself in the activity of youth subcultures. His particular subject of examination is the creation of murals and graffiti as a process of social production of space and the broader context for this phenomenon. Hence the major problem analysed by the author is how subcultures participate in the process of building sites of memory by their symbolic appropriation of urban space.

“Transformation of Architectural Space in Wrocław” by Iwona Borowik is a study of transformations in the urban space presented in the context of accompanying social changes and illustrated with the examples of several buildings that were fiercely debated among experts and the citizens of Wrocław. An important background used by the author to present ideological and social contexts of the transformation of urban space was the exuberant decade of the 1990s. During this period the logic of transition was flourishing; it permeated the minds of the authorities and investors and it often expressed the aspirations and expectations of the citizens as a contrast to the socialist narrative that had hitherto prevailed.

Katarzyna Kajdanek and Jacek Pluta offer a look at the problem of the exercise of public authority from the perspective of the activity of the Wrocław cycling movement. It is a social action in which the participants clearly and efficiently mark their presence in the public sphere by demonstrating their ability to exercise social pressure on the institutions of authority and, to a considerable extent, by influencing the attitudes of the citizens. The analysis of the emergence of the bicycle movement is thus a good example of creating a new public sphere.

A consumer logic of development, which dominates in European cities, results in an intensified relationship between local authorities and the field of subsidised municipal culture. Igor Pietraszewski discusses the nature of this relationship as a process of the conversion of capitals in the field of cultural production, in which the dominant role is played by the disposers of economic values – politicians and bureaucrats. ← 13 | 14 →

Finally, in his analysis of the football paradigm in Wrocław urban policy, Mateusz Błaszczyk depicts the details of a local sport club and the process of its transformation. Sport-related municipal investments, as well as cultural policy, are examples of consumer ideology. From the perspective of the logics of power, this ideology seems imperative in the developmental policy of the city.

We believe that the relationship between cities and power, which is discussed here from several perspectives, provides a good illustration of the cultural and social transformation of Polish cities at the end of the political transition era.

1 In the local government elections in 2010, 25 of 107 Polish mayors were elected in the first ballot; in 2014, as many as 41 (https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prezydenci_miast_w_Polsce_(kadencja_2014–2018).

2 We do not define the political in terms of conflicts in the public sphere, after C. Schmidt or Ch. Mouffe (2005) but rather in T. Parson’s theoretical framework, as a generalised quality of the public sphere that influences the actions of its actors (motives, mode of action, narratives, etc.).

3 https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings.jsp (accessed 1 December 2016)

4 Data from 2012, see Wrocław w liczbach 2015, Urząd statystyczny we Wrocławiu (Statistical Office in Wrocław); available at www.wroclaw.stat.gov.pl

5 Based on the data of GUS: Central Statistical Office of Poland.

6 http://www.espon.eu/main/Menu_Projects/Menu_AppliedResearch/06.TerritorialFutures.html (accessed 25 November 2016) The project is based on a foresight approach. It aims at predicting possible futures of European cities and providing information on factors that affect their development opportunities.

7 Wrocław was one of only two cities ranked in the report that steadily developed its capitals, see Wrocław Nadodrzański mikrokosmos musi dalej rosnąć. PwC 2015, p. 7. (http://www.pwc.pl/pl/pdf/miasta/raport-o-metropoliach-wroclaw-2015.pdf)

8 See J. Pluta, Prezentacja wyników badań nad założeniami Strategii Wrocław 2030, http://www.wroclaw.pl/strategia-rozwoju-wroclawia-2030/files/Wroclaw-2030-prezentacja-media-3.pdf

9 For more conclusions from the congress, see http://kongresruchowmiejskich.pl/tezy-miejskie/

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Barbara Pabjan

The Power over Collective Memory

Abstract: The article presents the empirical results of a study of collective memory in Wrocław and discusses collective memory in a theoretical context of cognitive models and ethnic relations. The empirical results strongly suggest that the collective memory shared by cultural elites is conflictual-discursive and symbolic-consensual, while the collective memory of average citizens is conflictual-symbolic and consensual-discursive.

Keywords: power-knowledge, power and collective memory, politics of memory


Based on an empirical study of the collective memory1 of Wrocław residents,2 this chapter addresses the issue of power over collective memory. There is a popular ← 15 | 16 → belief that cultural elites have the greatest influence on shaping collective memory. This issue is examined here along with the assertion that the degree of influence that cultural elites have has been greatly overestimated. The influence of cultural elites on shaping collective memory is limited, due to the complexity of the process that creates a collective memory; this is not a deterministic process. The overall social context, including economics and politics, the media, the structure of society and education levels can all have an impact on collective memory. The influence of the cultural elite is not easy to determine, because it does not come from a homogeneous group of people who communicate with the public using a variety of channels, e.g. through the education system or popular culture. Cultural elites do not always agree among themselves nor do they share a common view of the future. Collective memory can reflect a struggle for power between various factions of elite intellectual and political social groups. Two cognitive memory models, symbolic and discursive, are proposed to explain how collective memory differs among social groups that have gone through either conflictual or consensual ethnic relations.

In the introductory part, the meaning of power-knowledge is discussed and a short overview of the theories of power-knowledge is presented. The main part presents the results of empirical research that were categorised into three groups:

What is power and power-knowledge? Terminology problems and the state of research

From a sociological perspective, power is a multidimensional phenomenon that refers to many aspects of social life. Theories of power are very diverse. Some of them focus on violence and coercion, others on normative regulation. Power is associated with the use of force as well as with the ability to influence and impact others. Definitions of power include the actor who exercises power and the object of power; the specific, asymmetric social relationship; the means of exercising control, such as coercion and violence, but also giving rewards. Power is analysed on a micro and macro social level: as an element of culture (e.g. normative power), economy or politics, as a media mechanism, etc.

Similarly to power, the concept of power-knowledge, or the power over memory, is ambiguous. Of many essential factors (coercion, dependence, asymmetry of social relations, violence, sanctions, social norms as the basis for the legitimacy of power), legitimacy and asymmetry of social relations are the most useful in the analysis of power-knowledge. Power as an asymmetric relation resulting from social structures can explain the inequality of resources and influence on collective memory. The specific nature of power-knowledge is that it is based on legitimacy, norms and tradition rather than coercion, violence and sanctions.

