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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 Two The Mediating Role of the State in a Social Practice of Acquiring a Hero/Victim Subject Position


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Chapter Two

The Mediating Role of the State in a Social Practice of Acquiring a Hero/Victim Subject Position

Performing a hero/victim sentiment

People who were repressed by the communist regime in Poland, or who experienced what they interpreted as political repression under the communist regime, find culturally informed ways to perform a hero/victim role, identity or sentiment in their social proximity. This may be in the form of a grandmother telling heart-warming stories to her grandson. It may be in a flower silently brought to a recently unveiled monument site commemorating anti-communist partisans by an old woman for her lover who, through his heroism, extended his victimhood over her life after his death. It may be through the annoyance felt by an ex-blue-collar worker who, despite his wife asking him not to, went on strike in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, watching the evening news and seeing another high-ranking Solidarity activist, who has just escaped the consequences of a corruption scandal, he glances immediately at a pile of unpaid bills stuck in a box next to the television set and feels a sense of injustice. It may be in the recollection of a passer-by who, in the winter of 1981, was dragging home a Christmas tree when he saw two militia men beating up a teenager; intuitively, he turned back to take a side street but, a day later, he wrote on a wall ‘fuck the militia’. To this day, the...

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