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Evoking Polish Memory

State, Self and the Communist Past in Transition

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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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Introduction

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Landscapes of Polish memory

This book is about landscapes of memory, as they have been collectively realized in a historical time of one Polish town - Marianowice1 - by some of its inhabitants. Marianowice’s landscape and the memories held by the people who live in it convey a sense of altered and ruptured history subject to numerous reconstructions. Conflicting commemorative inscriptions pile up on the buildings in which people’s thoughts manage to make sense of the seemingly contradictory. The historical period I focus on encompasses WWII, its aftermath, the communist era, and the transition from communism to democracy, suggesting an association with Howard Hodgkin’s paintings in which layers are painted over layers, never fully erased, always unveiling seemingly forgotten details of past social situations. The subject of this manuscript concerns the recent collective efforts to conventionalize and disambiguate the complex communist past undertaken in Poland, particularly during the years of my fieldwork, from 2006 to 2008. The complexity of the collective appropriation of historical process is visible in many corners of the town, in the ways in which people move within it or in narratives passed on in the locality. In line with Siobhan Kattago’s (2013) view of memory and representation of the past in contemporary Europe, my ethnographic case shows Poland as a space where a plurality of memories and narratives about the recent past start to branch out. The painting of new layers in the landscape and in the people’s minds is a political...

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