This chapter also refers to theories that define power as a possibility of influence on the knowledge (memory) of particular social groups. This understanding of power takes account of the influence of social structure on knowledge.

There is a long list of authors who analyse power-knowledge. The study of power-knowledge derives from the perspective of sociology of knowledge, which studies the relationship between social context (particularly social structure) and forms of knowledge. This perspective can be found in the works of classical sociological theories: Marks, Mannheim, Weber or Stark. The concept of power-knowledge, however, is used in many disciplines: sociology, political sciences, international relations, philosophy, history, economics, urban studies, studies of education and science and many other fields.

Another problem relates to the definition of collective memory. It is one of the most problematic terms, which is demonstrated by the fact that there is a separate field of critical research on this concept (Olick 1999, 2007; Olick, Vinitzky-Seroussi and Levy 2011; Gedi and Elam 1996; Kansteiner 2002; Radstone 2000, 2008; Szacka 2006; Wertsch and Roediger 2008a, 2008b). As the definitions of power, knowledge and memory are unequivocal, there is a debate about what power-knowledge and power/memory actually refer to. ← 17 | 18 →

In my analysis, I will refer to several theories, authored by Eric Hobsbawm, John Bodnar, Michael Schudson, Richard Sennett and the so-called Popular Memory Group. I should start, however, with Michael Foucault, who coined the term power-knowledge – it appears in his work The History of Sexuality (1978: 98).3 Foucault analyses the problem of power over collective memory in the field of mass culture and studies the transformations in collective memory in the context of broader transformations in mass society (Foucault 1975). He examined the mechanisms of power and knowledge, such as the role of authority or the category of truth. He also observed that relations of power-knowledge are dynamic and susceptible to change.4

Adopting a sociological perspective, Eric Hobsbawm analysed social mechanisms that regulate the process of forming collective memory. His concept of invented tradition explains the phenomenon of normative power over memory. According to Hobsbawm, constructing and instituting traditions is a form of power. The author demonstrated how power is exercised with the use of rituals. He also analysed the role of social order, noting that social change creates the need to invent traditions as a form of exercising power (Hobsbawm 2013). Richard Sennett, who also analysed the macrostructural context of power-knowledge, analysed the influence of the market on mentality and collective memory. In his opinion, conditions generated by late capitalism (such as impermanence, instability, lack of continuity or individualisation of labour) led to privatisation of memories and, as a result, to the vanishing of collective memory. Sennett (2006) observed that these factors caused a general crisis in the liberal culture of contemporary capitalism. Bodnar (1992), on the other hand, noted that collective memory reveals the structures of power in a society. As power is always questioned, collective memory becomes an instrument of power. Schudson (1989) presented an interesting theory of three factors that limit the full freedom to reconstruct the past: “the structure of available pasts, the structure of individual choices, and the conflicts about the past among a multitude of mutually aware individuals ← 18 | 19 → or groups” (107). Oral history studies provide another interesting perspective in the analysis of power-knowledge, as they take into consideration the influence of memories of common people on the shape of collective memory. In oral communication, history becomes a part of people’s life experiences. The official, historical narrative is reinterpreted from individual and subjective perspectives, which demonstrates that collective memory is constituted from different forms of memory in an interactive process (Schudson 1993, 1989).

Power-knowledge as local politics of memory

Referring to the aforementioned theories, I am going to demonstrate that power over knowledge/memory is structurally limited. More precisely, it is limited by the structure of the socio-political situation and by culture: i.e., the stability of norms and values. This means that culture and structure are a context of forming the memory of the past.

A classic example of power-knowledge is the politics of memory:5 attempts to influence collective memory with the (usually legal) power to create an official version of history using different methods (mass media, the education system, science, art, etc.), for example. The politics of memory is an instrument of control of the past as well as the present. For instance, it is used to gain power (as an element of a political campaign) and it is an instrument of power (legitimation and retaining power).

Many politicians attempt to use the past as an instrument of power with varied success, as power-knowledge has limitations – reconstruction of the past is limited by numerous factors. Schudson (1989), in his analysis of the factors that limit the freedom to reconstruct the past, focused on the structure of available pasts. The structure of available pasts consists of past experiences and events that constituted a tradition. What is more, some elements of this tradition “have emerged as particularly salient” (Ibid.) as a result of the so-called “rhetorical structure of social organisation that gives prominence to some facets of the past and not others” (Ibid.). Different types of media (museums, statues) are part of this process, as well as literary canons, anniversaries or public debates that make up the rhetorical power of facts in collective memory. The past events that have become elements of the public discourse gain rhetorical power and – as Schudson claims – they will ← 19 | 20 → always remain, in one form or another, in collective memory (e.g. statues that have been built or rituals that have been established are difficult to remove). Even rare events can have enormous influence on collective memory – originating events, and traumatic events and catastrophes also cannot be removed from memory.

Wrocław myths

Power over memory (integrated into structural limitations) takes diverse forms. Symbolic social practices – rituals, commemorative events and official celebrations – are interesting examples. Eric Hobsbawm (2013) provides an analysis of the process of mythologisation of tradition and rituals as an important instrument of power. Referring to a fictional past, an invented tradition creates history for the purposes of the present. In other words, invented traditions are determined by current interests. The likelihood of this phenomenon increases in times of rapid social change. Such was the case of Wrocław in the post-war period of Polonisation and de-Germanisation, when the politics of memory created myths and rituals to support and legitimise this process (Thum 2008).

