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Evoking Polish Memory

State, Self and the Communist Past in Transition


Anna Witeska-Mlynarczyk

The book offers an interdisciplinary but very grounded look at the question of memory politics in contemporary Poland. It describes the conflicting ways in which two groups of people – the former anti-communist activists and the former officers of the repressive regime – have actively engaged in representations and claims about the communist past in the contemporary reality of one Polish town. The material is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted during the years 2006-2008. The author focuses on the processes of reconstruction of memories and subjectivities taking place at the intersection of individuals, civic society, state bureaucracy and politics. The book focuses on the beliefs, hopes and fears of people who became the subjects of historical policy during their lifetimes.
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Chapter One Hidden Dialogicality: personal memory, expert knowledge, historical policy, and pedagogy of patriotism


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Chapter One

Hidden Dialogicality: personal memory, expert knowledge, historical policy, and pedagogy of patriotism

Since the work of Pierre Nora, it is no longer obvious that ‘history’ is simply a profession aiming at an objective reconstruction of the past, while ‘memory’ is subjective, emotional and flawed (Stern 2006:XXVII). Rather, social research has recently started to explore the intersections of both and the ways in which memory and history feed each other. In my ethnographic case, historical works constituted a necessary element in the production of personal narratives about the past29, nested in a particular context of the telling, capable of fabricating potent and powerful representations of the past. Such representations were disseminated and legitimized in a form of historical policy and helped to socialize the people portrayed in this book into a past imagined as common, creating the conditions for the socially situated appropriations of its representations and taking on national identities. The term ‘historical policy’ denotes ‘purposeful and conscious actions of widely understood authorities, leading to preservation within a society of a certain vision of the past’ (Stobiecki 2008:175)30. As Stern points out, everyone has memories, but not everyone’s memories become socially significant (2006:104). Historical policy privileges some voices and works as a framework organizing what is to be remembered on a collective level and how. In this chapter, I discuss the entanglements of historical expert knowledge, state ← 57 | 58 → policies and personal memories of the heroes/victims. I...

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