According to Hobsbawm, inventing traditions are governed by a set of rules of a ritual or symbolic nature that seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour. Their repetition automatically implies continuity with the past, or, Hobsbawm adds, “in fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historical past” (Hobsbawm and Ranger 2013: 1). As the author notes, this continuity is “largely factitious”. Hobsbawm distinguishes three (overlapping) types of invented traditions that are characteristics of industrial society: “a) those establishing or symbolising social cohesion or the membership of groups (…), b) those establishing or legitimising institutions, status or relations of authority, and c) those whose main purpose was socialisation, the inculcation of beliefs, value systems and conventions of behaviour”. The first type is prevalent, “the other functions being regarded as implicit in or flowing from a sense of identification with a community and/or the institutions representing it, such as a nation”. The reason why traditions are invented is the need to create cohesion in larger social entities that were not Gemeinschaften as a result of social mobility and class conflicts.

The so-called Wrocław myths6 are examples of Hobsbawm’s (b) type of invented tradition that establishes and legitimises the institutions of authority. Traces of this policy can still be seen in Wrocław. Politics of memory was and still is a form ← 20 | 21 → of power over the memory of the people of Wrocław. The authorities produce myths for the purpose of particular interests, e.g. the communist rulers invented the legitimisation myth of the Piast dynasty as first rulers of the city (the myth of the Piast Land).7 The settlement of Polish people in Wrocław and repossession of the city’s German heritage was defined as a return to the roots. This way, due to the myth (and the language that expressed it), negative phenomena (taking over what is foreign) were transformed into positive ones (returning, regaining). The narrative about history in academic and, particularly, popular literature followed the process of mythologisation, which helped to create convenient circumstances for the Polish settlement in Wrocław. The myths were meant to reduce the sense of strangeness and fear and to legitimise Polish power over the territories taken over from the Germans. Without these instruments of power it would have been much more difficult to encourage people to settle there and regain authority in the area. Myths were an element of the strategy to legitimise the new national borders (Thum 2008: 257–327).

Collective knowledge displays strong myth-creation tendencies: people are much more likely to believe in myths than to be interested in a detailed reconstruction of history (Sennett 2011: 284). The myths that were created in the times of the Polish People’s Republic still function in collective memory. Table 1 demonstrates that the Lvov myth (the opinion that the majority of settlers came to Wrocław from Lvov) is still alive. 49% of the respondents believe that the settlers came from Lvov and 48% that they came from the east, including Lvov (97% altogether) but the belief that most of the Wrocław settlers came from the east is not true. The data from the 1950 census demonstrates that the settlers came from different places and only 30% of them from the eastern territories, including Lvov (Kosiński 1960).

Table 1: The Lvov myth

Former place of residence of the settlers according to the interviewees: N=545
from Lvov 49
from the east 48
other or lack of regional identification 3

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research ← 21 | 22 →

As the study demonstrates, belief in myths is associated with one’s education level. Higher cultural capital decreases the likelihood of being influenced by myths, and, consequently, of being influenced by the politics of memory that uses myths to reconstruct history. While half the population of Wrocław believes in the Lvov myth (see Table 1), students (16%) and the elite (10%) are less likely to share this belief (see Table 2).

Table 2: Belief in the Lvov myth

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research

Today the local authorities also create myths to pursue their political and economic interests. For instance, the image of multicultural Wrocław is an element of the current development strategy oriented at foreign tourists (Kłopot 2012), which was materialised in the form of the District of Four Temples (known also as the District of Mutual Respect or the Quarter of Four Denominations).8

According to Hobsbawm’s theory, by creating the myth, the local authorities in Wrocław participated in the process of creating tradition – they built historical continuity that united the old times with the new. Myths also have another role: they bond citizens together and strengthen their local identity. Due to the almost complete population exchange in post-war Wrocław, the continuity, tradition and identity with the place was broken. Myths that were aimed at building this identity were also in the interest of the authorities as they strengthened social integration. As Thum (2008: 215) aptly noted, “Speaking of the ‘Recovered Territories’ or the ← 22 | 23 → return to ‘Piast Land’ was healing, a kind of therapy against the syndrome of impermanence”. These two examples of myth, however, significantly differ. The myth of the Piast Land was created by politicians, while the Lvov myth was created by intellectuals. The former, therefore, refers to the second kind of tradition in Hobsbawm’s theory – the tradition that legitimises power – while the latter myth represents the first kind of tradition – the tradition that expresses collective identity and builds social cohesion.

Photograph 1: The statue of Bolesław Chrobry

Source: Author’s archive. ← 23 | 24 →

Rather than being isolated from national memory, local memory is usually incorporated into it (Bodnar 1992). In the case of Wrocław, local memory is rooted in a nationalist tradition, as the symbolic Polish-German conflict transfers the local problem onto a national level. This phenomenon is manifested in one of the examples of invented tradition: the annual march organised by nationalist groups in Wrocław on 11th November, Independence Day in Poland. The ritualised activities of nationalists centre on the memorial of Bolesław I the Brave, the first King of Poland. Far-right groups have taken over this memorial to use it as a symbol of the mythologised history of Great Poland. This phenomenon is an example of the first type of tradition distinguished by Hobsbawm (2013), which serves to increase social cohesion within far-right groups. If nationalist groups gained power, this tradition could transform into the second type. It is not clear whether the discussed monument significantly revived the collective memory. First of all, there are controversies over its meaning and symbolism. While the initiators of the project refer to the idea of a united Europe, nationalist groups refer to the idea of a strong Poland.

While grassroots traditions often become an important part of collective memory, arbitrarily invented traditions are socially dead. The latter only demonstrate the elite’s interests, and the elite and society in general have conflicting interests, resulting from their different positions in the social structures that determine these interests. A much more effective strategy by the authorities to influence collective memory is to use myths. Both the Lvov myth and the Piast Land myth left permanent and false information about the city’s history in the collective memory. Myths are effective because they are stories that address fundamental, existential questions (they explain who we are and where we are from). It should be again stressed that mythologisation is a cognitive process, which may be interpreted in anthropological terms: it serves to mark a group’s territory and protect it. The authorities only use myths as an instrument – and they use them quite effectively, but only when they properly adopt the structure of myths and respond to social needs.

The District of Four Temples

Another example of the politics of memory and inventing local traditions is the so-called District of Four Temples project. It is an illustration of Eric Hobsbawm’s (2013) theory of invented tradition, Terence Ranger’s (2013) concept of the construction of identity and Michael Schudson’s (1989) analysis of restrictions of freedom to reconstruct the past. Historical temples (architecture, ← 24 | 25 → history, religion) were used to create an imagined place that symbolises the idea of Wrocław as a multicultural, tolerant city that is open to other cultures – “the meeting place” (the official motto). The district also follows the discourse of the city’s identity that was created by the elite. As the research results demonstrate, the activities undertaken by the political and intellectual elite are effective because the “multicultural Wrocław” slogan found its way into the collective consciousness and became an element of the popular image of the city. The study also demonstrated that most Wrocław citizens believe that their city was multicultural in the past and it still is. Only 10% of the respondents believed that Wrocław was not multicultural (see Fig. 1). However, statistical data proves the opposite: Wrocław was not multicultural in either the 19th or 20th century. National minorities (including the Polish and the Jewish minority) never exceeded 5% of the population. Although these estimations may not be precise, as at the time ethnicity was measured according to declared language and religion, the number of culturally diverse populations of Wrocław was low (Knie J.G., 1830, Die Gemeinden und Gutsbezirke des Preußischen Staates und ihre Bevölkerung 1874, Gemeindelexikon für die Provinz Schlesien. 1887, 1898, 1908, Statistische Daten über die Stadt Breslau 1901–1913). Moreover, the residents quickly germanised to increase their chances of social promotion, which would have been otherwise impossible (Davis and Moorhouse 2011: 331–338). In other words, Wrocław was German before the war and it has been Polish since the war. Thus, the multiculturalism of Wrocław is a myth.

Figure 1: The myth of multicultural Wroclaw in collective memory

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research

Does this example actually illustrate the effectiveness of the politics of memory, i.e. the power over memory? The popularity of slogans such as “Multicultural Wrocław”, “Wrocław – the Meeting Place”, “Wrocław – the Open City” in collective consciousness results mostly from their constant use. In many contexts ← 25 | 26 → and occasions – events, debates, advertisements etc. – the authorities use these slogans in their communication with the public. Frequent repetition leads to memorisation. However, in Hobsbawm’s terms, does it result in the third type of tradition, the main purpose of which is socialisation? Popularity of an image does not necessarily mean its acceptance or internalisation. The question is whether there are any other indications that may demonstrate that Wrocław is perceived as a multicultural city. The gathered data suggests that on the contrary, Wrocław’s multiculturalism is only a stereotype, a cliché, which is demonstrated by a study of the actual tolerance and openness of Wrocław residents. The study shows that the attitude of Wrocław residents to the German past of the city is complicated and rarely positive, particularly among the elite.9

The common reception of the District of Four Temples also proves that the elites failed to influence the collective memory by only developing this area and making it a symbol of the city’s multiculturalism. While the idea of the district, which was initiated by religious communities, was to propagate interreligious dialogue and ecumenism, to support actions aimed at respecting history, tradition and culture and to encourage citizens to “love thy neighbour”, the narratives about the district are ambivalent. The study results demonstrate that the residents mostly associate the district with entertainment, as cafes, bars and clubs are located in the vicinity of the religious and cultural institutions. While the intellectual elites (representatives of religious communities) stress religious and educational objectives behind the project (which correspond with Hobsbawm’s third type of tradition), local authorities focus on the city’s policy to market the district as a tourist attraction (Hobsbawm’s second type of tradition). The ideological framework of the District of Four Temples project (based on tolerance and coexistence of different cultures and religions) is offered, as an in-demand product, to tourists from Western Europe. This is how the vice president of Wrocław presents the city’s new historical politics:

The District of Four Temples is an invaluable asset to the city’s image and tourism. Anyone who visits Wrocław must come here and the inhabitants should also be encouraged to be here as often as in the Old Square – says Adam Grehl, the vice president of Wrocław. Renovation of heritage-listed buildings is important, but so are their new functions. People will visit this district not only because they want to see a pretty neighbourhood. They want to meet friends in a pub, sit in café terrace, have lunch or dinner, buy a book, visit an art gallery or atmospheric shops.10 ← 26 | 27 →

This example illustrates how the politics of memory becomes an element of the urban policy and, consequently, an element of the official, institutional memory created for the use of the city’s tourism policy (Kłopot 2012). The politics of memory includes an ideological message; it refers to the ideas of tolerance, openness, multiculturalism, postmodernism and other popular slogan-keywords, which are addressed to educated people from the middle and upper-middle classes, particularly tourists from Western Europe, where multiculturalism is a demographical fact. However, the District of the Four Temples is not particularly popular among the general populace of Wrocław. The city residents do not know much about its location, origin or functions. Only 23% of the entire survey sample knew how the district originated while 63% of the elite knew it was an initiative of religious communities. Half of the respondents had no idea where the district is located and many of them gave vague directions, while among the elite the location was known. The results demonstrate that the district is not commonly recognised as a specific and distinguished area. As the District of the Four Temples is not an administrative unit, one might ask how it exists at all. It certainly is a kind of an imagined space. It is a symbolic space created by the elite and existing in their consciousness – but not in the collective consciousness. Referring again to Hobsbawm’s theory, this place is not related to the tradition of the first type, which is aimed at creating social bonds and integrating the community through rituals. It integrates only a part of the elite, intellectuals and tourists rather than the inhabitants in general. No rituals have been constituted that the majority of the local community would share. The march that is organised every year at the anniversary of Kristallnacht gathers a tiny fraction of the local community. To conclude, the District of the Four Temples was created by intellectual and religious elites as an element of the politics of memory but the political elite took it over and used it as a political marketing tool, while the residents perceive this space as a centre of entertainment.

The limited power of the political and intellectual elite over collective memory results from the fact that collective consciousness is shaped by a certain system of values and beliefs, and the effectiveness of power-knowledge is high only when convergent with it. The project of the district does not refer to any collective ← 27 | 28 → experience or tradition of the local community. The idea of religious tolerance is abstract in Wrocław, as it does not stem from tradition or the experience of its inhabitants: Wrocław is a city that lacks continuity of identity and the pre-war multiculturalism is a myth (Davis and Moorhouse 2011). The politics of memory that refer to strange and abstract experiences is ineffective because people cannot identify with it. The community of Wrocław is monocultural and religiously homogeneous, as is the rest of Poland. The multicultural city created alongside the district is an imagined space. Tolerance towards different religions is an ideal rather than a fact that describes real social patterns of behaviour.

In conclusion, the project of the District of the Four Temples is ineffective as an element of the politics of memory. The district is an emanation of an ideology that is characteristic of leftist, well-educated and wealthy groups. It is also an example of the struggle between particular groups of interest with different concepts of collective memory. This problem will be analysed in the next section of this chapter.

Power as asymmetry of collective memories

The asymmetry of social structure means that people with different positions in this structure have different abilities to influence the knowledge of others. Therefore, power-knowledge results from the asymmetry of structure. Various institutions, agents or centres of power may shape collective memory depending on the position they hold and the resources they possess. Referring to the asymmetry in the division of power, researchers of collective memory distinguish between official and unofficial memory, public and private, institutionalised and not institutionalised, dominant and counter-memories, etc. Unprivileged forms of memory of niche social groups can result in significant and influential forms of memory and the degree of their influence is an indicator of the power of the elite to impose memory on society. Structural differentiation in forms of memory manifest themselves in (1) the relation of domination between different forms of memory (the elite and ordinary people) and (2) specific narratives (e.g. politically correct or incorrect).

As John Bodnar aptly notes, practices of commemoration involve conflicts between different interests of groups with different positions in social structure. While the elite use these practices as an instrument of power and to maintain their position, ordinary citizens, guided by the interests of their social group or local community, treat those practices as a leisure activity. Political leaders use commemorative practices as tools that help them to increase control. On a cultural level, commemorative practices serve as symbols that unite the divergent interests of diverse social groups. Commemoration, as well as tradition in general, create ← 28 | 29 → an interpretative framework and unite communities. This mechanism is used by the authorities and official institutions to increase social unity and citizens’ loyalty (Bodnar 1992). According to Bodnar, public memory emerges at the intersection of official and unofficial cultural content. Official memory results from the activity of political leaders in various institutions (educational, military, governmental, etc.). Political leaders are interested in maintaining social cohesion and institutional stability, particularly the institutions of power, and they wish to maintain power. Management of collective memory, i.e. creation of particular interpretations of the past, serves this aim (Bodnar 1992).

Forms of collective power express immanent contradictions rooted in society that result from the functioning of the social system. Different social groups have their own versions of the past. These differences in interpretations are an expression of various types of contradictions in society, e.g. local and national structures, ethnic and national cultures, men and women, young and old, professionals and clients, workers and managers, leaders and followers, soldiers and their commanders (Bodnar 1992: 14). Public memory serves as a mediator between these competing and often contradictory versions of reality (Ibid.). Public memory “is produced from political discussion that involves (…) fundamental issues about the entire existence of a society: its organisation, structures of power, and the very meaning of its past and its present” (Bodnar 1992: 14).

The memory of the elite and the popular memory

The asymmetry of collective memory, which has its source in social structure, means first of all that the memory of the elite and of the public is different and there is limited transmission of memory between the two groups. The substantial role of the elite in shaping collective memory is a myth.12

The study presented in this chapter confirms the differences between the memory of the public and the elite. Moreover, there are also significant differences within the elite: between the power elite and other groups: local activists, scientists, journalists, etc.13 The study involved the following elements of collective memory: the knowledge of local history and attitudes towards it, oral history and intergenerational communication, commemorative practices that are important ← 29 | 30 → for reinforcing collective memory, the memory of German Wrocław (Breslau) in the collective consciousness and the level of tolerance to the commemoration of German heritage. The results demonstrate differences between the elite and other social groups in the declared frequency of commemorative practices. They are presented in Figure 2. It is clear that the average frequency level among the elite is higher for all types of activities. For the most popular practice across all groups, a tour around the city with friends, the average score among the elite is 1.95 while it is 1.4 for the general populace of Wrocław.14 For other types of activities, the differences are even bigger. The average frequency of visiting history exhibitions was 1.92 for the elite, 0.94 for students and 0.82 for the Wrocław populace. Participation in commemorative events marking Wrocław historical anniversaries was 1.73 for the elite, 0.76 for the Wrocław populace and 0.68 for students.

Figure 2: Differences in commemorative practices between three groups (Wroclaw populace, the elite and students)


Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research

Another form of activity – everyday conversations about Wrocław and the transmission of oral memory – is also most frequent among the elite. 67% of the elite declared that they often talked about Wrocław while only 25% of the general ← 30 | 31 → Wrocław populace did so. As for the younger generation, 40% of students and 34% of pupils often talk about their city (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Transmission of oral memory. Comparison between four samples: Wrocław populace, the elite, students and pupils.

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research

Another question studied in the research concerned the value attached to sites of memory. Do symbolic values of memorials dominate over utilitarian aspects? Respondents were asked whether memorials should be demolished when they come into conflict with the functional needs of the city. Members of the elite were less inclined to keep memorials and they declared more than twice as often as the general populace that “current city needs are more important and the need to keep memorials should be subordinate to those needs” (46% and 19%, see Figure 4). ← 31 | 32 →

Figure 4: Comparison of attitudes to memorials among Wrocław citizens, students and the elite (data in percentages)

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research

These differences may be explained by the fact that the elite, who manage the material substance of the city, are guided by pragmatic economic criteria (economic resources increase the range of power and monuments generate costs) and organisation of urban life. Citizens, on the other hand, who do not make decisions concerning the city, interpret the discussed dilemma in isolation from the problem of costs and they tend to focus on the symbolic aspect. Similarly, when asked about important criteria that should be considered when a decision about the renovation of historical buildings is being made, ordinary citizens and students pointed at the symbolic representation of Polish identity much more often than the elite. The elite, on the other hand, twice as often as other citizens, pointed out the symbolic representation of power as an important criterion. The difference in interests that influence the form of collective memory is also illustrated by the response to another question in the study. It refers to a building15 constructed in the time and style of the monumental classicism of the Third Reich. The building is ← 32 | 33 → a symbolic representation of Nazism as an element of the historical heritage of the city. The respondents were asked whether current use of this building by the local authorities as an administrative office (Voivodship Office) is appropriate or not. The difference between the elite and ordinary citizens is again considerable. The answer “definitely appropriate” was chosen by 90% of the elite, 55% of the Wrocław populace and 39% of students (Table 3). Most citizens and students did not know what the origin of the building was before they were asked the question (Table 4).

Table 3: Symbolic and pragmatic values of the Voivodship Office, constructed in the Third Reich in 1939. Differences between the general Wrocław populace, students and the elite.

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research

Table 4: Knowledge of the origin of the Voivodship Office in Wrocław

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research

The so-called ordinary citizens sometimes do not share the perspective of the authorities, expressing indifference to commemorative practices, or producing their own versions of memory. This phenomenon was also observed in the study:16 there is a contradiction between official and elitist forms of memory and the memory of ordinary citizens (Bodnar 1992). Alternative forms of memory sometimes might become a cause of conflict. Strong differences between official and vernacular ← 33 | 34 → memory appear when these two types of memory refer to different values and experiences, particularly when witnesses of the historical events that are presented in official memory are still alive. Rosenzweig and Thelen (1998) note that individuals who experienced events that are presented in an official historical narrative perceive them from their personal, local perspective. This phenomenon may be observed also in reference to the collective memory of Wrocław citizens. The events that are elements of personal experiences are the main content of memory. Rather than events regarded by the political elite or historians to be elements of history, people mostly remember the most recent significant collective experiences. This tendency is confirmed by the research results. Wrocław citizens best remember the events that were recent, that affected the entire community and became a part of a collective experience. The most frequently listed events were the 1997 flood (48%) and the 2012 European Football Championship (31%). The collective memory of the events before 1945 is empty. Only 36 respondents mentioned the fact that Wrocław changed nationality and 13 people referred to the medieval origin of the people. Another difference between the elite and ordinary citizens was observed: 81% of the residents of Wrocław could not remember (did not know) any person or event in Wrocław history that would be worth commemoration, while there were hardly any respondents among the elite who gave such an answer (see Figure 5.1 and 5.2).

Figure 5.1 and 5.2: Differences in forms of collective memory (of pre-war Wroclaw) between 3 groups of respondents

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research ← 34 | 35 →

As a natural disaster, floods affect the entire community. It is a collective experience of a fundamental threat, thus the fact that it is remembered is not surprising. The other strongly remembered event is the 2012 European Football Championship, which was an important event taking place at the time of the research and an example of the influence of the media and the elite in defining the significance of events in the public space. This influence is usually apparent when one observes changing preferences and opinions depending on the current context of events. Contexts of events for different time periods create distinct forms of generational memory: each generation builds its own social biography consisting of significant collective events. Memory is generational knowledge, and collective experiences create an interpretative frame. The generational frame of interpreting history is an important context of the power-knowledge mechanism, which means that the power over collective memory is limited by generational experiences (see e.g. Schuman and Corning 2016; Cornig and Schuman 2015; Szacka 2006; Wertsch 2004; Igartua and Paez 1997; Schuman, Belli and Bischoping 1997; Conway 1997; Schuman and Scott 1989).

Intense politics of memory in the post-war era in the form of historical education was also analysed by Gregor Thum in his valuable work, quoted earlier (2008: 258–267). However, empirical studies of collective memory that focus on historical knowledge demonstrate the ineffectiveness or limitations of the politics of memory, particularly in the field of education (textbooks and curricula). A study of high school (final year) and university students in Wrocław, which was an element of the Memory of Vanished Populations research project, also demonstrated that they show a lack of local historical awareness or collective memory related to local history. The youth have little historical knowledge of the region and the city. They rarely attend commemorative events and they do not notice historical buildings or sites of memory, although the curriculum includes a so-called regional learning path.17 ← 35 | 36 →

Some of the intellectual elite respect the memory of German Wrocław and its German heritage. This attitude is not widely accepted, but evokes a diverse social response. Why is the idea of commemorating German past resisted? As already mentioned, this resistance results from the rhetorical structure of social organisation (using Schudson’s terms). From the perspective of Wrocław residents, the commemoration of a nation that earlier inhabited their territory is against the interests of the local community, it questions the Polish identity of the city and causes a sense of territorial insecurity. World War II still casts a shadow on Polish-German relations. Perceiving themselves as victims, Poles believe that commemoration of German heritage contradicts their sense of justice. The power of the elite manifests itself in managing the structure of this situation, mainly by fuelling certain emotions. To exercise influence, political leaders need to refer to already existing frameworks of interpretation, such as those based on fears and conflicts. Therefore, references to German resentment and rejection of German heritage provide fertile ground for the authorities while affirmative attitudes need considerable effort to be adopted.

The politics of memory is related to the sphere of values, which manifests itself in how particular social groups attach different importance to history and share their specific visions of history (e.g. models of history are created around values such as nation or homeland). How are attitudes to the commemoration of the past different? Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with several statements, which were indicators of different models of the politics of memory. For instance, 36% of Wrocław citizens, 63% of students and 92% of the elite agreed with the statement Commemoration of former residents and the multicultural character of Wrocław is in fact a hidden attempt to Germanise Wrocław citizens. A similar tendency was observed in responses to another statement. 35% of Wrocław citizens, 42% of students and 78% of the elite agreed with the statement: Commemoration of old residents and the multicultural character of Wrocław provides new arguments for the German federations of expellees. Finally, 36% of Wrocław citizens, 45% of students and 83% of the elite (more than double the percentage of ordinary citizens) agreed with the statement: The restoration of pre-war names of streets and objects is a symbolic Germanisation of Wrocław. The results demonstrate considerable differences between the elite, the students and the general populace. They also show that the elite more often share the model of history that involves defence of Polish identity of the city. Compared to Wrocław citizens, the elite are less in favour of the idea of commemoration, particularly the commemoration of German heritage. Aside from far-right and nationalist politicians, this standpoint is not officially presented, which means that the real opinions of the political leaders may be suppressed by political correctness. ← 36 | 37 →

The reluctance of the elite to acknowledge the Jewish heritage of the city is equally strong. 40% of Wrocław citizens, 62% of students and 92% of the elite agreed with the statement: The restoration of pre-war names of streets and objects is a symbolic appropriation of the city by the Jews. Responses to another statement (Commemoration of old residents and the multicultural character of Wrocław is in fact a hidden attempt by the Jews to regain their lost material goods) confirmed this attitude: 48% of Wrocław citizens, 63% of students and 94% of the elite agreed with the statement. The elite were also more radical in their opinions, choosing the answer “strongly agree” more frequently than other respondents.

While there may be a problem of drawing general conclusions about the attitudes of the Wrocław political and cultural elite18 from this non-representative sample (N=64), it is interesting to observe that similar attitudes (commemoration as a material and symbolic threat) were adopted among respondents with a university education from the general populace sample. This phenomenon is surprising, considering that tolerance and openness usually increase with education. It can be explained by the fact that the commemoration of Germans or Jews is perceived as contrary to the interests of the elite: as an unpopular attitude, it may be widely criticised and used as a tool in political struggle (promoting the commemoration of German heritage is perceived as contrary to Polish interests). Another explanation is that political and cultural leaders have a better knowledge of history and thus they are more influenced by popular models of historical education and oral memory, in which German resentment is strong (see Fronczyk and Łada 2009; Łada 2010, 2011; Osiński 2010; Pawełczyńska 1975; Szacka 2006; Thum 2008; CBOS 2006, 2014). The obtained results support a second interpretation, because education level is the largest differentiating factor for commemoration of German heritage.

Another characteristic phenomenon I would like to analyse is the discrepancy between the official and unofficial memory of the elite. Political correctness and tolerance, officially presented, are only a façade. The difference between the public discourse, which represents a declarative model of the politics of memory (the elite say what they are expected to say) and the real interests of the elite – is very important for the analysis of actual power over memory. An analogical phenomenon was described by Gregor Thum in reference to the communist politics of memory. While the communist authorities used the term “de-Germanisation, eliminating ← 37 | 38 → the vestiges of Germandom” in confidential documents, the officially employed term was “re-Polonisation” (Thum 2008: 214–215).

Cognitive models of memory

Forms of memory that are alternative to the official memory demonstrate that the elite’s power over popular memory is limited. The study presented in this chapter confirms this phenomenon: there are significant discrepancies between the memory of the elite and Wrocław residents. A cluster analysis was conducted that included statements representing axiological orientation towards commemoration policy. The average response to particular statements was also analysed. Data analysis confirmed the existence of different patterns of memory, which I propose to present as two cognitive models of memory, i.e. the symbolic model and the discursive model. The former measured the attitude to different forms of commemoration in the symbolic space and the latter measured the attitude to certain narratives characteristic to the debate about commemoration of German heritage, particularly involving the Regained Territories. While the symbolic model of memory focused on significant places (specific buildings and objects in Wrocław), the discursive model involved general statements about the identity of places, place attachment and the role of the authorities in the process of commemoration. The characteristics of models are presented in Table 5.

Table 5: Characteristics of symbolic and discursive models.

symbolic model discursive model
place concept
visual representation abstract
concrete exemplification universal rules
territorial intellectual concepts
remembrance of place norms of remembrance
memory media interpretations of the historical facts

Research results demonstrate that Wrocław citizens and the elite differ with respect to the two models of memory. The general populace is against forms of commemoration that involve changes to the urban space and, more often than the elite, they declare a positive attitude towards commemoration in general (the discursive model). The elite, on the contrary, are more likely to accept commemoration in the ← 38 | 39 → urban space than in the sphere of discourse.19 The symbolic model scale referred to actual changes in the urban space and measured attitudes to different forms of commemoration (reconstruction/restoration of buildings and memorials, changes of names, returning ownership of buildings to religious-cultural communities) of different buildings/objects (memorials, temples, a shop, a theatre, a bridge) with different ethnic/cultural identities (Polish, German, Jewish). Both models included the attitude to ethnic groups (the Jews and the Germans). The interviewees were presented with statements that proposed changes in the urban space and they were asked to declare how much they agree or disagree with these proposals. As for the discursive scale, the interviewees were given statements that described the normative model of the politics of memory. They included:

Statements including the ethnic factor (Polish, Jewish and German)

Statements including indicators of place attachment

Statements expressing relations (potential conflict) between the identity of a space and commemoration of former residents of the city.

The comparison of responses to particular statements (see Tables 6 and 7) demonstrates that the elite and students have similar opinions concerning the ethnic factor, while they differed in terms of the identity factor (i.e. statements regarding place attachment). In the symbolic model, the commemoration of German heritage is less commonly accepted than the commemoration of Jewish heritage, mainly because the former would require more significant changes in the urban space. In the discursive model, the elite more frequently present an anti-Jewish than anti-German attitude, while the same correlation is weaker in the general populace (for more, see Tables 6 and 7). It is important to note that detailed analysis of the statements and the researched sample revealed more differentiation of memory patterns. For instance, the results demonstrate differences between particular professional groups among the elite. The attitude to commemoration is less positive in the case of officials than the liberal professions. In other words, those with more political power are more against the idea of commemoration. The results show that symbolic, discursive and ethnic aspects are most important when explaining memory differentiation. The cognitive and ethnic relationships models make it possible to systematically capture the differences between elite and popular memory (see Table 8). ← 39 | 40 →

How can we explain the differences in forms of memory and, consequently, the limited possibility of influence outside one’s own social group? Memory, as social knowledge, is influenced by diverse social and cultural practices and social experience of reality that is also diverse (Rydgren 2007; DiMaggio 1997; Swidler 1986). The differing social situations of the elite and the residents create different cognitive contexts for memory: political and professional interests or cognitive structures influenced by higher education, professional independence or management positions. The social categories, symbols and language used by people to experience reality are different for different social groups (Swidler 1986). The politics of memory in urban space20 is more important for the general public because it is more cognitively available. While the residents experience the consequences of the politics of memory in their urban space, they rarely participate in public debates about the shape of this politics. It refers to the well-known cognitive rule: people use the availability heuristic (Tversky and Kahenman 1973). The elite, on the other hand, focus on the intellectual discourse in which they participate and which is an element of their cultural capital. While the elite’s structure of beliefs is developed and so are their concepts of memory (they have ‘active memory’), the memory of the general populace is more latent (‘passive memory’). People’s beliefs are usually not fully articulated until they are provoked by some events or the debates of the elite (Bourdieu 2005). Similarly to the differences between the elite and the general populace, there are also differences of opinion within the latter group that are related to their education level. Education changes cognitive competences. Those whose knowledge of history is better are more aware of the significance of Polish-German conflicts and they take them into account when discussing contemporary politics of memory in Wrocław, where the commemoration of the Germans can hardly be neutral. On the contrary, those who are not interested in history are more indifferent21 about the past. To conclude, the alternative models of memory demonstrate a lack of community between the elite and the general populace and call into question the elite’s influence on social interpretations of the past. ← 40 | 41 →

Table 6: Accepted model of the politics of memory: comparison of two scales (mean values: min 0, max 1).

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research.

Table 7: Comparison of average results on the acceptance scale (mean values: min 0, max 1) for ethnic relations (anti-German and anti-Jewish statements) and place attachment.

Source: The Memory of Vanished populations, own research.

Table 8: Memory types, categorised by the cognitive model and the types of ethnic relationship.

Source: The Memory of Vanished Populations, own research.

Institutional power over memory

Collective memory is to a large extent created by institutions, which initiate various activities that generate and materialise knowledge (e.g. publishing) and ← 41 | 42 → organise commemorative practices (e.g. commemorative cultural events). Local, urban institutions, including non-governmental organisations, often create alternative forms of collective memory. How do Wrocław institutions participate in creating collective memory? Do they contribute to creating the dominant version of memory or do they produce counter-memories?

As any other city, Wrocław has institutions that create narratives about the city and its past. For instance, the University Museum and city museums display exhibitions that present certain visions of the city’s history. There are also various non-governmental organisations dedicated to the city’s past and to other cultures and ethnic groups – which are major issues in the politics of memory in Wrocław. Citizen involvement in these organisations is negligible: only 1% of the general populace of Wrocław declare membership of a local history society. Therefore, the members may be classified as the elite.

Grassroots organisations that participate in creating commemorative narratives are e.g.: the Edith Stein Foundation, the Bente Kahan Foundation, the Society for Beautifying the City of Wrocław (Towarzystwo Upiększania Miasta), the Society of Friends of Wrocław (Towarzystwo Miłośników Wrocławia), the Foundation for the Mutual Respect of the Four Denominations (Fundacja Dzielnica Wzajemnego Szacunku Czterech Wyznań), the German Social and Cultural Society (Niemieckie Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne) and the Educational Society Babel Tower (Stowarzyszenie Edukacyjne Wieża Babel). There are also web portals dedicated to the history of Wrocław, which display photographs, information, films, and maps, and analyse the differences between pre-war and contemporary Wrocław, including street names. Moreover, the Via Nova Publishers publish works devoted to the city’s history and German heritage in Wrocław.22

Even a cursory analysis of the activity of Wrocław institutions demonstrates that they create alternative forms of memory, which in some aspects differ from popular and official memory. The grassroots movements promote a normative model of memory that involves tolerance and acceptance of the multicultural tradition of Wrocław and direct references to the German history of the city. This model manifests itself in the programmes of many institutions and it is a manifestation of the assumed role of the elite to set behaviour patterns. Political elites interpret the German history of Wrocław differently. This subject is treated as sensitive and references to it are usually very cautious. ← 42 | 43 →

The media are another source of influence on collective memory. In this chapter I will analyse selected examples of media participation in the local discourse on collective memory. The fundamental question in this context concerns the extent of the media’s influence on collective memory. I share the opinion that the media cannot influence the content of normative beliefs, i.e. the axiological orientation of the collective memory. The media act as a communication platform and an actor who represents the elites. Their power is potential and it mostly means the power to deliver information to a wide audience and manage the public debate by selecting subjects and intensifying emotional messages. In this case, power-knowledge lies in access to specific technical means and means of emotional persuasion. The other fundamental question that needs to be answered is to whom the media belong and whose memory they promote.23 Put briefly, the media belong to the elite. Any limitation of the elite’s power in the media is a result of the changing forms of communication thanks to the internet. The opportunities to create, provide, exchange and receive information have increased due to technological changes. Thanks to the internet, “ordinary people” not only have easier and cheaper access to information, they also became active recipients and senders of information and they can be involved to a greater degree in the public debate. The internet brought about changes in the scope of power.

A debate on a series of articles in Gazeta Wyborcza (one of the leading Polish newspapers) serves as an empirical illustration of the power of the media. The articles by Beata Maciejewska were dedicated to the history of German Wrocław. The author attempted to popularise knowledge of the German heritage of the city and to promote the idea of tolerance and acceptance of the city’s German past. Her articles started an internet debate among the readers, which revealed differences in the forms of collective memory. Here are several examples of the points raised in the debate.

For three days in a row there have been articles in Gazeta Wyborcza about how we need to commemorate Germans, each is more aggressive than the last, some groups seem to know how to get things their own way – unlike our dear nation… [wesoly_emigrant].24 ← 43 | 44 →

Biographical notes

Katarzyna Kajdanek (Volume editor) Igor Pietraszewski (Volume editor) Jacek Pluta (Volume editor)

Katarzyna Kajdanek is an Associate Professor at the University of Wroclaw. Her main research interest is the process of urbanisation, urban culture and rural studies. Igor Pietraszewski received a PhD from the Institute of Sociology at the University of Wrocław. His main research interest is the sociology of culture, music and memory. Jacek Pluta received a PhD from the Institute of Sociology at the University of Wroclaw. His main research interest is urban development, sociology of the public sphere and sociology of culture.


Title: City and Power – Postmodern Urban Spaces in Contemporary Poland